“Are you sure he is OK,” the candidate asked again, far more concerned than I about the well-being of my friend sleeping off a long and spirited post-graduation weekend in the passenger seat of my car.
“He is fine,” I assured the Republican hopeful I had just met as we set off to march in the Wells Memorial Day Parade. “I parked under a tree and left the windows open.”
The first day of my seven-year journey with Susan Collins was off to an unconventional start. But it worked out for me in the end with our now senior senator providing me with a first-class political education and an appreciation for the drive and respect for service it takes to be effective in Washington.
I set out at the start of last week to use this political education to analyze how events and elections over the last few months may impact Collins. I initially considered how Sen. Olympia Snowe’s retirement, fiscal cliffs, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Maine, and the atrocity at Sandy Hook Elementary could create a troubling tempest.
But I kept coming back to the same conclusion.
Political storms will come. They always do. But as a political pragmatist standing firmly at the center of American politics, Collins remains perfectly positioned on high and extremely effective political ground.
Of course I have my biases. And a lovely piece of Waterford crystal that Sen. Collins gave Martha and me on our wedding day.
But I am not wrong.
To a great degree our government is propelled forward by split decisions — the presidential election decided by a few percentage points; the 5-4 ruling in the Supreme Court or the party line vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The U.S. Senate is the one institution in American political or economic life where Maine stands on equal footing with the rest of the country. And by design, it takes a little more collaboration and deliberation to move policy through the chamber.
Sixty percent to 40 percent is the margin that assures victory in the Senate. And that is where Collins goes to work.
Pardon this football metaphor, but it’s playoff time.
The big plays Tom Brady will execute Sunday in the New England Patriots’ match-up against the Houston Texans have beginnings that go back to film sessions on Monday and practice throughout the week.
It is the preparation, the drive to succeed and respect for the opportunity that makes Brady, drafted 199th in the 2000 NFL draft, an all-time great.
Collins brings the same approach to governing and representing Maine. The legislative hearings, agency reviews, coalition-building and conversations with constituents all put Collins in a position to succeed.
I was there. It is exhausting.
Last spring in a committee hearing Collins pointed out to the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development that wood pellet stoves were not approved heating sources under the Federal Housing Authority’s finance programs.
Representing the most forested and oil-dependent state in the country, Collins wanted an update of the regulations. She got it.
This is my favorite example of how Collins banks her political capital a nickel and a dime at a time. She knows the concerns of Maine and takes advantage of every opportunity to be an effective advocate.
On issues that come down to a vote, Collins is far more often than not on the winning side of the 60-40 tallies. It has nothing to do with either luck or an assessment of the direction of the political winds.
Collins votes on the winning side because she helps shape it. Her hard-earned understanding of the issues and the work she does to secure concessions or amendments moves the policy to a place where it merits her support.
So it will be as our nation considers responses to the tragedy at Sandy Hook, as federal policy evolves to reflect the rights same-sex couples are winning in states across the country, or on any other issue that blows ashore.
And the people of Maine will appreciate and respect her effectiveness.
More than a decade removed from the senator’s staff, I miss the car rides the most. Especially the trips home when the events of the day were done and it was too dark to work through the briefing book.
We talked. She teased. I learned.
The story of Susan Collins is still being written. Her record of accomplishment and the legacy of service will continue to grow. I am extremely proud that “Dan from Bridgton” is part of the tale.
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at: