Tiffany Bond was kind enough to join me for a chat about Maine politics. She’s familiar with both major party establishments in her home state and but she’s remained Independent of them both. This is less surprising when the other Senator from Maine is Angus King and her independence may be her greatest asset as she explores a run against incumbent Republican Senator, Susan Collins. Collins has seen her national profile rise with Trump in the White House, becoming a key vote against ACA repeal and opposing the Trump shutdown but she also saw her reputation take a big hit for voting enthusiastically in favor of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. I wanted to ask a Mainer if any of those stories matter to Maine voters and what is behind the Myth of Moderate Susan. —And while you won’t hear this myth debunked on cable television, the Kavanaugh hearings surely made people start asking how a so-called moderate Republican voted with Mitch McConnell 77% of the time and voted to confirm an anti-choice activist judge like Kavanaugh who lied to Congress about his participation in the Bush White House torture program and was credibly accused of sexual assault, .
Bond believes it will take more than a couple unpopular votes to convince voters in Maine to choose someone other than Susan Collins in 2020. “[Mainers] really want to trust that the people they elect will make reasoned, thoughtful decisions,” Bond told me. “They don’t want to micro manage. They’re working three jobs. They don’t have the time to spend an hour of their day chasing down every single vote.” And they have good reason to believe the Myth of Moderate Susan. Collins has cultivated a remarkable relationship with the state’s media.
“Susan Collins has an extremely favorable relationship with the press. Negative press about Susan Collins will be on the obituary page,” Bond said only half in jest. “It’s more like a PR tour than any kind of criticism [toward Collins]. There’s very little push-back, occasionally some in Letters to the Editor. That’s local print, that’s online, the local TV stations. And she’s on the news every Sunday at least. So she’s really entrenched. It’s benefited her for over 20 years. She’s really good at PR and spin and she’s really good at pretending to be a moderate.”
“Susan Collins is supposed to be the voice of reason,” Bond said. “If your own party is doing something that is not okay then you should be speaking up and you should be taking action. You should be giving that declaration of conscience.” Bond explained that Collins sees herself as following in the footsteps of Margaret Chase Smith who was famous for her “declaration of conscience” during the McCarthy era. But Bond asserts that Collins is failing at this, and what’s needed is a candidate who has a firm grip on the law, who can point to legislation, explain what the result of the legislation would mean for voters, and demand an explanation from the Senator who voted for or against it.
There are other challenges to capturing the attention of Mainers. Bond explained, “In half of our state, the 2nd congressional district, the average household income is $40,000 a year. That’s not for an individual. And so that’s pretty low. A lot of people here cobble together a living working 2-3 part time jobs.” Bond argues that voters’ time constraints are a significant factor in forming their impression of Collins or any politician. Print, radio and TV all present an image of Collins being a moderate politician who doesn’t make waves, it’s perfect messaging for pragmatic people who just want to trust that their Senator will do their best—it’s a free marketing campaign for Collins’ re-election.
And where there isn’t good news, there’s no news. “We have huge swaths of rural areas where a phone doesn’t work, you certainly don’t have data, you might be on dial-up there. There’s an astonishing amount of dial-up access in Maine,” Bond told me. “So, almost anyone who gets news here gets it from the local newspapers, maybe a little bit of TV, if you get TV. There are a lot of areas of Maine that don’t even get NPR and that’s the station you get in most of the state. There are areas of Maine, like Millinocket, where your options are Glenn Beck or Glenn Beck? So it’s very hard to get this information and Maine feels very, very far from Washington, D.C. When you’re in Maine, it doesn’t feel like anything in Washington, D.C. impacts you at all.”
That puts a lot of pressure on the state Democratic Party and activist groups. Bond spoke with appreciation for Democratic activists who snapped into action when Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. None of the judges ethic violations, lack of truthfulness under oath or the alleged sexual assaul dissuaded Senator Collins from praising Kavanaugh in an angry speech defending the judge’s reputation and voting in favor of his nomination to the Court. Bond reported that the Democrats fought hard to reach Collins. However news reports at the time revealed that Collins had a private meeting with Mitch McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader, and shortly after casting her, she raised more money than at any other time in her political career. She raised $1.8 million dollars for her Kavanaugh vote (of which $19k came from Maine), making it an uphill battle for any candidate to unseat her. Bond isn’t just aware of that, she’s embracing the challenge as an opportunity to run a completely different kind of campaign that might only be possible in a state like Maine.
So what’s the answer? Can Collins be defeated? Enter #MaineRaising
What does #MAINERAISING look like?
Customer at a Maine business: Have you heard of Tiffany Bond?
Small Business Owner in Maine: No, I haven’t.
Customer: She’s running for public office in Maine and she wouldn’t take my money. She said that she’d rather I buy something from a Maine business like yours and so here I am. You should look her up.
Small Business Owner in Maine: Thanks! That’s different. I’m definitely going to look her up.
“How does a middle class person run for office without all of the trappings that screw them up and makes them turn into the people we don’t want to vote for?” Bond said she asked herself. Her answer was simple: money. “So I tried to take all of the things that I hate about politics and replace them.” The most prominent among them was fundraising. She decided that she wasn’t going to do that. Instead, “I came up with #MaineRaising.”
“I knew I couldn’t get rid of money completely,” Bond explained. “But I wanted to shift [the money] somewhere where it was more productive. And fundamentally, I believe that money belongs in the community and if you take care of your communities, they will take care of you back.” Risky? Sure. But, political fundraising is different than most other fundraising. It’s largely a marketing project. Bond is using a political platform to launch a word of mouth advertising campaign where instead of counting on yard signs to speak her name to voters, she’s asking supporters to contribute to a Maine charity or shop at a small business in the Pine Tree State and mention Bond’s name as the inspiration behind the spending. “Instead of donating to me,” said Bond. “Take that amount of money that you would give to a candidate normally and instead don’t give it to me. Donate to a good cause, or shop at a small business and when you’re doing it, tell them, ‘I was inspired to shop in Maine because Tiffany Bond wouldn’t take my money and she said to support Maine businesses [instead].'”
If you like this idea too, Bond recommends visiting Donor Choose and closing out as many requests as possible while mentioning her as the inspiration for the donation. It’s not just a political strategy, it’s a way to project a better view of politics in general. It can be a force to bring people together and not just push them apart.
Bond hasn’t decided yet if she wants to take a run at Susan Collins. Maine’s ranked choice voting (RCV) would allow her to do so without being a spoiler for any Democrats who choose to try, but if she decides to run, she has made it clear she will caucus with the majority, making sure that she’s in the room where law is being made—either rebuilding America with a Democratic majority, or ensuring that a declaration of conscience is delivered to Republicans as they continue to try and tear America apart in an effort to maintain power.
The distrust across the aisle and the political acrimony reminds her of her own day to day experience working in family law, “My day job [as a family law attorney] is getting people who hate each other to come up with what is essentially their own law.” She has to convince warring families to come to an agreement “without screwing up their kids too bad, which is basically what Congress does on a much grander scale.” Bond argued the case for ending partisan stagnation by focusing on things the parties agree on, and shelving the culture wars. Mainers want someone who is going to get things done. “I’m frequently working with narcissists and people I find to be personally reprehensible,” she said without naming names. Bond is a potential candidate made for Maine’s electorate, now if we can only convince her to declare!
Tiffany Bond (I) is an Independent and family law attorney in Maine. She is not yet a declared candidate for US Senate, but she is assessing support. If you would like to support her efforts, search the hashtag #MaineRaising and contribute to a cause. For more from Tiffany, follow her on Twitter @TiffanyBond