Last week, Maine Republican Party chair Demi Kouzounas announced a special meeting for March 13 to ponder Senator Susan Collins’s vote to convict former president Donald Trump and consider “possible action from this committee.”
The move was in response to what was called a “grassroots outcry” from Republicans “almost universally outraged” by the senator’s decision to join six other Republicans with her vote to convict. A special meeting is called when a sufficient number of signatures are gathered to do so.
“We write today to condemn in the strongest possible terms your vote…” began the letter. It went on to say the impeachment trial was “unconstitutional” and “politically motivated” and that the impeachment House Managers “altered video of President Trump…similar to the way a campaign might cut a dishonest 30-second campaign ad.” (Like, say, the ads in the U.S. Senate election last fall. Dreadful.)
The Republicans blamed Democrats for “planting seeds in the minds of their voters that the 2016 election was ‘stolen,’” failing to mention that in 2016 the losing candidate conceded on the day following the election and also attended her opponent’s inauguration, a gracious and traditional gesture that former president Trump was unable to bring himself to do.
The letter, not wanting to totally burn Republican bridges, concluded with appreciation for the time the senator took to hear from them, the work she does to improve the lives of hard-working Mainers, her constituent service, which is unrivaled, etc., ending, “But we cannot, and will not, be silent in the wake of this vote.” If that was a gauntlet thrown, Sen. Collins picked it up with a pair of tongs and tossed it to the side of the road. The letter went back marked “Return to sender.”
In a post-impeachment interview, Sen. Collins herself had this to say: “I’d be focused on growing our party, not sending a message that if you don’t hold a certain view you’re not welcome in the party.” The senator noted that she is “the only Republican office holder left at the federal level in all of New England” and that though Democrats increased their registration numbers in the last election, Republicans did not.
What is with this idea that only 100 percent conformity to party ideology is acceptable? In 1774, Edmund Burke, Irish statesman and member of the British Parliament, spoke of the duty of an elected official to constituent “instruction” this way: “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect… It is his duty…to prefer their interest to his own.” Burke continues: “But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience he ought not to sacrifice to…any man, or to any set of men living.”
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment…,” says Burke. Believing that a representative’s only duty is to obey constituents’ instructions is a “fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.”
Sen. Collins has given us her industry and her judgment. She did so in the first impeachment trial when she voted to acquit this same former president, and again in the second impeachment when she voted to convict. She has given us a clear rationale for her decisions in both cases.
The reward for her labor is the threat of censure by her party. Censure has no legal standing. It is merely a public rebuke, in this case to a person who has devoted her whole life to her party. A rebuke for the sin of thinking for herself and speaking her mind after careful consideration of the facts with which she was presented, and in many instances witnessed with her own eyes and ears.
Aside from the casual cruelty of treating this senator, this lifelong party member this way, looking long-term, what on earth are Republicans thinking? The woman just won an election that almost everyone predicted she would lose. She is the longest serving Republican woman in the Senate. She is the most senior Republican woman in the Senate. From that vantage point, she has enormous opportunity to do good things for Maine. And her party wants to censure her.
Who the heck is going to run for election anymore? What is the point of serving in a representative body when your only job is to do what your party tells you to do? You might as well phone it in. As for building a party’s membership, it’ll be “no, thank you” for anyone watching how this party treats its members.
Disagree with the senator? Go right ahead. It is your birthright, you lucky American, you. “Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! Spout, rain!” (That’s what King Lear recommends under adverse circumstances.) But censure her? Not if you value your party’s future.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.