On a warm October morning in 2018, busloads of women converged on Capitol Hill and made their way to Sen. Susan Collins’ office. The Maine Republican was ostensibly on the fence about whether to vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in light of several sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Dozens of sexual assault survivors and their allies lingered outside Collins’ door, hoping for a chance to explain why supporting Kavanaugh would be a monumental mistake. But Collins was busy that day, her staff said, poring through the FBI’s limited investigation into the accusations against him.
The next day, Collins delivered a marathon speech from the Senate floor announcing she would vote for Kavanaugh, cementing a spot on the bench for President Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee.
For some of her constituents, Collins’ vote was an awakening. The most senior Republican woman in the Senate, a self-proclaimed pro-choice moderate, had just sung the praises of an accused sexual predator whose anti-abortion views could jeopardize the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Others ― those more familiar with Collins’ record — were less surprised: The four-term senator often hid behind her “moderate” cloak, but rarely broke with the Republican Party on votes where she could make a difference.
In the end, Collins’ support for Kavanaugh appeared to spark a nearly universal sentiment among Mainers who opposed his confirmation, whether they were longtime political activists or speaking out for the first time: betrayal.
A year later, that feeling continues to enrage and mobilize many Maine voters. Though Collins hasn’t yet formally announced her reelection campaign, she’s amassed several Democratic challengers, including Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon; Betsy Sweet, a women’s rights advocate and a former Maine gubernatorial candidate; and attorney Bre Kidman.
Kidman, who uses the pronouns them and they, was one of the sexual assault survivors from Maine who traveled hundreds of miles to Washington last year in an attempt to persuade Collins not to vote for Kavanaugh.
On the one-year anniversary of his confirmation, Kidman returned to Washington, where they joined hundreds of people outside the Supreme Court protesting Kavanaugh, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who introduced a resolution last month calling for his impeachment.
“It’s not just about sexual assault. It’s not just about a political move,” Kidman told HuffPost. “It’s about her not listening to us and I don’t think anyone is going to let her forget it.”
“Last year, I was nervous to beg my senator to do the right thing,” they added. “And this year, I’m coming for her job and nerves be damned.”
Hundreds of Collins’ critics protested in Washington and across Maine on Sunday. In Bar Harbor, more than a dozen women staged a die-in for 43 minutes ― the length of Collins’ Kavanaugh speech on the Senate floor ― in one of Maine’s most scenic parks, eliciting encouragement from tourists and local passersby.
“People who weren’t really active in the last election are ready to go knock on doors,” said Gail Leiser, a member of Indivisible MDI, a local chapter of the progressive movement that organized the demonstration. “They have that sense of betrayal.”
Collins has “always been a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” she added. “She’s always presented as a moderate, but would always toe the party line. A lot of people couldn’t see that. But a lot of people have been awakened. What she says and what she does are two different things.”
Additional protests unfolded across Maine on Sunday, from one outside Collins’ house in Bangor, to one 130 miles southwest at Portland City Hall.
Dini Merz, a co-founder of the progressive political action committee Mainers for Accountable Leadership, spoke at the Portland event. She came out as a sexual assault survivor a year ago while urging Collins to vote “no” on Kavanaugh.
“Election after election, she has said she’s pro-choice, that she believes in the right of women to have integrity over their own body,” Merz told HuffPost. “Yet she was the pivotal vote in putting onto the Supreme Court someone with a known history of being restrictive of women’s bodies. Everything he does on that court that confirms that is an albatross around her neck.”
Within weeks of Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh, a crowdfunding campaign raised millions of dollars toward whoever would become Collins’ Democratic challenger in 2020. Collins’ vote also proved lucrative for herself; she raised more money that quarter than any other fundraising period of her career, though the vast majority came from out-of-state.
In the year since Kavanaugh’s confirmation, several states have passed sweeping anti-abortion laws. Some of these Republican-led states hope the restrictive laws will force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade, which effectively made abortion legal nationwide.
The Supreme Court announced Friday it would hear an abortion case this term ― its first since the retirement of swing justice Anthony Kennedy last year. The case has stoked fears among women’s rights advocates that their reproductive rights are on the chopping block.
Still, Collins ― whose office did not respond to a request for comment ― has said she has no regrets over her vote to confirm Kavanaugh. In fact, she appears to have really embraced it despite the majority of her constituents having opposed it at the time. She sent out mailers accusing “far left extremists” of attacking her over her vote, and attended a fundraiser in California where she was hailed the “hero of the Kavanaugh confirmation.”
On Monday, Sweet, one of Collins’ Democratic challengers in the 2020 race, delivered a petition to Collins’ Portland office with over 1,200 signatures demanding she push for the FBI to reopen its investigation into Kavanaugh.
“What Susan Collins did is just another slap in the face to women who feel they aren’t believed or taken seriously,” she told HuffPost. “No one’s forgotten. ... This is still so raw for them.”