Maine Has Saved The Union Before-- Can Shenna Bellows Save Us From NSA Spying?
Both of Maine's congressmembers are Democrats-- and one, Chellie Pingree, is a strong progressive leader. Last year Obama beat Romney 401,306 (56%) to 292,276 (41%) in the state. And the Democrats regained control over both Houses of the state legislature. Still, the DSCC is reluctant to take on Senator Susan Collins. She has an undeserved reputation as a "moderate," probably because people think if a Republican isn't a teabagger, they must be a "moderate." In reality, Susan Collins is a mainstream, garden variety conservative, profoundly out of step with Maine's progressive traditions. This year, though, there's a smart and outspoken progressive running hard against Collins, Shenna Bellows. Yesterday, Collins issued a statement against NSA spying on foreign leaders but does not seem to be bothered by the NSA spying on millions of Americans. Perhaps that's why she has voted multiple times for the Patriot Act. Shenna Bellows offers a clear contrast on issues of our constitutional freedoms. She's well-known in the state because of her role leading the ACLU. She's one of only four people running for the U.S. Senate to be endorsed by Blue America this year. I asked her to introduce herself with a guest post on one of the motivations that has inspired her public service-- the protection of individual liberties.
I may be the first ACLU leader in history to run for the United States Senate, but nothing less than our democracy is at stake. Politicians in Washington have trampled on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They have created a constitutional crisis. NSA spying is out of control, threatening our individual freedoms and international relations.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, on which my opponent, Susan Collins, sits, is reportedly holding closed-door hearings on NSA reform legislation. The secrecy of the proceedings is part of the problem. It is unacceptable for Congress to scold the White House in public but codify NSA spying in secret. The Senate should open its work to the public and enact meaningful NSA reforms.
My work in Maine provides a model for moving forward. I made my decision to run for United States Senate when I was working on two groundbreaking privacy laws this spring to require law enforcement to get a warrant before accessing cellphone communications including location data, text messages and voice mails. I organized a broad coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Greens. We did not agree on very much at all except the fundamental importance of our constitutional freedoms and the dangers posed by government intrusion into our personal lives. The opposition was intense, bipartisan and included some of my close friends, but we persevered. Maine was one of only two states in the country to protect against cell phone tracking. The law also survived a veto by Governor Paul LePage on a rare veto override vote.
Our work in Maine with Republicans and Democrats alike to advance strong privacy principles should serve as a model for the nation. We demonstrated that it’s not necessary to compromise our core principles in order to advance meaningful reform. A shared commitment to protecting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights transcends partisan politics.
The USA Freedom Act introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) is an important first step in restoring checks and balances. We can and should do more in the months to come. We need a Church-style investigation of the nature and extent of surveillance in America and comprehensive privacy legislation to bring our laws up to date. We need to repeal not just Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, but also other provisions like the “sneak and peek” searches in Section 213. We need to strengthen protections for whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. We need to reduce government secrecy.
I began my career at the ACLU ten years ago as a “Safe and Free Organizer” organizing a nationwide resolutions campaign against the Patriot Act. I learned about the power of broad coalitions then when I was working with diverse groups like the American Library Association and Gun Owners of America. Following the launch of my campaign for the United States Senate one week ago, libertarians and progressives alike are voicing support for my record and my values.
Speaking out against the NSA is the popular thing to do this week, especially in light of the revelations that the NSA has been listening in on the private calls of foreign leaders. We have been down the road of tough rhetoric and weak action before unfortunately. As head of the ACLU of Maine, I led a 2006 campaign to investigate telecommunications companies’ involvement in federal surveillance of Mainers’ telephone calls. Unfortunately, Congress responded by passing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which included immunity for the telecommunications companies and prohibited state-level investigations from moving forward.
I hope that Congress will not repeat the mistakes of 2008 in responding to calls for change by codifying NSA spying. We certainly need to stop listening in on the phone calls of allies like Angela Merkel, and we need to stop spying on millions of Americans. To address the international relations crisis of the moment without looking at the larger issue of surveillance is unacceptable. Minor changes to the law, passed behind closed doors, will not go far enough to restore our constitutional freedoms.
My work against the Patriot Act in Washington and my advocacy for privacy in Maine are just two examples of my leadership. Under my leadership, Maine was the first state to reject REAL ID in 2007. I co-chaired a successful statewide voting rights ballot measure to restore same day voter registration when the Republicans took it away in 2011. I served on the executive committee of the Maine freedom to marry campaign for seven years before we won on the ballot in 2012.
At the ACLU, I learned the importance of standing up for what you believe in the face of powerful opponents. I am a carpenter’s daughter from a small town in Maine. Carpenter’s daughters don’t usually run for the United States Senate, which is why we have a Congress of millionaires instead of a Congress of working people. But our democracy is too important for good people to stay on the sidelines.