Six-term Maine Congressman and Bowdoin alum Rep. Tom Allen '67 (D-Maine) is making a bid for the U.S. Senate on November 4, hoping to unseat incumbent Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). The Orient caught up with Congressman Allen at his campaign headquarters in Portland last Friday to discuss the upcoming election, the state of the economy, and the Red Sox. [Editor's note: Portions of this interview have been edited for length.]

The Bowdoin Orient: Since you announced your candidacy for U.S. Senate in May 2007, what has been your message to the voters of Maine? Has it changed since you launched your campaign?

Rep. Tom Allen: Throughout the campaign, I've been talking about the economy and jobs, about health care, energy, and Iraq, and the differences I have with Susan Collins on all those issues. And that hasn't changed. It's the same subject matter. We spend less time on Iraq now, more on the economy than we did before... During the summer, when people were so upset about potential heating oil costs and diesel gasoline costs, we spent more time talking about energy, and the energy plans. And now it's mostly about how we got here with respect to this economic meltdown, and Wall Street and the credit markets and where we need to go. So even though I've been talking consistently about the same four issues over these two years, there is a change in emphasis to respond to what people are feeling at the moment.

Orient: The economic bailout package was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush on October 3. Since then, the stock market has continued to fluctuate wildly, and Americans continue to harbor doubts about the health of our economy. What sort of steps do you think the federal government can take—and should take—to try and alleviate this crisis?

Allen: Well first of all, the bailout package was designed as a first step. It was designed to stabilize the credit markets—particularly the short-term credit markets—and it will over time, I think, help. But it clearly wasn't enough, and you're still seeing interventions by the Treasury, interventions by the Fed, agreements with central banks around the world to reduce interest rates, or one way or another to try and restore confidence...But I will say this—the level of economic anxiety right now in Maine is the highest that I've ever seen it in my lifetime. People are beside themselves, because the cost of almost everything they buy is going up, and their wages are staying stable or going down.

Orient: In debates and speeches, Senator Obama and Senator Biden have both painted the current economic crisis as essentially eight years of failed Bush economic policies. Do you think that this is a fair characterization, or do you think that it's more complicated?

Allen: I think it's a fair characterization. I think it's probably not an absolutely complete characterization, because in the '90s, there was a movement—driven by Republicans, but lots of Democrats went along with it—to free up the investment banks and allow more flexibility in making investments...[Investment banks] were able to leverage themselves more than commercial banks, they didn't have the same kind of oversight. But overall, I think it's a fair charge for two reasons. Number one, the movement for deregulation reached its full flower during [the Bush] administration...and the attitude, that the markets take care of themselves, that government is more often the problem than the solution, was pervasive. Secondly, what really weakened this country, and was a substantial contributor to this crisis is the Bush economic policies, specifically those big tax cuts for the very rich, which were enacted in 2001 and 2003 and 2006. Those packages together, stripped about—and you can't be exact about this—but $1.2-1.5 trillion out of federal revenues in seven years. And then you add to that the invasion of Iraq, which has already cost $600 billion in direct costs...So when this economic crisis came, we were trying to do a stimulus package, we were trying to do a rescue package, on top of a national debt that had grown by $4 trillion in eight years.

Orient: During the presidential debates, Senator McCain has talked a lot about earmarks, and the problems that come with them. But part of the job of a U.S. Senator is to bring funds home to your state. How do you feel about earmarks?

Allen: Well, John McCain has spent a lot of time complaining about earmarks. There are good earmarks, there are bad earmarks. Most of them make an awful lot of economic sense. Some people would say, 'well, we want to eliminate them,' but if you eliminate them, the federal budget gets set by the Office of Budget and Management, who by and large, don't have a clue about specific states, and that's why the more democratic—small "d"—approach is to essentially share federal revenues [among states]...the State of Maine couldn't have funded the Casco Bay Bridge without stopping all transportation projects for years... I think that the number of earmarks needs to be driven down, the amount of money that is parceled out in earmarks needs to be driven down, but I don't think that they can be or should be effectively eliminated.

Orient: What issues do you think are most important to young Americans—and young Mainers—today?

Allen: Well, the economy, jobs, energy, and climate change...The cost of a college education for many young people is also a big deal. I know there are plenty of people at the University of Maine system who can't afford to buy the books for the courses that they take. And this Congress, under Democratic leadership, has increased the amount of Pell grants, we've reduced the interest rate on student loans... I know that a lot of young people are also concerned about Iraq and our foreign policy as well. But in terms of affecting people directly, it's mostly the economy and health care, and education.

Orient: You mentioned the cost of a college education. At many private colleges, including Bowdoin, tuition hovers close to $50,000 a year. Do you think that there's any reason, any need for the government to step in directly to try and contain the ballooning costs of a college education?

Allen: I don't think that the federal government is going to try and micromanage the budgets of private institutions, I just don't see that happening. The rapidly rising costs for higher education is a federal budgetary issue, as well as a state and university and private college issue. But I find it hard to believe that we have enough collective wisdom in Washington to figure out what higher education should cost... I just think that this is a competitive environment, for private college, and I don't have much confidence that the federal government could get it right.

Orient: Even before the housing crisis and credit crunch, Brunswick was already anticipating an economic slowdown, with the closing of the Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) in 2011. In what ways do you see the base being redeveloped?

Allen: Well, clearly the base is a great development opportunity. The portions of the base that would be available for development is a terrific opportunity for Brunswick. If it's like other military bases that have been closed down, there is a period of time where the existing jobs get lost, and it takes a while to bring in the new businesses, especially in this kind of climate. But, that's something at the local level, the state level, and what I would try and do as a United States Senator, is to help that process along.

Orient: You've been involved in politics a long time, including 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Congressman from Maine's 1st District. A lot of other distinguished Bowdoin grads, including former Senator George Mitchell (Class of 1954) and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Class of 1852) have been dedicated public servants. What would you say to a Bowdoin student interested in going into politics or public service?

Allen: Well, particularly if you are going into elective office, make sure that you have a fall back career. I think it's important that for young people, public service ought to be thought of as a part of your life, but not the whole of it... I was in the private sector for 20 years. I'm not saying people have to do that, but people who run for the legislature right out of college can find that they spend a decade or so in a state legislature and then come out with the skills of a generalist...but not with a career or a line of work that they can go back to. So I think that it makes a lot of sense to have a career. It doesn't have to be in the private sector, it can be in the non-profit sector, or the public sector. But elective office is something I think people should go into knowing that you can win or lose it at any time. It's particularly important that young people take on the responsibility of being citizens. Which means following what's going on, being engaged, supporting candidates that they care about. This is all about we, not just me. Governments are the way that societies act collectively, for pursuit of the common good.

Orient: The Red Sox and Tampa Bay are playing Game One of the ALCS tonight. Are you planning on watching the game?

Allen: I am, I have an event in the middle of the Red Sox game tonight, I have to go off, but I'm going to watch some of it.

Orient: Any predictions on the outcome of the series?

Allen: I think it's a hard one to call, probably because I'm not as tuned in this year. But this Tampa Bay team is real...on the other hand the Sox are very seasoned. And they've been here enough so that I don't have any doubt they'll probably be playing at a high level.

Orient: Still a Manny fan?

Allen: Well, Manny's gone, I'm a Jason Bay fan.