During the first debate between Maine’s U.S. Senate candidates, Democrat Sara Gideon joined Republican incumbent Susan Collins in rejecting Black Lives Matter activists’ calls to reduce law enforcement budgets and shift that spending to social-service programs and less lethal public-safety resources.
“I just want to be very clear: I do not support defunding the police,” Gideon said in response to an allegation, by independent challenger Max Linn, that both she and Collins support cuts to cop budgets. “I do think we need to make sure that we make changes that ensure that people of color do not continue to be brutalized or killed,” Gideon added.
Earlier in the debate, Gideon outlined the reforms she does support: a ban on “chokeholds” and racial profiling, as well as more “racial-bias training” — a measure that would likely increase spending on law enforcement. She also suggested that “Americans” have only recently expressed a serious interest in addressing systemic racism. “When George Floyd was murdered, it was a time when Americans seemed ready to have a conversation about that legacy of bigotry and the way it has seeped into every aspect of our lives and created racial injustice no matter where we look,” Gideon said.
“I obviously do not support defunding police,” Collins said, noting that she’d recently been endorsed by a national cop fraternity. She added that Gideon has received $6 million “from groups that do favor defunding the police, so I’m wondering if she’s now going to refund that money.”
Collins didn’t name the groups, but a Twitter account associated with her campaign (TeamCollins207) has blasted Gideon for accepting support from NextGen America, a political action committee (PAC) and advocacy group founded by billionaire hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer. Steyer, who spent over $190 million on a failed bid for the presidency this year, has personally contributed thousands of dollars to Gideon’s campaign. Gideon did not address Collins’ challenge in subsequent comments during the debate.
“As a public school teacher, I’ve been defunded many times and I still went ahead and did my job,” said Lisa Savage, the other independent candidate in this four-way race, which will be decided by ranked-choice voting. “I do think that we have a very serious racial-justice problem,” Savage added, “It’s been in place for generations. One of the big game-changers is now everyone has a video camera in their hand and they know how to share the video.”
Savage called for the demilitarization of the police and the deployment of non-lethal, alternative responses to calls for service. “I think many police would tell you they are being sent into situations where a social worker, a mental-health-crisis worker, a community-dispute-resolution person would be a much more appropriate resource to be sending into that situation,” Savage said.