Analysis: Collins Puts Faith In Washington Over State

By John Celock

Many governors who go to the U.S. Senate talk almost wistfully about their days in the governor’s mansion, compared to their work in the Senate. Senators also look towards their state capitals as a place to go to after service in Washington.

On Friday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced that she would remain in the Senate rather than seek her state’s open governorship next year. Collins’ decision comes as she has reached the pinnacle of her power in Washington as one of the few centrists in the Senate. In Washington, Collins has moved into a role as one of the few senators who can help negotiate major deals and has been instrumental in defeating several health care reform bills this year.

Collins had openly considered a gubernatorial bid next year, talking about a desire to be in Maine full time and to work on economic development programs. Few could blame Collins for a look towards living in Augusta’s Blaine House. She’d stop her weekly commute between Maine and Washington, stop having to negotiate with others to get something done in an increasingly polarized Senate and she’d be in charge of state government. For a woman whose resume includes stints as Maine’s professional and financial regulation commissioner, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s New England regional office and deputy treasurer of Massachusetts, the chance to move back into an executive role was likely tempting. A gubernatorial run as the likely frontrunner would give Collins a chance to brush off her third place finish in her 1994 run for governor.

At the same time the Senate gave a pull for Collins. She has the ability to negotiate major deals for her state and the country and have an impact on many pieces of legislation. Her official position as chairwoman of the Senate Aging Committee does not accurately convey her influence in the Senate, particularly among a bipartisan moderate coalition that has grown with influence under President Trump. Collins also serves on the Appropriations Committee and Intelligence Committee and is a former chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Having got her start in public service as a Senate staffer, remaining a force in the Senate is also likely tempting.

Collins’ decision reverses a trend on senators looking towards their state capitals. The move has been successful for some, while others have found the move ending in defeats for a second term in the governor’s mansion or low approval ratings amid backlash towards their state policies.

Collins’ decision to stay in Washington also shakes up Maine politics and guarantees the state will have a competitive gubernatorial race in 2018 with multiple candidates appearing on both sides. Maine will also likely see multiple general election candidates, a trend that has grown in the state in recent years and helped lead to the election and reelection of term-limited Gov. Paul LePage (R). Collins’ decision also likely keeps her Senate seat in GOP hands when she faces reelection in 2020.