Sen. Susan Collins (R)
Elected: 1996, term expires 2014, 3rd term.
Born: Dec. 7, 1952, Caribou .
Education: St. Lawrence U., B.A. 1975.
Professional Career: Legis. aide, U.S. Sen. Bill Cohen, 1975–87, Staff dir., Oversight of Gov. Mgmt. Subcmte., 1981–87; Professional & Financial Regulation Comm., 1987–92; New England regional dir., U.S. Small Business Admin., 1992; ME dpty. treas., 1993; Exec. dir., Ctr. for Family Business, Husson Col., 1994–96.
Susan Collins, Maine’s junior senator, is a Republican who was elected in 1996 in only her second run for elective office. She grew up in Caribou, in potato-growing Aroostook County, about as far northeast as you can get in the United States, closer to the capitals of New Brunswick and Quebec than to the capital of Maine. Her family is in the lumber business, and is also involved in politics. Her father was a state senator, her mother served as mayor, and her uncle was a state Supreme Court justice. She recalls that as a high school senior, she visited Washington as part of a Senate youth program, and home-state Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith talked with her for nearly two hours in her office. Right after college, she got a job as an intern with Republican Bill Cohen, then a Maine representative and a member of the Judiciary Committee who had voted to impeach President Nixon. Cohen hired Collins, and she remained on his staff for 12 years. She was staff director for the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, which Cohen chaired from 1981 to 1987. After Republicans lost their Senate majority, Collins returned to Maine to work for five years for GOP Gov. John McKernan as a financial regulation commissioner. In 1992, she was New England administrator of the Small Business Administration, and by 1994, she was running for governor. It was a disastrous campaign: She won the Republican nomination but was overshadowed by independent Angus King and ran third, with only 23% of the vote.
|Susan Collins (R)||444,300||(61%)||($7,765,295)|
|Tom Allen (D)||279,510||(39%)||($6,462,451)|
|Susan Collins (R)||56,304||(100%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (58%), 1996 (49%)
Two years later, Cohen announced his retirement from the Senate. Collins wanted to run, and indeed there was a precedent in Maine for a third-place gubernatorial finisher to be elected senator: Republican George Mitchell was similarly humiliated in 1974, and then, after being appointed senator in 1980, won smashing victories in 1982 and 1988. In the Republican primary, Collins played up her resemblance to moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe and Cohen on issues and called for a balanced-budget amendment, the presidential line-item veto, and term limits. She pledged to serve no more than two terms. Collins won with 56% of the vote. In the general election, she was opposed by former Gov. Joseph Brennan. Brennan attacked Collins on economic issues and gun control, but Collins raised much more money and won 49%-44%.
Collins has compiled a centrist voting record. She has joined Democrats on issues including tax cuts, campaign finance regulation, and a ban on “partial-birth” abortions. She was one of the Republicans who called for chopping the 2003 Bush tax cut in half; it ended up being trimmed but by considerably less than half. She also was one of the GOP members who insisted that the “pay-as-you-go” rule applies to tax cuts as well as spending increases in the budget in 2004. The following year, Collins joined the “Gang of 14”—seven Republicans and seven Democrats—who promised to vote against any effort by Republicans to halt the use of filibusters against judicial nominees as long as Democrats swore off future judicial filibusters in all but extraordinary cases. With then-Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Collins sponsored a bill in 2007 to monitor mercury pollution. She also supported raising fuel-efficiency standards for cars to 35 miles per gallon in 2019 and requiring carbon dioxide emissions to be lowered to 1990 levels by 2020. Collins has been the lead Senate Republican sponsor of a bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 2009, Collins was given a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee, the panel that controls federal spending.
Her first great cause in the Senate was campaign finance regulation: She was beaten by a millionaire in 1994 and faced two of them in the 1996 primary. Collins said that limits on self-financing candidates were a ‘‘cornerstone’’ of any reform for her, although such limits have been declared unconstitutional. In March 2001 she and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon sponsored an amendment requiring negative ads to include a picture of the candidate running them or otherwise be ineligible for the lowest discounted advertising rate.
In 2003, Collins became chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, the panel where she launched her career as a Senate staffer. Her highest-profile issue there was the reorganization of the intelligence community. Working closely with Lieberman, she fashioned a bill that established a director of national intelligence and a new counter-terrorism center. It was introduced in 2004 and adopted on a 96-2 vote after a two-week debate. With Lieberman’s support, she beat back an amendment by Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska that would have kept secret the total amount of intelligence spending, and another amendment by Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia that would have limited the ability of the national intelligence director to shift funds and personnel. Collins worked with Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state on a 2006 bill requiring radiation screening of all cargo entering U.S. ports. Collins also moved legislation that would classify security threats at chemical facilities and require the operators to implement security measures or use safer chemicals.
Building on work from the previous Congress, Collins and Democrat Thomas Carper of Delaware moved a Postal Service reorganization bill through the Senate in 2006. The law pegged postal increases to inflation and shifted responsibility for the military retirement benefits of postal employees to the Treasury. On civil service issues, Collins generally supported Bush administration proposals to change federal work rules. Her March 2007 amendment to give Transportation Security Administration employees whistle-blower protection failed. She has also sponsored bills to strengthen the protection of whistle-blowers, increase competition in government procurement, and reduce the number of political appointees by one-third.
In late 2006, she won approval of a bill that allows minor league athletes and professional ice skaters to apply for P-1 immigration visas, making life easier for the many Canadian hockey players who skate for the Lewiston Maineiacs. On other local issues, Collins won protection for financially ailing fishermen under the Bankruptcy Act and sought a National Weather Service office for her hometown of Caribou. In 2007, she pushed a study to find ways to enhance the driver’s license test, so that people crossing the Canadian border could use their licenses in lieu of passports.
In 2001, Collins got a seat on the Armed Services Committee, where she looks after the interests of Bath Iron Works, Maine’s biggest private employer. In 2004, she secured a commitment that at least some work on the first new DD(X) destroyer will be done at Bath. Collins voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002; in 2007, she opposed a Democratic attempt to set a timetable for withdrawing troops. But she sometimes sided with Democrats in imposing some restraints on the Bush administration. In 2008, with Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Evan Bayh of Indiana, Collins offered a successful amendment to make Iraq reconstruction funds a loan rather than an outright grant.
When Collins came up for re-election in 2002, national Democrats were optimistic about their chances. Their candidate, former state Senate Majority Leader Chellie Pingree, was energetic and politically creative, and was the chief sponsor of the state law allowing government negotiations with pharmaceutical companies as a way of lowering prescription drug costs. Eventually, both candidates spent more than $2 million. Not widely known in the state, Pingree ran a series of ads in 2001—positive spots on herself and tough attacks on Collins. The U.S. Senate debate over prescription drugs in July of that year helped Collins: She could say that her amendment to make prescription drugs less expensive had passed the Senate by a wide margin and that she had voted for a couple of different prescription drug benefit programs. Pingree’s ads insisted that Collins was “siding with the big drug companies.” But Collins won by a solid 58%-42%.
In Collins’s 2008 re-election bid, groups opposed to the Iraq war ran television ads targeting her, and Democratic Rep. Tom Allen announced he would challenge her with the war as a central issue in his campaign. Allen tried to tie Collins to Bush administration policies at a time when the president’s popularity had sunk to historic lows. She fought back by highlighting her independence on such issues as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which she opposed. Collins also ran ads touting her work getting emergency equipment for the Monmouth Fire Department and P-1 visas for the Lewiston Maineiacs. The war became a less salient issue as the success of the administration’s troop “surge” strategy became evident. Collins maintained double-digit leads in the polls throughout the campaign. The two candidates appeared in 10 debates and spent more than $14 million. Collins won 61%-39%, and even achieved what she described as “my political dream” of carrying heavily Democratic Lewiston, as well as all 16 counties.