JACKMAN — Sen. Susan Collins saluted the town of Jackman and its board of selectmen on Thursday, praising the community for the way it raised a unified voice in condemning the racist remarks made by the former town manager.

Collins said the selectmen did the right thing in firing Thomas Kawczynski, and that their swift, unanimous action sent a clear message to everyone that 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,” Collins said during a lunchtime gathering at Schmoose’s Bar and Grill attended by about 33 townspeople.

“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,” she said. “That’s what you did and I really salute you for it.”

Collins also took the opportunity to say she would not endorse Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, who called a bill on assisting recent immigrants to Maine part of a “war on whites,” a popular hashtag among white supremacists on Twitter.

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

“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 wrote to supporters on his website, the New England Opportunity Project.

Lockman has a decades-long history of making controversial statements about race, gay people, abortion and rape. Collins endorsed his 2014 re-election bid.

HEALTH CARE CONCERNS

For those at the lunch Thursday, Collins’ visit and her show of support meant a lot to the town of roughly 800 located 17 miles from the Canadian border.

“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.

The region retains its ambulance service, but with a substantial number of snowmobilers in town on weekends and logging trucks rolling through, the potential for an accident and the one-hour drive to the nearest medical centers in Skowhegan or Greenville is on many minds.
“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 Sen. Angus King would work to find a solution to the health center’s limited hours.

Collins said her staff is looking into funding opportunities for rural health care and 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 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. President Trump ended the Obama-era program with an executive order, 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 government 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 can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:
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Twitter: @EmilyHigg