Standing up for Sen. Collins, the person

By Reade Brower | Oct 31, 2019

As owner of many Maine newspapers, I have a responsibility to keep quiet.

My personal views might be perceived as those of the papers and, when contrary to views of our editors or reporters, could be undermining.

Many have criticized Maine Sen. Susan Collins for not using her earned stature as a moderate and “voice of reason” in confronting President Trump; that is fair game, as are her political views and the votes she casts.

What isn’t fair is character assassination and rudeness.

This is my opinion, not the newspapers, their editors, or their reporters. Their jobs are to provide readers with fair reporting and thought-provoking columns. Nobody reports to me, nobody is told what to do, even in a subtle manner, by me. In the last 30 years I have started or owned over a dozen companies; in that time frame, never has someone been let go, unless they reported directly to me. Never.

To be clear to the reporters and editors of this paper: Write what you want, about what you want ― you answer to your editor or publisher — they alone determine what’s fit for print.

This column is about standing up and being counted; we preach this by doing it, not talking about it. Everyone needs to be accountable, including me. It’s not meant to influence anyone on the newspaper staff; rather to share my personal interactions with Sen. Collins and general philosophical thoughts regarding today’s political environment and the general disrespect that has become the norm.

President Trump has helped foster a hostile environment where people feel empowered to name call (how can this be OK with anyone?), create misdirection, and discredit any adversary, justified or not.

Hate cannot trump love or we might as well hang it up; for those who want to point to the economy or policies as the reason to support a politician, I implore you to rethink ― if moral integrity is put on the back burner, the rest will crumble; it will be just a matter of time. Winning at all costs should be saved for only the direst situations, not for everyday living.

This brings us to Erik Mercer and the recent ads he’s bought to criticize Collins in the Portland Sunday Telegram. Reading a recent Bill Nemitz column, one gets a sense of what went on. One can say “rudeness” has no finite definition, but you know it when you see it.

It doesn’t have to be loud; disrespect comes from what you say as well as how you say it. In this case, Collins showed decency by inviting Mercer to sit and chat at the airport; whether she adequately answered his questions is fair discussion.

If he told her she “lacked courage” and had “no principles,” after interrupting her personal space, turning his questions into an inquisition, this is the definition of “rude.”

Readers can make up their own minds; I share with you my own personal observations about Collins, whom I have met with four times.

Within a short time of taking over ownership of Maine’s largest paper, both Sen. Collins and Gov. LePage reached out. Both were told a meeting would be fine and that I’m not “day-to-day” and never interfere in policies.

Sen. Susan met anyway; after five minutes of pleasantries, we had dialogue. She respected my position; we talked about other things as restaurant patrons interacted constantly, her grace evident. Gov. Paul, on the other hand, told me straight out: “If you aren’t going to change the hacks that run your paper, forget it, I won’t waste my time.”

The day I met Collins, she arrived, by herself, dropped in front of the restaurant by her driver. That night, I attended a town hall where LePage was surrounded by no fewer than five state policemen. His handlers, after the event ended, prevented me from even an introduction.

After that initial meeting, I emailed a thank you to the senator for her time. Her response was to ask me several questions about health insurance and how it was affecting my 26-year-old son.

In full disclosure, even though I wouldn’t help her with what she regarded as biased reporting at papers I owned, she stepped up to help me when I next reached out months later about how Trump tariffs were threatening the news industry to its core.

The high tariff on Canadian newsprint had done nothing to level the playing field, instead giving newsprint suppliers in both Canada and the U.S. the liberty to steal with prices for newsprint rising over 40% from the mid $500 a ton range to well over $700 in a period of months, giving a near knockout blow to an industry already under siege. Collins enlisted Maine Sen. Angus King to help and they formed bipartisan support leading to the tariff’s elimination.

The point is, she did this because she researched it and found it detrimental, putting aside any personal animosity she might have had for the newspapers she was helping to save.

With Kavanaugh, she did her research and decided there wasn’t enough corroborating evidence to doom his nomination; in this country we have the presumption of innocence and, though Christine Ford’s testimony was credible, there was no backup that could lead her past “beyond reasonable doubt.”

My other personal observations of Susan are that she is a fierce researcher and tireless public servant. The several email correspondences we’ve had are always thoughtful, truthful and provoking, more often than not, written after 11 p.m.

This is not about politics (or I wouldn’t be writing), rather something far more ― civility. I am not defending her politics, how she has stood up, or not, to our president, or what she stands for. I stand up for her because I have observed a person who has had to endure an avalanche of mean public comments, including threats to her life, intrusions on her neighbors, staff, and personal attacks that have no business in politics, yet she still says “yes” when strangers ask to speak with her.

She has been ambushed (literally ― a man coming out from behind bushes after 10 p.m.), had her Bangor neighborhood picketed and several other scary incidents that have not been well publicized.

When my wife and I visited D.C. to thank her, and others, for the rollback of tariffs, we felt her grace while she showed us around the Capitol Building and understood she is the voice of reason and one Republican trying to build consensus, heading meetings that were held secretly so both party leaders wouldn’t chastise their members for attending.

Let this column be a plea, not just about stopping general rudeness that has become acceptable today, but one about finding another way to share viewpoints that offer constructive, encouraging dialogue leading to “give and take” discussions, rather than constant acrimony.


“Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand-in-hand.” ― Emily Kimbrough, author, broadcaster (1899-1989)


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Comments (10)
Posted by: Karin Leuthy | Nov 17, 2019 19:45

Valli, I have also witnessed first hand the expert gaslighting that Senator Collins and her staff use against those who take issue with her actions affecting people's lives and futures. Her staff regularly lie about the actions of protestors and critics, and she has used this false image of a nebulous vile mob out to get her as a way of creating false equivalencies and weaponizing conservative anger towards legitimate and respectful dissent. We all want to give our legislators the benefit of the doubt that they are acting honorably at all times, but the truth is, sometimes they are not. We expect those in the news business to fact check everything they print, including (and perhaps especially) the stories told to them by nice legislators who do nice things for their business' bottom line. It's also important for white men of means and power to acknowledge that they are not the ones being targeted by the harmful actions of the current administration and the legislators who enable it.

Posted by: Karin Leuthy | Nov 17, 2019 17:46

Ronald Horvath, your description of the way Senator Collins maneuvers is as eloquent as it is accurate. I'd love to see you turn that comment into an op ed.

Posted by: RALPH WALLACE | Nov 03, 2019 14:14

Are you listening, Ms. Hill?  That is called the decency factor!

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Nov 03, 2019 04:39

Thank you, Reade, for not giving up.  You are an inspiration to those of us who live in a spirit of hope, healing and inclusivity.  Cannot forget: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

Posted by: Reade Brower | Nov 02, 2019 19:16

We can choose to be cynical of everybody and everything.....or we can choose to give everyone the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. I get criticized when I say something, I get criticized when I keep quiet. I get it. That's fine, it really is. But politicians have it worse, I don't know why anyone still wants to play in that arena - bless them all.

Posted by: Jennifer Hill | Nov 02, 2019 08:15

ahhhh, the nice factor . . . the woman in power who won't meet with constituents is so nice, once you get through the wall surrounding her - I'm all for civil discourse, but cringe when I read this; people are getting angry and belligerent because they have no influence, no say once someone is elected - Bruce Poliquin lost because of his lack of responsiveness to constituents. you can't just ignore people and survive as a politician, no matter how sweet and kind you are - I'm glad you have a friend who meets with the publisher of so many newspapers in Maine, Reade. it reminds me of "Black Like Me" when a white man experienced such southern hospitality until he darkened his skin, when he learned the true meaning behind the saccharine phrase

Posted by: Reade Brower | Nov 01, 2019 17:02

thanks Valli for your comments and concerns. I am trying to not politicize this; this is about human decency and the lack there of in our current lives - routine name calling and rudeness need to be called out. Having 15 people meet is somewhat of a different animal than what I was describing and the fact that Senator King was so obliging speaks similarly with your statement that Collins is "always gracious with her supporters" - Senator King was doing just that with 15 of his supporters. Maine is so LUCKY to have two Senators who are not mudslingers and care about bipartisanship in Washington.

Posted by: RALPH WALLACE | Oct 31, 2019 13:30

I agree completely with Reade's perspective on Senator Collins the person. I too have interacted with her directly and came away with the same perception of her as others who have done so - she is an intelligent, caring and thoughtful person who loves her home state. One can agree or disagree with her politics, but the invective hurled at her as in being called a "rape apologist" in the Kavanaugh matter, is so far beyond the pale that it shocks any concept of human decency. Surely, fair-minded Mainers can view the Senator as a decent, honorable woman.

Posted by: George Terrien | Oct 31, 2019 09:16

A perspective very, very well presented, Valli, one I heartily endorse, however heavily.  Maine deserves better, and our past gives us excellent examples of what better means among Senators at least.

Posted by: Valli Genevieve Geiger | Oct 31, 2019 08:57

Dear Reade, as always your perspective is one sliver of the truth, but there are others out there. When I and 14 other female legislatures flew to Washington requesting to meet with Senator Collins during the Kavanaugh hearings, she refused to meet with us and grudgingly, and finally after several phone calls over several days, provided a low level staffer to meet with us for 15". Contrast this with Senator King, whose office called us back in 5", offered an hour meeting with the Senator and invited us to consider his office suite our home for the day. Senator King invited his staff and interns to sit in on our meeting as we discussed policy, the Kavanaugh choice and other issues. Senator Collins is always gracious with her supporters and powerful people, of which you are one Reade. But she does not represent just Republicans in the Senate, she represents all of us and as a stated pro-choice politician, she had a special obligation with her vote for Supreme Court Justices. So many of us were gutted by her vote, that we looked at her record with new eyes and saw that when the stakes were low, she voted moderately, when the stakes were high, she did not. Dahlia Lithwick sums up the day Judge Kavanaugh spoke and the consequence of the Senator's vote very well in a recent article in Slate:

"The enduring memory, a year later, is that my 15-year-old son texted—he was watching it in school—to ask if I was “perfectly safe” in the Senate chamber. He was afraid for the judge’s mental health and my physical health. I had to patiently explain that I was in no physical danger of any kind, that there were dozens of people in the room, and that I was at the very back, with the phalanx of reporters. My son’s visceral fears don’t really matter in one sense, beyond the fact that I was forced to explain to him that the man shouting about conspiracies and pledging revenge on his detractors would sit on the court for many decades; and in that one sense, none of us, as women, was ever going to be perfectly safe again."


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