Bellows for Senate Launch Speech: October 23, 2013
My name is Shenna Bellows and I am running for United States Senate because I believe we need more courage and honesty in Washington.
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks. As some of you may know, I was recently married. My husband, Brandon Baldwin – a Skowhegan native – is here with me today, and I am so grateful for his love and support.
Brandon and I have owned a home together and had a joint checking account for three years. But we made a vow that we wouldn’t get married until our gay and lesbian friends and family members could be legally married. Last November, Maine made history by passing the freedom to marry at the ballot box. Finally, in June the Supreme Court overturned the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. This summer we went to weddings across the state of friends whose relationships were finally recognized under the law. Brandon and I were married last month at our home in Manchester. We honeymooned in Rockland.
Being part of the leadership team of Mainers United for Marriage for seven years was one of the greatest honors of my life to date. We stood up for equality and freedom, and we created positive change one conversation and one person at a time. And we did it together. I share this story because it is fundamental to who I am, why I am running and what I would like to see change in Washington.
First, who I am. I am a principled leader who has a proven track record of standing up for people’s rights. I was the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, a non-profit organization whose mission is to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
I am proud of the work I did there – defending the right to vote, protecting privacy and fighting for freedom of speech and equality. Through that work, I had the opportunity to be involved on several statewide campaigns where I gained valuable experience that I plan to put to work over the next year.
I grew up in Hancock. My mother, Janice Colson, works the night shift at a hospital in Ellsworth. She had worked in a greenhouse for over 20 years. At age 49, she took a risk by going back to school through the University of Maine where she obtained a degree in nursing. This courage and work ethic inspire me, and I am a believer in the importance of educational opportunities for all.
My dad, Dexter Bellows, is a carpenter. Thirty-three years ago, he started his own business, Bellows Woodworks. It took courage to start a business with three young kids to feed. My father took a risk. His story is the story of countless other entrepreneurs -- and it’s the story of our country and what gives America the reputation of being the land of opportunity.
My parents’ courage and work ethic has inspired me my entire life to work hard and to try to make the world a better place. I understand what it’s like to work for a living. In high school and college, I waited tables, worked retail, worked at the local lobster pound and was even a Subway sandwich artist. But my community and education gave me other opportunities along the way, too – the chance to go to college and to be a research assistant at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.
These opportunities allowed me to enter a career in economic development. I worked for two years at Economists Incorporated. Then, I served in the Peace Corps as a small business development volunteer working with artisans to establish a microlending project in rural Panama. From the Peace Corps, I went to the AmeriCorps where I worked on economic and educational development for young people in Nashville’s largest housing project.
I spent the first part of my career working to advance economic opportunity and fairness. For the last decade, I have worked to advance and defend civil liberties. The common theme that runs through my career is my enthusiasm for tackling big challenges and my desire to make the world a better place.
A dear friend tried to dissuade me from running when he heard the news. “Politics in Washington are too corrupt and too partisan,” he argued, “for an honest and independent person like you to be happy there.” The sequester, the shutdown and the default debacle made his argument for him. When senators congratulate themselves for doing their jobs – for doing what decent people do all the time, finally having an adult conversation across party lines three weeks too late at a cost of billions of dollars to our country, something is deeply wrong in Washington.
When Acadia National Park is closed at the height of foliage season, but members of Congress keep their gym open, that’s wrong.
When Head Start and Meals on Wheels get cut, but Congress exempts their own salaries from the sequester, that’s wrong.
The sequester and the shutdown are unforgiveable. Our democracy demands a full and fair debate in this race about our priorities. As I told my friend: The future of our democracy requires that good people with good ideas participate and that at all levels we debate in a civil and respectful way the solutions that will move our country forward.
The barriers are significant. Daughters of carpenters don’t usually run for the United States Senate. Races like this can cost millions of dollars, which is why we have a Congress of millionaires instead of a Congress of working people. If elected to the United States Senate, I can assure you: I will work hard to advance meaningful campaign finance reform so that more carpenters’ daughters and working people can represent us in Washington.
In addition to courage and honesty, we need more people in Washington who will listen respectfully to people with different points of view and work together toward meaningful solutions. No two people can ever agree 100% of the time. Even my husband and I don’t agree on everything, and we’re newlyweds. You may not always agree with me, but you will always know where I stand, and I will always listen respectfully to all sides.
I made my decision to run for United States Senate when I was working on a groundbreaking cell phone privacy law in the legislature this spring. 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.
Our opposition was intense, bipartisan and included some of my close friends, but we were able to disagree respectfully. I led this broad coalition through several months of debate, and we were successful. In the wake of NSA spying abuses, we were one of only two states in the country to pass cell phone privacy protections, and we were one of just five successful veto override votes when the Governor vetoed the legislation. I am proud of my work in Augusta to build broad coalitions across party lines to pass legislation that made Maine a leader and a model for the rest of the country when it comes to civil liberties.
This brings me to what I would like to see change in Washington and what I would do if elected to be Maine’s next Senator:
In the last two decades, we have experienced a constitutional crisis, an economic crisis and an environmental crisis that threaten our country’s future. What unites us as a country are our shared values set forth in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Washington has trampled on the Constitution over the last decade. Washington has created a constitutional crisis.
My first job at the ACLU was as a “Safe and Free” organizer working in 2003 to oppose the Patriot Act. It disturbed me then that only one Senator, Russ Feingold, voted no to the Patriot Act, and it disturbs me now that only one Senator, Rand Paul, is taking to the floor to filibuster on drones. Abuses of power like the Patriot Act, REAL ID, NSA spying, and domestic drone surveillance threaten our democracy. When the government spies on its own people, we, the people, lose trust in our government.
We can restore trust and a sense of community by restoring our constitutional freedoms. If elected to the United States Senate, I would work with Republicans and Democrats alike to repeal the Patriot Act and restore our constitutional freedoms.
In addition to a constitutional crisis, we have an economic crisis, manufactured by politicians in Washington who seek short-term solutions rather than visionary change.
After I graduated from college, it took me 10 years to pay off my huge student loans, but I was lucky: jobs were more plentiful in 1997, and I had a choice of employment. I met a woman a couple of weeks ago who told me with anger and sadness that her college-educated daughter and grandson are living with her at home because of the burden of student debt. Another friend laughingly told me that perhaps his college-educated daughter would work for my campaign for free: he supports her financially right now because the only work she can find is as an unpaid intern.
She’s not the only one. Unemployment in Maine has doubled since 2000, and unemployment for young people ages 20 to 24 is in the double digits.
We need to stop spending billions of dollars on a surveillance industrial complex we can’t afford and start investing in small businesses. We can’t afford to be the world’s policeman anymore. We need to stop propping up big businesses that are too big to fail and start investing in local economies. We need to eliminate the regulations that protect the large incumbent corporations and stop writing stupid rules that block entry for small entrepreneurs and farmers.
There is a remarkable bright light in Maine’s economy for young people. Young people are staying in or returning home to farm in record numbers. The local food and economy movement – built in our communities, not in Washington, is thriving. We can learn from this model and bring rural innovations to the rest of the country. We need to bring this fresh energy and entrepreneurial approach to our federal economic policy debates.
The local approach is not only economically sustainable but environmentally sustainable as well.
In the last two decades, politicians in Washington have wrought an environmental crisis that threatens Maine’s economic future. Anyone who gardens, farms or fishes can tell you that Maine’s climate is warming. And as we all know, in Maine our economy and our natural environment are fundamentally connected. If elected, I will advocate and organize support for a power shift in our approach to energy and environmental policy. The politicians might say that solving climate change is impossible, but it’s too important not to try, and we cannot wait.
Here’s what’s going to happen in the months ahead. We’re going to run a different type of campaign. We are going to take this campaign to every county this week. And over the next year, we are going to take this campaign to every city and town in Maine. We’re going to build a grassroots movement from the ground up because that’s the only way real change has ever happened.
Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can change the world. The future starts now.