Friday, February 5, 2010

The Maine State Society: A Home Away from Home for Mainers

Weekly column by Senator Susan Collins

Every year, a group of Mainers living and working in our nation’s capital get together for breakfast with the members of the Maine congressional delegation to catch up on the news and to discuss the state we all are proud to call home. I recently enjoyed an opportunity to speak to this group, called the Maine State Society.

Fifty-five states and U.S. territories have societies in the Washington area. Founded in 1894, Maine’s is one of the oldest and most active. The society describes itself as a “home away from home” for Mainers who live and work around Washington, D.C., and members frequently get together for events, volunteer for community service projects, and gather each summer for the Society’s annual Maine lobster dinner – a tradition that dates back to 1945. One of the most well-known members of the Society is former Maine Governor John Reed.

The handprints of Mainers are all over this nation’s history; they are evident even in the architecture of Washington, D.C. Who can stand in the Lincoln Memorial, read the Gettysburg Address and not think of Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine at Little Round Top? Who can walk The Mall, that great battlefield of the Civil Rights movement nearly a half century ago, and not think of Hannibal Hamlin who, as a Senator more than century earlier, jeopardized a brilliant political career by breaking with his party over slavery?

There is never a day that I go to the Capitol without being aware of the giants who preceded me. Thomas Reed, Margaret Chase Smith, and Edmund Muskie are but a few of the Mainers whose principles were large enough to fill that enormous building.

Usually, when I speak with a group of Mainers, my task is to provide an update on what’s going on in Washington. With a group of Mainers who know Washington, I chose instead to offer an update on what’s going on in Maine.

I began by advising them about what they won’t see on their next trip home – the heaviest trucks needlessly clogging our downtowns and secondary roads. Last December, after years of hard work, I finally was able to convince my colleagues in Congress to approve a one-year pilot project to allow these trucks to use the interstate highways in Maine. This has always been one of my top priorities.

I am confident that this pilot project will show positive results in reducing heavy truck traffic through our downtowns and residential areas, saving fuel, and decreasing emissions. Most important, it should greatly improve safety for motorists and pedestrians. This pilot project received strong support from public safety and law enforcement agencies throughout Maine.

Another notable development back home isn’t as immediately noticeable, but it will eventually make a great difference – the leadership role Maine is taking in securing America’s energy future. Meeting the challenge of developing energy alternatives will provide great opportunities for Maine to build an economy for the future, with new industries and thousands of good jobs.

This endeavor received a significant boost last October when the U.S. Department of Energy announced an $8 million grant for offshore wind research at the University of Maine, and Congress approved $5 million for the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative at UMaine that I advanced. This January, the Department of Commerce announced a $12.4 million laboratory construction grant for the University of Maine. That brings the total federal funding that I have helped secure to $25 million to support deepwater wind power off Maine’s coast.

I strongly advocated for these projects because Maine has great potential as an ideal location for offshore wind projects and has the potential to take the lead in the development of clean, renewable, and affordable energy for America. Estimates are that development of five gigawatts of off-shore wind in Maine – enough to power more than 1 million homes for a year -- could attract $20 billion of investment to our state and create more than 15,000 green energy jobs that would be sustained over 30 years

I concluded by noting one very important way the Society remains connected to our state. For the past 18 years, the Worcester Wreath Company in the Washington County town of Harrington has donated thousands of wreaths to decorate the graves at military cemeteries throughout America. Maine State Society members are always among the most devoted volunteers at Arlington National Cemetery laying wreaths in tribute to our fallen heroes.

The Society’s annual Congressional Breakfast is a wonderful tradition in which we can all come together to celebrate our Maine roots. I have enjoyed attending each year since I first came to the Senate, along with several members of my Washington staff who also hail from Maine. While there’s no place like home, it is always wonderful to be in the good company of fellow Mainers.

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