Both of Maine’s senators made some news last week.

On Tuesday, Maine’s junior senator, Angus King, delivered an impassioned speech about the imminent threat of authoritarianism. We are standing at a “hinge of history,” King warned, at which “the fate of the American experiment hangs in the balance.”

Just a day earlier, senior Sen. Susan Collins had put out a news release announcing that 106 of her funding requests, worth nearly $265 million, had made their way into appropriations bills, which were headed to the House and Senate. She chalked up her success to the fact that she is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, which gives her and Maine clout.

The contrast couldn’t have been more stark.

Every member of Congress pats themselves on the back for every dollar spent in their state. That’s not new. But Collins’ celebration of her efforts to bring home the bacon coming so close to King’s warning of the end of American self-government shows that Maine doesn’t just have two senators – they seem to be doing two fundamentally different jobs.

To be fair to Collins, this is exactly what she said she would do when she ran for reelection in 2020. And less than a year ago, Maine voters responded by giving her a 10-point victory.

Collins and her supporters focused on the money she would be able to bring home to Maine thanks to her seniority. She never pretended to be interested in anything other than incremental changes to health care, tax policy and economic development.

Which would be fine, if things were fine. But if, as King said, we are headed into “a downward spiral toward a hollow shell of democracy, where only raw power prevails and its peaceful transfer becomes a distant memory,” things are not fine.

According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center, we are in the middle of an unprecedented attack on voting rights, with 19 states passing 33 laws that will make it harder for their citizens to cast a ballot.

Tighter deadlines for registration or requesting absentee ballots, reducing the number of polling places or their hours and increasing the number of voters in precincts will combine to create the many-hours-long lines that we in Maine see only on TV every four years, almost always occurring in inner-city, minority districts.

At the same time, states are taking power away from independent election officials and giving it to state legislators, who could reject the verdict of the voters and submit their own slate of electors in a presidential election if they don’t agree with the outcome.

All of this is driven by former President Donald Trump, who continues to lie about the election he lost, something that even his partisan political hacks can’t prove. As King said Tuesday, “The only fraud here … is the allegations themselves.”

King’s speech came in support of the Freedom to Vote Act, which predictably failed to overcome a Senate filibuster Wednesday, when every single Republican voted to prevent the bill from getting even a minute of debate.

Collins, who voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act as recently as 2006, now offers the same states-rights’ arguments that segregationists used against the original bill in 1965.

In a written statement Thursday, she called the Freedom to Vote Act “a vast federal takeover of state elections” that would “force extensive changes to Maine’s election laws, even though Maine consistently rates as one of the top states in voter participation.”

And that’s it. Unless there is some secret bipartisan negotiation, or Democrats come up with 50 votes to get around the filibuster, voting rights will be a dead issue, along with police reform and immigration, while Congress goes back to business as usual.

King got more attention last week, but Collins could be the one who gets her way.

Listen to Maine’s senators: We are either heading into an abyss, or we are looking forward to $265 million in federal projects.

I really hope that they’re not both right.


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