It takes moderation and bipartisanship to achieve progress in national government, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Thursday night during a lecture at Colby College.

“The flip side of that premise, of course, is how the hyperpartisanship and incivility in Washington and throughout our nation elevate extremism and prevent progress,” said Collins.

The Republican senator’s remarks came on the heels of her recent decision to join with six other Republican senators who declined to side with the rest of the party in sending a letter to the Iranian government attempting to undermine nuclear talks with the White House.

“I decided not to sign that letter because I thought it was completely inappropriate. I did not think as a senator that I should be writing to the ayatollah in Iran when the president was engaged in very sensitive negotiations,” she said during a question and answer session following the talk.

Collins, known for her moderate approach to politics, spoke Thursday as the special guest at the 2015 George J. Mitchell International Lecture Series at Colby College. Each year, a prominent policy leader is invited to speak at the lecture series, which honors Mitchell, a Waterville native and former U.S. Senate majority leader who is remembered as a mediator and peacemaker.

Mitchell, in his introduction of Collins, said she represents a pragmatic kind of politics that “our country is sorely in need of.”

Collins pointed out that in Mitchell’s first year as majority leader – 1989 – the U.S. Senate voted along party lines 35 percent of the time, whereas last year it was 67 percent of the time.

She said that last year, all but one Democrat voted with the party 93 percent of the time or more, and all but three Republicans voted with their caucus more than 80 percent of the time.

“By the way, Lisa Murkowski, Kelly Ayotte and I were the three senators. The discerning individuals in this hall will notice what these less partisan senators have in common,” she said.

Collins blamed the increasingly partisan environment of the Internet for replacing face-to-face communication and lowering the level of discourse, cable and radio shows that “will invite only those who will inflame the debate,” never-ending campaign cycles and gerrymandered one-party congressional districts.

“When you combine these four factors, it gets harder and harder to convince people to work together,” she said.

The senator highlighted examples of past bipartisan resolutions, such as the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the military.

She said the 1993 law banning lesbians and gays from openly serving in the military was passed with support from both sides of the aisle, and bipartisan support was required to repeal it. She said it took Republicans and Democrats working together to reach the filibuster-proof vote of 65 to 31 to repeal.

Collins also cited the successful end of the government shutdown in 2013 as a time when the two parties worked together to move forward.

She said the majority of policy decisions include the informed balancing of different points of view.

“In short, they require compromise,” she said. “There is no magic bullet. Washington is unlikely to change unless those outside of Washington demand it.”

Following the talk, several students who attended responded favorably to the senator’s remarks.

Kennebec Valley Community College student Michael Stevens said he felt Collins was correct when she pointed out problems such as gerrymandering and Internet rhetoric were driving partisanship.

“I thought she made some very key points on why we have some bipartisan issues in Congress,” he said.

Colby College student Will Levesque, who described himself as an independent, said he was also impressed by her work to reach across party lines.

“It is inspiring to see someone so committed to bipartisan issues,” he said.


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