The four candidates for Maine’s U.S. Senate election held their first debate last Friday night. There were two major party candidates, incumbent Sen. Susan Collins and challenger Sara Gideon, current Speaker of the Maine House. There were two independents, Lisa Savage and Max Linn. And there were two separate universes.
Sen. Collins and Speaker Gideon sparred on the usual terms. They went after each other’s records, past performance and public statements. Each had point-by-point programs to offer for the nation’s ills. Collins can rattle off positions in her sleep and has the advantage of being able to cite actual accomplishments in the office they both seek. Gideon has a record as speaker but can only assert future goals as a U.S. senator.
Gideon was well-prepared. Collins, who has not faced a serious challenge in many a year, can talk politics all day and half the night. Gideon floated a number of solutions to the usual issues: health care, racial justice, climate change, money in politics. Collins dismantled her ideas one by one and proposed that “an issue that can bring us together is energy storage.”
Money in politics is a hard topic to field by candidates hauling in tons of it. Gideon made her case for overturning Citizens United and passing the Disclose Act. Collins pounced. Overturning Citizens United would not solve the problem and the Disclose Act exempts interest groups like the National Rifle Association and labor unions. Savage offered a simple solution to the big money problem: Just don’t accept it.
When Gideon went after Collins on who the Senator would support for president, Collins deflected the question saying “I don’t think that the people of Maine need my advice on who to support...” Gideon came back for a second helping, saying “the people of Maine want to know who their senator supports.” Collins would not go there.
When Gideon attacked Collins for her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Collins asked Gideon whether she would have voted for Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. It was the only time Gideon was flat-footed, pausing for several beats before she got out: “I’d have to study that.” Almost under her breath, Collins said “She’s ducking the question.” From question-ducking Collins it seemed a lame response.
Lisa Savage, a member of the Green Independent party, is running as an independent. She was earnest and eloquent about causes ranging from climate change to universal health care, a “clean energy system” to public transportation, consumer-owned utilities to regenerative agriculture and racial justice. She pointed out that Ranked Choice Voting would allow voters to choose her first without fear of being a “spoiler.” If you are in line with her policy priorities, she’d be a great choice.
Max Linn was a hot mess. His initial promise, “We’re gonna have a lot of fun tonight,” went unfulfilled. An independent candidate (after being a member of both political parties in the past), he opened with this: “Competing against $100 million (a fundraising total for Collins and Gideon that the moderator disputed) I have to be…something different. I might put a question aside because I know I have to slay these giants (Collins and Gideon), I have to be outside the box, that’s my strategy so be patient.”
Patient? Incredulous was more like it. Linn used up most of his time teasing the “bombshells” he was about to announce. When a debate moderator asked that he “stick with the question” Linn’s reply was “Well, request denied.” During another off-topic monologue the moderator inquired, “Can we go back to economics?” “No, we can’t,” said Linn.
And the bombshells? Item: Asked about health care Linn raised the Central Maine Power corridor, saying he will be filing a suit that is “going to stop CMP in its tracks.” A plaintive moderator asked: “Do you have any interest in health care?” Said Linn: “Yes I do. Request denied again. I have to be out of the box.” Thanks to his not-yet-filed lawsuit, “The CMP corridor will not happen!”
Item: Linn says he has been working for six months with Augusta attorney and lobbyist extraordinaire Severin Belliveau for the first high speed train from southern Maine to northern Maine. “I have even met with Heather Johnson in the Governor’s office!”
Item: Linn announced a new “website for dialog,” Black Lives Matter National Service.com, to promote racial justice.
And the bombshell of bombshells? The Converter Website! “I have completely scrubbed my website and made a brand–new website never seen in American politics before.” This website is “guaranteed to take the money out of politics. It makes their $100 million inoperable.”
Linn’s website brings to mind Wilhelm Reich’s orgone box. Sit in the box to restore energy and cure cancer, colds, arthritis and ulcers. Linn’s website is about as transformative.