She is one of the most popular politicians in the nation. She is described as “one of the last survivors of a once-common species of moderate Northeastern Republican” (you have to travel four states away to find another Senator from her party). And following a scare last month where it looked like she might leave office to run for governor, it now appears she’ll be staying in Congress, where she’s been working hard to make a difference since 1997. She is Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and I’m here to tell you why she is my hero.
Senator Collins has a long history in American public service. She was born on December 7, 1952, in Caribou, Maine, where both of her parents later served as mayor. After graduating magna cum laude from St. Lawrence University, she worked for 12 years in the D.C. office of Maine Representative William Cohen. Over time, Collins served effectively in various political offices and assignments and was eventually appointed the regional director of the Small Business Administration by President George H.W. Bush.
Collins’ first personal foray into national politics came in 1994 when she won a tight 8-way Republican primary to become Maine’s first female nominee for governor. She went on to lose that general election to Independent candidate Angus King (interestingly, 23 years later, Collins and King now serve together as Maine’s two senators). Two years later, Collins ran a successful campaign for the U.S. Senate, succeeding her former boss, William Cohen, and has served there ever since. Throughout her 21 years in Congress, she has 100 percent perfect attendance—that is, she has never missed a vote. At well over 6000 roll call votes and counting, she now holds the third-longest consecutive voting streak in Senate history.
In an age defined by increasing polarization and party tribalism, Senator Collins is a true moderate. She is a Republican and a conservative at heart, to be sure, but she has shown a refreshing willingness to break with the party and vote her conscience in critical moments, even under enormous pressure to shut up and fall in line. The case that comes most readily to mind happened during Republicans’ effort to repeal Obamacare over the summer: Collins was the first to state that while she would love to see Obamacare overhauled, she could not vote for a repeal that left millions of people without healthcare. Senators Lisa Murkowski and John McCain eventually joined Senator Collins in blocking the repeal effort and showing Congress that any major healthcare reform would have to be bipartisan.
But while front-page cases like this are important, Senator Collins has always been defined more by what she stands for than by what she is against. Because of her willingness to reach across the aisle, Senator Collins frequently shows up as the chief Republican sponsor of major bipartisan legislation. For example, she and Democrat Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois coauthored an enormously popular bill that repealed over $50 million in tax breaks to tobacco companies. Collins has also had extensive success working with former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut: the pair coauthored a major overhaul of U.S. intelligence operations in response to 9/11, and they later sponsored the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a Clinton-era policy that prohibited openly gay Americans from serving in the military.
Personally, what I love most about Senator Collins is that she embodies all the best parts of both parties. She is fiscally conscious and fights for prudent government spending, but also remembers the disadvantaged who are dependent on that spending. She advocates for families and traditional family values, but she also makes it clear that all humans should be treated with love and dignity, regardless of race, class, or sexual orientation. She works to create an environment where businesses can thrive but also makes sure the rights of individual workers are protected. In a world where many political issues are seen as purely black or white, Republican or Democrat, Collins has no problem planting herself firmly in the middle ground, endorsing the best parts of both sides.
Susan Collins may not be the hero America deserves, but she is the hero that America needs a whole lot more of right now. She fights to make sure that perfectionism does not become the enemy of progress and stands by her own principles while also allowing others to stand by theirs. Polling consistently shows that a large majority of American citizens want to see the two parties working together and compromising more, and Senator Collins is the embodiment of that ideal. So if you are fed up with the politics of bickering, partisanship, and gridlock and are searching for someone to champion a more level-headed, inclusive, and all-around reasonable approach to government, look no further than U.S. Senate Superstar Susan Collins.
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