U.S. Senate candidate ready for 'David and Goliath' race
Thomaston — Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Shenna Bellows told Midcoast voters she understands the struggles of working Maine families, because she lives through them too.
Bellows, 39, of Manchester, is challenging Republican incumbent Susan Collins.
"People like me don't run for U.S. Senate very often. I'm the daughter of a carpenter and a home health nurse," said the former state American Civil Liberties Union leader, adding Congress is not representative of the American people.
Bellows grew up in Hancock without running water or electricity. What she remembers about the fifth grade, she said, is getting running water and electricity when her family could afford it.
She attended Middlebury College in Vermont on significant scholarships from community organizations like Rotary and Veterans of Foreign Wars and on her own initiative, working in retail and waiting tables throughout high school and college.
"One of the rich traditions in Maine is our strong public schools and community support," she said.
Bellows graduated college 18 years ago, the same year Collins was first elected to serve in the United States Senate.
Bellows served in the Peace Corp in Panama, where she worked with artisans to develop small businesses. Later, she worked as a field organizer for the national American Civil Liberties Union, and returned home to Maine eight years ago to head the state's ACLU organization.
"We are facing an economic crisis, a constitutional crisis and an environmental crisis that threaten our country's future," she said April 7 to Midcoast residents who gathered for a meet and greet with the candidate at Rev. Peter and Emily Jenks' home in Thomaston. About 30 people attended the event.
Congress benefits the wealthy and large corporations at the expense of the community because they do not understand the burden of working class Americans, she said.
"They don't come from a place of working a low wage job, having student debt, or struggling with a mortgage, or how to start a small business," Bellows said.
To stimulate the economy, Bellows said she is supportive of President Obama's proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Bellows said her opponent, Collins, came out to speak against the bill, saying the increase would harm the economy. Collins is now promoting a compromise bill, that would raise the minimum wage, but not to $10.10
"$10.10 is just over $21,000 a year, that's still poverty. To suggest compromise when the wage hasn't raised in a decade, shows Collins is out of touch with the 96,000 Mainers making less than minimum wage," Bellows said.
Bellows said instead of investing trillions of dollars into wars, and cutting resources from the country's social safety net, Congress needs to focus on investing in communities to strengthen infrastructure and benefits for children and the elderly, including expanding Social Security. She said the cap the wealthiest Americans pay in Social Security tax should be scrapped. For 2014, this cap is $117,000, according to ssa.gov.
The wealthy should pay their fair share to expand benefits, she said, adding one-third of Maine seniors live off those entitlement benefits alone.
Bellows, a former state civil liberties leader, said she is passionate about civil liberties and rights. One of her first charges working for the National American Civil Liberties Union was organizing against The Patriot Act, which spends billions of dollars spying on ordinary Americans, she said. Through her work with the ACLU, Bellows led campaigns with unique coalitions of people from varying backgrounds, including rejecting the real ID identity card, which sparked a nationwide movement for privacy and expanding warrant requirements before law enforcement could access electronic information from cellphones.
A principal at the Maine ACLU was "no permanent friends and no permanent enemies," a sentiment Bellows said is still relevant for discourse between opposing factions to establish solutions that work for the common good.
Bellows, growing up in a gun culture in Hancock, said she was once a member of the National Rifle Association, when she said, the group was more reasonable and willing to sit at the table and negotiate.
She said she values the Second Amendment but said it is compatible with reasonable regulation.
Same sex marriage
Bellows, who supports marriage equality, spent seven years as the leader of the campaign to legalize same sex unions in the state.
"We were on the right side of history, with the right message, and with an highly organized field campaign," she said of the organization's victory.
Bellows said climate change is a priority for the state, as Maine's economy and environment is inextricably linked. The effect of the changes can be seen in the state now, in the rise in tick borne diseases, changes in the Gulf of Maine, where warming of the water and acidification is occurring. The shrimp population crash this year, causing a closed season, is indicative of the plankton population crash, she said. Bold, visionary action is needed before it is too late, without time for half measures, said Bellows.
Bellows campaign has an initiative to receive a $5 contribution from every town in the state. Thus far, she has received donations from individuals in more than 400 of the 504 towns in the state.
She said U.S. Supreme Court rulings, namely, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Committee in 2010 and last week's McCutcheon vs. FEC decision threatens democracy.
Both rulings designated money as free speech and altered campaign finance laws, she said.
Citizens United gave way to creation of Super political action committees for corporations, unions, and individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns and candidates. The McCutcheon ruling struck down the aggregate amount a donor could give a candidates in a two-year cycle. Bellows said Collins, who is considered a moderate Republican, voted in favor of the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. Bellows said Roberts' and Alito's votes, specifically in reference to campaign finance and voter rights, have not been moderate positions.
Bellows said she speaks at house parties across the state because she wants grass roots voices to be heard. Although she acknowledges money is vital to a campaign, Bellows, who supports a national clean elections system, said she will not accept money from the fossil fuel industry or big bank political action committees. "Congress votes on rules to create checks and balances on banks, taking contributions from corporations with a vested interest to make sure the rules don't change, makes the game rigged," she said.
In the first quarter of fundraising, she raised more money than Collins, because more than 1,000 Mainers contributed to her campaign, she said.
Bellows said the campaign to victory will not be easy, in fact, she said, it will be an uphill battle. A friend recently gave Bellows a book by Malcolm Gladwell, titled "David and Goliath." The book is about underdogs.
"This is a David and Goliath race, but don't forget, David won," she said.
Bellows said the state and county needs vision, courage and determination to try to change. " This election is a referendum on the future of our county, about the world we want to leave to our children and grandchildren, " she said in closing.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at email@example.com.