Susan, it’s time to come home

2018 will be a big year for politics in Maine. Who will replace Paul LePage as governor? Will the Second Congressional District remain Republican with Bruce Poliquin? Will the Maine Senate remain in the Republican column?

Many candidates for governor have already emerged on the scene. Some of recognizable names include: Democrats Adam Cote of Sanford, a combat veteran who ran unsuccessfully for Congress; Mark Eves of North Berwick, speaker of the Maine House 2012-2016; Janet Mills of Farmington, Maine attorney general; Diane Russell of Portland, a former state representative; and Adam Lee of Cumberland, a well-known auto dealer; as well as Republicans Ken Fredette of Newport, the House minority leader; Garrett Mason of Lewiston, the Senate majority leader; and Mary Mayhew of South China, the former commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services; and independents Terry Hayes of Buckfield, the state treasurer and a former state representative; and Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, a longtime lobbyist.

Of this group the early political standouts are Democrats Eves and Attorney General Mills. On the Republican side, strong LePage supporter Fredette and Mayhew, a LePage favorite, lead the conservative pack.

This may all become a moot point. Anytime there is an open seat for governor, numerous candidates emerge, some credible, some not so much. But the elections, first of LePage as Maine governor and now Donald Trump as president offer irrefutable proof that no candidate can be counted out.

The odds of victory for both LePage and Trump were some of the longest in political history — so never say never. However, even LePage and Trump would readily admit that who your opponents are plays a major role in chances for upset elections.

In the 2018 Maine gubernatorial election, it could be over early if U.S. Sen. Susan Collins decides to return to Caribou and then settle into the governor’s office in Augusta. The case for Collins as governor would be strong. This independent Republican’s popularity is off the charts. Collins, should she decide to run, would be the odds-on favorite. Independents love her, many Democrats vote for her, and she remains popular with most Republican voters (except for the extreme right wing).

She is also a woman. Bereft of the political baggage carried by Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, Collins would greatly benefit from the electoral numerical advantage enjoyed by her gender. If she wins she becomes Maine’s long-awaited first female governor.

The strongest case for Collins for governor is her political courage and willingness to do what’s best for Maine, while withstanding blistering party pressures on critical issues like health care. Collins, who obviously would like to be governor — she lost as a neophyte politician to Angus King in 1994 — says her decision will come down to “where I can do the most good for the people of Maine.”

This columnist believes that some of the following factors should be part of Collins consideration: she is a moderate Republican in a highly conservative Senate; she would not support Donald Trump in the presidential election; she opposed the president’s selection for secretary of education and voted against White House-backed legislation to replace Obamacare.

Since Collins is uncomfortable with President Trump, it probably is time to escape the Washington swamp and leave the Freedom Caucus and some of her more extreme Republican colleagues behind. Their fate will be determined eventually without her involvement in the Senate.

The effect of a Collins’ candidacy for governor on Maine’s Republican Party would be huge. Collins at the top of the ballot would go a long way in assuring the re-election of Poliquin in the Second District.

In addition Collins’ coat-tails would benefit all Republican senators and state representatives seeking re-election, as well as many first time candidates.

Collins said, “Coming (home) to be governor, if I were fortunate enough to be elected … you can work issues that I care a lot about, like economic development, jobs, education. And, I would try to heal and bring people back together, which I think is important as well.”

Collins has given everything she’s got in Washington; sometimes I wish she was more conservative on social issues, but she’s left it all on the playing field and earned the right to come home to Maine to complete her service to the people who know and love her.

The climate in Congress continues to worsen. That should help provide Collins with an answer to her question, “Where can I do the most for Maine?”

Come home, Senator Susan. Heal your state and bring our people back together again.

Don Roberts is a veteran broadcaster, writer and political consultant. He has served Augusta as a city councilor at-large, charter commission vice chairman and utilities district treasurer.

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