Standing against Susan Collins, the Senator: an open letter to Reade Brower

By Pearl Benjamin | Nov 14, 2019

Dear Mr. Brower,

Recently you wrote an editorial titled “Standing up for Sen. Collins, the person” about your disapproval of Susan Collins’ negative reputation among progressives in Maine. You expressed contempt for Erik Mercer’s ad about an unfortunate interaction with Collins, calling it “rude.” You lamented the current political atmosphere in which “moderates” like Collins are chastised at every corner.

Mr. Brower, although I appreciate your support of my work and respect your commitment to neutrality as an owner of the press, I cannot agree with you on this one. Susan Collins has proven herself unreliable to the people of Maine. She votes against the interests of her constituents and then disrespects them when they protest. She relies on empty promises and dark money to get herself elected and I can’t support that. Mainers have a right to protest Collins because she’s simply not doing her job.

In your editorial, you mentioned personal experience that led you to view Collins as a “fierce researcher” and a “tireless public servant” that involved private meetings with the Senator. You also admitted that Collins wanted to meet with you because of your ownership of Maine’s largest paper. Mr. Brower, you cannot possibly expect angry Mainers to soften towards Collins because she was friendly to an industry leader whose business threatened her reputation. She may have met with you and discussed issues that pertained to your trade, but she hasn’t met with me. In fact, Susan Collins is notorious for avoiding her constituents. She refuses to hold town halls in Maine or meet with protesters. She won’t return our messages or even formulate topic-specific responses to illuminate her viewpoints. She hides behind a facade of being moderate, but we see through it.

From what I can tell, Susan Collins doesn’t do her research or serve the public. She’s voted for the confirmation of several extremely unqualified and obviously corrupt Trump Administration nominees like Kirstjen Nielson, Mike Pompeo and Bill Barr. She’s voted against solutions that have been proven by credible data like firearm background checks. She’s voted to provide $5.7 billion to Trump’s border wall. She’s voted for a tax bill that put Mainers’ health care at risk and threatened to take away their Medicare and Social Security. She helped appoint a sexual predator to a lifetime position in the most powerful court in our country.

Why should I show Susan Collins any respect? She clearly doesn’t care about my future, my wellbeing or my experience. How can you ask me to give her courtesy because she showed interest in preserving your industry, but not my welfare?

I know, I know, you want us to view Senator Collins as a “person,” not just a political figure. You want us to consider how our judgements would affect a friend or a colleague. But we have no reason to consider Susan Collins a friend or a colleague because she refuses to show us that same respect. She refuses to show her face here in Maine, where her constituents plead with her staff to make a difference in the Capitol. We have no evidence to suggest that Susan Collins is truly interested in benefiting her constituents and we can’t just give her the benefit of the doubt. Our futures are at stake and we don’t have time to cut self-serving politicians any slack. That’s why for the next year, I’ll be supporting a democratic candidate who can oust Susan Collins and bring positive change to Washington. On Nov. 23, my group Maine Teen Advocacy Coalition will be hosting a Democratic Senatorial Forum at Camden Hills Regional High School at 1:30 pm. This will be a chance for Susan Collins’ top opponents to clarify their stances on issues that affect Maine’s youngest voters. I urge you to join us and stand against the stagnant, corrupt nature of Susan Collins’ campaign. Mainers will not be fooled by her again.

Pearl Benjamin is a student at the Watershed School.

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Comments (15)
Posted by: Lynette Walther | Nov 22, 2019 13:04

Bravo, Pearl. I believe you articulated what a lot of us were thinking.

Posted by: Lynette Walther | Nov 22, 2019 13:03

Bravo, Pearl. I believe you articulated what a lot of us were thinking.

Posted by: Reade Brower | Nov 18, 2019 17:50

Marie; thanks for sharing your viewpoint, that is legitimate criticism but different from my experiences. On face value those two letters tell a story, I just don't know if it is the whole story as I don't know either person, how they approached her office, or whether they have an agenda. I can just tell you that my agenda is only to write about what I know,  and what I've observed and those who know me can judge my sincerity and those who don't, can read it with a "grain of salt".

Posted by: Reade Brower | Nov 18, 2019 17:46

Dear Karin (a.k.a. mother of Pearl); thanks for weighing in. I didn't say Pearl "mischaracterized" my column - I said she used it as a stepping off platform to her own political column. Rather than talk about my columns' premise, civility in politics, she made this about her political stance, which is fine as a stand-alone. The gentleman getting into her personal space and face at an airport was rude; yes, I did my research and that is my conclusion. The treatment you describe to Pearl is equally reprehensible and I would think you and Pearl would be in my corner that rude treatment should not be condoned ever - Susan and Pearl both should not have to put us with that kind of abusive or threatening behavior. I don't agree with you it is a "waste of column space" to preach civility - Pearl gets to write about what she wants, I respectfully ask you to allow me to write about what I want without your condemnation.

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Nov 18, 2019 13:27

Praise and support go to Pearl and her mother. Pearl is a talented, brave teenager with an intellect and writing skills far above her chronological age. She neither condemned Sen. Susan Collins as a person, nor would Pearl condone violence. Like journalists here and abroad, Pearl is being verbally attacked. In her case -  by adults. Shame on them.

Phyllis Merriam

Posted by: marie smith | Nov 17, 2019 16:06

Pearl: As always I am in awe of your wit, your ability to distill information and your ability to speak up.

Reade because you are listening: I want you to know I know far too many who have been yelled at in the office of Senator Collins: myself included. I have letters I can privately share with you that I and others have  written to the office asking for steps to be made to ensure that Mainers feel safe there and that the staff are not rude. The letters began in 2017.

Two people wrote letters to the editor about their experience with Senator Collins' staff. In fact we even asked folks to track whether the staff was rude to them because it was so common. I disagree with a lot of tactics and I'm not here to debate those. I will say I do hold Susan Collins -- the person and the leader -- accountable for the office she runs and for the rudeness of her staff.

I only know one of the authors and share the links to their letters also published in your papers.  I urge you to use your power, influence and position to ensure that Mainers are treated with kindness when sharing painful stories and when going to the office of their Senator.

Posted by: RALPH WALLACE | Nov 17, 2019 15:23

As a former high school and college English instructor, I must weigh in on this silliness. Reade Brower's original premise - the bifurcation of person and program has been missed entirely. In fact, it is with apt irony that his point has been made by Ms. Benjamin, her mother and others. It is a sad comment on today's social environment that one must be "hated" for no other reason than his or her political stance. For this convoluted reasoning, Democrats must "hate" Republicans and vice versa, and I would venture to say that that must also be the case for capitalists and socialists. Senator Susan Collins is a decent woman who breathes the same air and has the same love for her country and the state of Maine as her constituents do. It is abhorrent that she has received death threats and her staff have been vilified for no other reason than her considered actions as OUR Senator. As a former English professor, I would opine that failure to grasp this premise of person and program renders the writer unworthy of serious political consideration.

Posted by: Karin Leuthy | Nov 17, 2019 04:23

Dear Reade,

I do not think Pearl mischaracterized your column. She wasn't the only one surprised by it, and she wasn't the only one who noticed that, in the end, Susan Collins got what she wanted: another person in the news business who calls her by her brand name ("moderate") without checking first for accuracy. Pearl has done her research about Collins' record, and has plenty of reason to be angry about her votes and financial ties. Most run directly counter to Mainers' interests, and are anything but moderate. She has also seen Collins play the victim by disparaging those who respectfully disagree with her as "rude" (you bought that story, too), "paid protestors," and even terrorists. Did you fact check the claims you made in the comments here? Being critical of what you hear from legislators matters, too. As we know, even friendly ones aren't always truthful.

I'd also like to give you a little window into the behavior of some of the people Pearl has met in her advocacy endeavors. The first time Pearl spoke before a large crowd, aged 17, in the State House Hall of Flags, a large throng of loud and angry gun safety opponents crowded in front of her podium, and attempted to shout her down. Those same people later posted pictures of her in a popular Facebook gun group. When she wrote to Republican state legislators, asking them to explain why they voted against Maine's Equal Rights Amendment, they called her "brainwashed." When she presented testimony in a public hearing, a man in the audience called out, "paid by Bloomberg!" When she wrote a column calling out state legislators for opposing gun safety bills, her editor told her someone who did not want to be named (we believe it was a legislator) contacted him to complain about her, perhaps to get her fired. When she participated in a "Fridays For Our Future" climate strike (in which she provided information to passers-by about the climate threat assessment she helped create for Camden), an elderly woman shouted at her, "Go back to school!" And when she spoke at a candlelight vigil for the victims of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, she was filmed from across the street by a man wearing a gun on his hip. In each and every one of these encounters, Pearl kept going, refusing to take the bait by responding with rudeness or snark or even an "OK, Boomer."

Don't you think it's interesting that Pearl doesn't waste her breath (or column space) complaining about that rude and threatening behavior? I do. And I think Senator Collins could learn a thing or two from it. At the beginning of 2017, Susan Collins was ranked as one of the most popular senators in Congress. Today, only Mitch McConnell is LESS popular. Perhaps if Senator Collins spent more time listening to her constituents instead of complaining about them, she would have a better understanding of why so many people are so very fed up.

--Karin Leuthy (aka Mother of Pearl)

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Nov 16, 2019 11:42

Pearl was a guest along with several other Camden/Rockport students last week on WRFR's Rockland Metro show.  The discussion centered on the upcoming candidate forum November 23rd at Camden Hills High school.  The purpose of this show is to hold and open and respectful conversation about the issues.  Station founder Joe Steinberger continues to promote in all of our discussions the importance of respectful disagreements and not to demean the person, but to talk about the issue instead.  Civility is under attack in this country and we desperately need to find ways to get along with one another as a community.

Posted by: Reade Brower | Nov 15, 2019 18:31

Kendall, I think my comments were civil and I have full confidence Pearl can hold her own against an old man like me. Explain to me why Pearl and I can't have some back and forth discourse; the idea is for on-line discussions that move us forward and that is my attempt here - not to disparage Pearl, who I have commended on many occasions for her writing and the topics she brings forward. I hope this is what civil discussion looks like. P.S. Pearl's column was entitled "An Open Letter to Reade Brower" - I take that as an invitation to have a discussion and clarify my stand/opinion. Not sure what the beef is here.

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Nov 15, 2019 16:42

That Brower would launch such criticism of their own paper's young columnist (who happens to write with civility and with great talent) comes across as an attack of an aspiring journalist.

Posted by: Reade Brower | Nov 15, 2019 16:08

P.S. to previous comment to you Pearl. I am Reade, my father is Mr. Brower, but I do appreciate the intended respect ;-) The other thing I must correct is your opening statement my column was "about (my) disapproval of Susan Collins negative reputation amount progressives in Maine". That's not the column I wrote, so to lead your column with that perspective is either deliberately misleading or you reading something into it that wasn't there. I could care less what "progressives" think about Senator Collins - just be civil, don't send her anthrax, and don't throw trash on her lawn, or get into her face at airports. No place for rude behavior in our society, from the conservative right or from the progressive left. In "moderation", regards, :LIP: Reade

Posted by: Reade Brower | Nov 15, 2019 16:00

Pearl; the column I wrote had one, and one purpose only, it was about civility. I clearly stated it was about the person, and yet you (and many others) can not (or will not) accept it for what it was - a condemnation of how we treat people in Washington we don't agree with. It was not about policy, it was about the person. Using my column as a stepping stone to your political discourse is a discourtesy; write what you want, about who you will support, and why, and you have my blessing - misinterpreting my column last week to make your political points, not so. What I wrote primarily about was that it was not cool, in my opinion, to leave debris on Collin's Bangor lawn, harass her neighbors, harangue her staff (several quit because of the severe abuse), jump out of the bushes as she arrived home, alone, to her DC condo after 10pm, send her anthrax (fake or otherwise) and several other, potentially deadly things not all reported, as well as the rude behavior into her personal space as she waited to board a plane. How is that "okay" Pearl? If you want to reference my column, please do, but don't use it as a platform for your own column - you have the chops to write a column on its' own merits without misrepresenting a column where the motive was "civility" not politics.

Posted by: Lucinda Lang | Nov 15, 2019 08:46

Thank you PEARL BENJAMIN ......

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Nov 14, 2019 10:59

Great, thoughtful editorial! Susan Collins especially does not represent the needs of Maine women.

-Phyllis Merriam

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