Lauren Kennedy / Director of Photography

Sarah O’Connor, Staff Writer

Senator Susan Collins and the Common Sense Coalition played a vital role in ending the three day government shutdown by the use of a talking stick. The group proposed a compromise that allowed the Senate to pass a short-term funding bill to reopen the government, according to an official statement released by Collins. The compromise did not address the fate of the young undocumented immigrants covered by Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA) or border security. Instead, the Senate has until Feb. 8 to work for a resolution.

In 2013, Collins formed the bipartisan group called the Common Sense Coalition to put an end to government shutdowns or to hasten their resolutions.

“Each of my colleagues was committed to getting a resolution,” Collins said. “ Everyone agrees that shutdowns are a terrible failure of government, they represent, in my mind, the ultimate failure to govern.”

What started with 17 senators during the 2013 government shutdown grew to 26 senators this year. Senator Collins and her colleagues wanted to make the shutdown as short as possible, so she retrieved the stick that was kept in her drawer given to her by Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

“From the beginning,” Collins said, “I knew that it was very difficult to control the debate when there were that many people in the room. So I talked to Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and I told him I was going to bring out what was called a Masai Talking Stick, which originated from the nomadic tribe in Kenya and in the Sudan. It is used to control the debate by passing the stick from person to person and only that person who has the stick is allowed to speak…  to prevent side conversations and cross jatter.”

Regarding the success of the talking stick, Collins said, “It really is most important as a reminder that people should listen to one another… this simple stick turns out to be powerful in getting people to actually listen to one another.”

Talking sticks are not commonly present in political meetings, but Collins sees a future in the talking stick for future compromises.

“It helped lighten the mood,” Collins said, “but in a more serious way, it actually works to help me keep the debate free and open so everybody had a chance to speak and be listened to.”

Collins said that her office was considered “Switzerland” because it was the “one place that was neutral where Democrats, Independents, and Angus King could come together and discuss issues.”

The Common Sense Coalition compromise of a short-term funding bill was supported, according to the New York Times. Eighty-one senators voted to end the shutdown and postpone an agreed resolution for Feb. 8, while the other 18, two Republicans and the rest Democrats, voted against the measure.

In a released statement, Collins said, “what we shared in common was the determination to reopen government and convince our leaders that there is a path forward that will accommodate those of us who are concerned about the fate of the ‘Dreamers’ who live in this country, many of whom have known no other country as their home.”

According to Mark Niquette, author of “Common-Sense Senators to Reunite Over Dreams, Border,” President Trump’s plan is to offer deportation protections and a path to citizenship for many people under DACA as a trade for $25 billion for the construction of the U.S. and Mexico border wall for border and port security.

Niquette notes that Collins agrees with Trump on security, but she doesn’t agree with a physical wall. She is more focused on a path for citizenship for the ‘dreamers’ and the continuation of the communication and production of the government.

“We met for about an hour and a half in my office and each of us was determined to find a way out of the impasse,” Collins said. “Then night came and the government shut down with truly devastating effects.”

According to Collins, the shutdown jeopardizes 9 million children covered under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and did nothing to help the ‘Dreamers,’ the young undocumented immigrants. It put nearly 22,000 people in need or at risk of having their healthcare disrupted. It negatively affected the government’s budget through reduced revenues, and 50 percent of civilian workers and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers would be furloughed. People who were applying for social security disability that are applying for benefits would not have their applications processed.

The three day government shutdown was stressful for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, but Collins created a space that forced the politicians to listen to one another and come to a compromise. Although the talking stick led to a successful discussion, it was at one point thrown across the room when a politician spoke out of turn, breaking one of Collins’ artifacts on her shelf, according to CNN.

Collins said, “I’m delighted that our group was able to come up with a compromise that ultimately was accepted by most of the Republicans and the Democratic leaders of the senate and that government was promptly reopened.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here