JACKMAN — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said at a lunch with townspeople Thursday that the Board of Selectmen did the right thing last week when it fired its town manager over racist remarks posted online, and she added she would not endorse a state representative in future elections who called a bill on assisting recent immigrants to Maine part of a “war on whites,” a popular hashtag among white supremacists on Twitter.

Collins said she was disappointed in many of the comments Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, whom she endorsed in his 2014 re-election bid, has made in the past.

Most recently, Lockman derided legislation sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, that includes provisions to “attract, educate and retain” immigrants in Maine, the Maine Beacon reported Wednesday.

Lockman wrote to supporters on his website, New England Opportunity Project: “There is too much at stake to let identity politics and the Left’s war on Whites rule the day. Our safety is at stake!”

Lockman has a decadeslong history of making controversial statements about race, gay people, abortion and rape, among other things.

Collins said he will not have her support for re-election.

The Republican senator was visiting Jackman, which has a population of around 800 and is just 17 miles from the Canadian border, to address the recent firing of the former town manager, Tom Kawczynski, who was dismissed last week after his posts on “voluntary segregation” of races on his New Albion website and support for white separatism were published in the media.

Collins said the selectmen did the right thing in firing Kawczynski and that their swift, unanimous action sent a clear message to everyone that the town of Jackman is a place that welcomes people no matter their race or religion.

“I’m very proud of this community, and I felt very strongly about coming here and applauding your good work and the fact that you all worked together to solve a tough problem in the right way,” she said, addressing a group of about 33 people from the town. “It’s just evident how Mainers can join together, and it’s important in a community that depends heavily on not just the forest products industry, but on tourism, that the message is one that everyone is welcome here. That’s what you did and I really salute you for it.”

HEALTH CARE CONCERNS

For those at the lunch Thursday, Collins’ visit to town and her show of support meant a lot.

“I think it’s great that the senator would take time, especially this time of year with a lot going on and a shutdown looming next week, and taking the time to come up here and address this just shows that she’s committed to the people of Maine,” said Joseph Socobasin, a former chief of the Passamoquoddy tribe.

Socobasin, who will be moving to Jackman from Indian Township reservation in the coming weeks to work as a game warden, was initially concerned when he heard about Kawczynski and his beliefs, but he doesn’t think that reflects what the town believes.

“I’ve been coming here for over 20 years, and I haven’t had any issues with any of the locals as far as racism, or anything like that,” he said.

Marie Harnois, who works at Passamoquoddy Maple Syrup, hoped Collins would address the town’s loss of access to around the clock medical care.

“We are an isolated community and we’re an hour from any hospital, and not to have that urgent care here is a problem for all of us in the maple syrup business,” Harnois said before Collins arrived at the pub.

The town’s health center stopped operating after normal business hours and on weekends in September after MaineGeneral Health officials said they no longer could afford to operate there. Penobscot Community Health, which also operates at the center, could not afford to run the center at night and on weekends independently.

The region retains its ambulance service, but with a substantial number of snowmobilers in the town on the weekends and logging trucks passing through, if an accident were to occur, the drive to Skowhegan or Greenville, where the closest medical centers are located, is at least an hour long.

“If something happens, we’re already far enough out; and to have to go further, it’s kind of scary at times, I think,” Harnois said.

While addressing the diners in the restaurant, Collins said she and U.S. Sen. Angus King would work to find a solution to the health center’s limited hours.

Currently, her staff is looking into funding opportunities for rural health care and into whether the federal government could waive any requirements in order to get the nighttime and weekend access back.

“We’re here to try to help you fill in the gaps in coverage, and we will work very hard on that issue,” she said.

WORKING FOR DREAMERS

The divisiveness around immigration policy and the extreme views on the matter exemplified by both Lockman and Kawczynski have made it difficult for the Senate to come to an agreement on a solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients, an Obama-era program President Donald Trump decided to end; but Collins believes they’re heading in the direction of a deal.

“The meetings that I’ve been having literally every single day in my office have been going well,” she said to reporters after the lunch in Jackman.

Collins said there is bipartisan support to find a legislative fix for the expiring DACA program, which protects undocumented people, also known as “Dreamers,” who came to the United States when they were children, and allows them to receive work permits. The fight over the program and other matters in Congress resulted in a three-day goverment shutdown last month.

The two pillars of a bipartisan solution, Collins said, probably would be increasing security along the border with Mexico and creating a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers, which would take about 10 to 12 years to obtain.

“What worries me is that the president’s executive order, which removed the risk of deportation, expires on March 5; so if we don’t get a bill passed prior to March 5, these young people are at the risk of being deported to countries they’ve never known, in many cases,” Collins said. “I just think that’s cruel.”

Trump is willing to offer a pathway to citizenship to the 1.8 million unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, including the 690,000 DACA recipients who are at risk of deportation once the program ends, according to a framework released by his administration last week. However, that offer of citizenship comes alongside substantial cuts to legal immigration, specifically family-based immigration.

When asked how she would vote on a bill that included cuts to legal immigration, Collins said she was in favor of altering the diversity lottery, which is one way that people from underrepresented countries immigrate to the U.S., to a merit-based system that’s similar to Canada’s policy.

“The diversity lottery as it’s called, that you get in by the luck of the draw, is not a good system. What I would do is that you would still have underrepresented countries for the majority of that lottery system, but not have it be a lottery anymore,” she said. “Look at those countries. Look at the people who have the skills we need in those countries. That’s what Canada does.”

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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