Shenna Bellows has a dream.
When the Democratic Maine Senate candidate imagines her ideal campaign rallies, she pictures herself sharing the stage with an unconventional political trio.
“It would be terrific. I could just imagine doing a tour with Barack Obama and then doing a tour with Rand Paul that would be fun. … Let’s put Elizabeth Warren on the stage too,” Bellows said in a conversation at Business Insider headquarters last week. “That would be kind of perfect.”
Bellows said she has a long experience building similarly “unusual” political coalitions as a former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. She’s hoping to attract a similarly broad cross section of supporters in her bid to unseat Republican Senator Susan Collins in November.
“We’re building a really unusual coalition to win and it is comprised of libertarian Republicans, libertarian independents … and Democrats who are passionate about a variety of issues,” Bellows said.
Bellows’ strategy for attracting this motley crew of supporters involves making government surveillance and privacy one of the centerpieces of her campaign. She describes herself as a supporter of “meaningful privacy reforms” that serve as “checks and balances to avoid abuses of power” by public officials.
“Our laws have not kept pace with technology, the last time our nation’s privacy laws were fully updated was when ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ was still at the top of the charts,” quipped Bellows. “Technology in itself is neither good nor evil, what we need to do is ensure that our laws keep pace with technology to place checks and balances on the tendency of government to overreach.”
Specifically, Bellows said she takes issue with the NSA’s surveillance programs, which she argued are “infringing on our liberties” while “not making us more secure.” She’s also concerned about domestic drone surveillance.
“The idea of eyes in the sky that monitor and take photos of our daily lives in the public square or in our backyards is completely contrary to the American ideal of freedom,” Bellows said.
Her more libertarian positions on surveillance coupled with her decidedly liberal views on social issues put Bellows at a unique spot on the political spectrum. For example, while she admires many of Paul’s positions, Bellows said she parts ways with him on women’s rights and same-sex marriage.
“I think that Rand Paul’s views on domestic drone surveillance, and NSA spying, and his principled opposition to the PATRIOT Act are very much in line with my views,” explained Bellows. “On many other issues, we would have to agree to disagree.”
And though she is running as a Democrat and cites multiple examples of other party members who share her concerns about surveillance, Bellows expressed frustration with President Barack Obama’s policies on that front.
“There are some really wonderful Democrats who are champions of civil liberties as well,” Bellows said. “What I think has been unfortunate is that the administration has disappointed many Democrats on issues of NSA spying and government secrecy.”
While her positions make make her hard to place in traditional political categories, Bellows believes there is a “fundamental contrast” between her and her opponent.
“Republican Susan Collins has voted time and time again against privacy and for increased government surveillance,” said Bellows. “Serving first on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and, now, on Senate Intelligence she has been in a unique position to conduct oversight over these vast surveillance authorities and has utterly failed to conduct adequate oversight and insist on checks and balance.”
So far, Bellows has a lot of ground to cover. The only major poll of the race so far was conducted last November by Public Policy Polling and found Collins with a nearly forty point lead over Bellows. However, Bellows argued this poll only occurred a few weeks after she entered the race. Given Maine’s relatively small population, Bellows who has been running unopposed in the Democratic primary, argued she will be able to pull off an “upset.”
“Name recognition is both a challenge and an opportunity in a race like this,” she said. “In any other state, this might be a different race, but Maine, our vote goal is just over 300,000 votes. It’s a small state. Maine is like one large small town where you really can create relationships.”
Bellows is also looking to make friends outside of the state. Last week, she was in New York City for a fundraiser. Business Insider wondered whether anyone from the tech industry had been attracted to her campaign given the long history of libertarian leanings in Silicon Valley and Alley. Bellows said, so far, he donors are mostly “grassroots,” but she agreed she could have appeal as an advocate for internet executives now that NSA spying has cost technology companies “billions of dollars in revenue” and contracts because “internationally the American brand is tarnished.”
“Come on tech companies!” Bellows said. “Executives for technology companies should definitely invest in this campaign because I am committed to the health of the technology industry, because I think that a health tech industry depends on commonsense laws that prevent abuses of power by the government.”
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