Posted with permission from the original that first appeared in the Kennebec Journal. George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host, and the former head of the Sportsmen Alliance of Maine.
Shenna Bellows will surprise you. The Democratic candidate for the United States Senate is a conservative champion of our Constitutional rights and freedoms. She is smart, personable, upbeat and very likeable, with a compelling personal story.
Shenna grew up in a struggling family in the small rural town of Hancock. While most kids had photos on their bedroom walls of sports and rock stars, she had the Bill of Rights. She started out as a cheerleader but quickly transitioned into sports including softball, basketball, track and cross-country running.
Her dad was a carpenter but it wasn't until her mom started working in a greenhouse that the family could afford electricity. Shenna also worked, waiting tables, in a retail store, in a lobster pound, and, as she laughingly told me, as a sandwich "artist." She learned the value of work at a young age.
She emphasized, "A lot of people work hard and still struggle," telling me the story about her mom who couldn't make enough working in the greenhouse to afford health insurance so, at the age of 49, she went to college and became a nurse.
Shenna's life changed when, at the age of 15, she won a scholarship that allowed her to spend six months in Brazil studying international politics. Clearly, even then, she knew where she was headed and what she was going to do with her life. She must have been a remarkable kid.
Shenna feels lucky to have grown up in Hancock, a town that offered scholarships for every student who attended college. She won many including those from the VFW, Daughters of the American Revolution and Rotary Club. Combined with loans, those scholarships helped her attend and graduate from Middlebury College.
She emphasized to me the "sense of community" she gained in Hancock. She clearly is still connected to her home town, drawing strength from her experiences there where she established the values she champions today.
"What unites us," said Shenna, "is our shared values in our documents including the Constitution and Bill of Rights. But we have seen erosion in our freedoms. And that undermines the community's trust in government."
I hope you get to hear her talk about this in person because she is very passionate about it.
And this is where Shenna and I connected a few years ago. She has been the outstanding leader of the Maine Civil Liberties Union and a collaborative force at the Legislature where I got involved, at her invitation, in several of the issues she worked on. She is quick to credit many in both political parties and other organizations for helping us achieve a number of important victories.
"We're one of two states to require warrants for cell phone access," she said, emphasizing the fact that she worked with the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center on that issue. She reminded me that we worked together to defeat the national attempt to establish a "real ID." And I reminded her about one highlight of our work together, when we defeated Gov. Paul LePage's ill-considered attempt to keep more of his work secret. The unanimous vote we got on that issue in the Maine Senate tells you all you need to know about how this young woman is able to bring people together.
Shenna joined me for breakfast last week at Mount Vernon's Olde Post Office Cafe, and I am afraid I kept her beyond the allotted time, but it was fascinating to hear her talk about her plans should she get to the U.S. Senate.
Most people give Bellows no chance of unseating the popular U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. And I am certainly not going to suggest that is a likely outcome. What I like about this race is the possibility that two capable women might give us an enlightened campaign focused on important issues, not ugly partisan politics.
Shenna is a grassroots phenomenon. She led the campaign to re-establish same-day voter registration after the Legislature and governor abolished it, winning a huge victory, 65 to 35 percent. She also led the gay marriage referendum campaign. She's already been a winner, multiple times.
I believe that is because she has never forgotten her roots, she reveres that Bill of Rights that was on her bedroom wall as a kid, and she has great empathy for those who struggle and knows those struggles firsthand. It is, at the end of the day, all about values for Shenna Bellows.