Although the term “maverick” was most famously associated with John McCain’s failed 2000 presidential campaign in recent years, in truth he was hardly the first to walk the halls of the United States Senate.

In fact, in years past the United States Senate was something of a home for mavericks in American political life, from all over the country. Democrats had not only Northern liberals, but also Southern conservatives in their party. Republicans had moderates in the Northeast and the Midwest. Both parties had their fair share of fiscal conservatives, and senators were often far more willing than their counterparts in the House to buck party leadership. The smaller size of the Senate and the less-frequent elections allowed its members a certain degree of independence from their parties that, no doubt, often irked leadership.

Sadly, that tradition has broken down in recent years. U.S. Senate races have become more nationalized, which is reflected in the decreasing number of states that have a member from both parties. As recently as 10 years ago, 15 states had senators from different parties; now that number is down to 10.

The move away from more localized Senate races has not just reduced the number of mavericks in the Senate, but the number of people willing to cut a deal with the other party to get things done. Fifteen years ago, 14 U.S. senators came together to keep the Republican Party from doing away with the filibuster for lower-court nominees. They were known as the Gang of 14, and they successfully averted a major partisan escalation in judicial nominations at the time – an escalation that has since come to pass. Of those 14, only two remain in the U.S. Senate: Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham.

It’s fair to say that Lindsey Graham has changed in the interim, since he’s now perfectly willing to do everything possible to fill a seat on the Supreme Court days before the election. Indeed, Graham has changed just in the past four years, going from being a frequent (and harsh) critic of Trump to being a close ally. It’s hard to believe that he’s the same guy who was such close friends with John McCain and once fought to protect the filibuster.

Maine Democrats would have you believe that Susan Collins has undergone a similar transformation in the interim, but she hasn’t. She’s the same Susan Collins who has frequently been willing to buck her own party over the years – regardless of who happened to be sitting in the Oval Office. This was plainly evident back in 2017, when she was one of three Republicans to vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act (through a bill sponsored by Lindsey Graham). Democrats now are arguing that voting for Susan Collins imperils the Affordable Care Act, but in reality, she’s a big reason the ACA hasn’t been repealed already. In fact, when she voted against repealing the ACA in 2017, she did so even though leadership tried to sway her with additional federal funding for Maine. This wasn’t a symbolic measure: It was the Republican Party’s last-ditch attempt to repeal the ACA, and if it weren’t for Susan Collins it would have succeeded.

It’s easy to claim, as Democrats frequently do these days, that Collins opposes her party only when there’s no cost for doing so, but it’s easy to see that’s plainly false. She was not only willing to dash the Republican attempt to repeal the ACA, she was willing to engender the ire of conservatives across Maine in doing so. She’s doing the same today by opposing a Supreme Court nomination before the election. While Republicans may still be able to win the vote, it’s certainly not without political peril to her. It would have been far easier for her to hold off on such a decision until the last possible moment, but she didn’t.

There may not be many mavericks left in the United States Senate, but that’s not a trend Maine should embrace. Instead, we should send one of the few left back to Washington, to keep fighting for us. There’s no doubt that Susan Collins’ willingness to consider her votes carefully and thoughtfully, rather than always embracing a neat ideological agenda, is frustrating to activists on both sides of the aisle. That should be considered a virtue, though, rather than a deficit. In these increasingly polarized times, we need more problem-solvers in both parties. We can ill afford to get rid of one.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins.
He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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