Steve Collins, Staff Writer
LEWISTON — Doo-wop star Jon Bauman, former lead singer of Sha Na Na, took the stage Tuesday at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center as part of a campaign to protect Medicare and Social Security.
The performer, better known as “Bowzer,” said Lewiston was chosen as the first of many planned stops across the country in a bid to pressure U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to stand strong against possible efforts by her Republican colleagues to gut either program.
“We’re potentially at a crossroads,” said Cynthia Phinney, president of the Maine AFL-CIO.
Bauman said that even though he loves early rock ‘n’ roll music — which his former band championed everywhere from the stage at the Woodstock music festival in 1969 to its own popular television show — he doesn’t want to see the country’s financial safety net return to the one in place in that era.
Bauman delivered a little entertainment along with his spiel during a 90-minute session before about 50 people, including several minutes of classical piano playing and a short rocker that ended with a plea for Medicare’s preservation.
Bauman pointed out that before Medicare, more than a third of America’s seniors lived in poverty because of medical bills; now less than 9 percent do.
Medicare, eyed by some for drastic cost-saving changes, “has kept more people out of poverty than any other program” the country has ever devised, Bauman said.
“Things that were sacrosanct in our country are now at risk,” said James Lysen, a Lewiston City Council member in attendance.
Phinney said Medicare and Medicaid “are important programs that support the people of this country as they age.”
Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said some Republican lawmakers are taking on the programs because “they believe they can pull a fast one.”
He said some GOP legislators in Congress “are dancing to the tune that Wall Street is singing” in a bid to snatch the money that rightfully belongs to the American people who have paid into Medicare for decades.
Last month, Collins expressed “reservations” about privatizing Medicare and was the only Republican last week to vote for an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from adopting legislation to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. The amendment was defeated.
Bauman, a Columbia University graduate who lives in California, said he’s touring with Lawson to try to turn up the heat on moderate Republican senators such as Collins who are wary of messing with the safety net. He said if they hear from enough constituents, they won’t bend to aggressive colleagues seeking change.
“Money talks,” Lawson said, “but people talk louder.”
Bauman said they’re mostly going after senators, but it wouldn’t hurt to work as well on U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who represents central and northern Maine.
“He’s lousy on a lot of stuff,” Bauman said, but might side with those defending Medicare.
Poliquin has indicated he would leave the programs alone for “retirees and soon-to-be seniors,” but would “make adjustments” to the systems for younger members, such as raising the retirement age, because of the growing cost of the programs.
Bauman said he’s been coming to Lewiston since college because his first roommate lived on a farm just outside the city. He campaigned for Democrats at the Franco Center as recently as 2014.
Currently heading Bowzer’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Party, a show with about 10 bands from the early rock era, Bauman said he is “still rocking and rolling.”
He said he’s played the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut for 16 straight years and aims to keep at it for at least another four.