The America We Want to Live In
Hancock County Democratic Committee - Ellsworth City Hall
January 19, 2006
Hi. My name is Jean Hay Bright, and Iím running for U.S. Senate, for the seat now held by Olympia Snowe.
Lots of familiar faces here, some of them going back to my earliest days in Hancock County, in the 1970s. For those who came later, let me tell you a little about myself.
I was born and raised in Youngstown Ohio. My dad was a steelworker. He spent four decades on the noisy, dirty floor of the blast furnace division, retiring as a foreman. He almost lost his hard-earned pension when LTV went bankrupt, and the federal government had to step in to save those pensions.
But that pension fight was long after I had left home, which I did at the age of 18, a year out of high school, when I married my high school sweetheart, and promptly saw him off to two tours of duty in Vietnam.
I spent those two years as a military wife outside the base in Gulfport Mississippi, most of that time working in the front office of the Gulfport Memorial Hospital. This was the late 1960s, the Civil Rights Act had been passed just a few years before, and I was in charge of integrating previously segregated hospital rooms. It was a real education.
As you know, Gulfport was one of the towns devastated by Hurricane Katrina. I knew it when.
After those two tours in Vietnam, when my then-husband got out of the service, he wanted nothing more than to go hide in the woods. An immoral war can do that to a person. We decided to move to Maine and create the America we wanted to live in.
It was a familiar pilgrimage, not only for us, but for people like us all over the country and the world, people fleeing from things in their own lives, people who for generations have come seeking a piece of ground, here or in other states, where they could prosper and live in peace.
For reasons still not clear to me, we ended up buying land in Harborside from Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of that back-to-the-land bible, Living the Good Life, and in 1972 we started homesteading on 25 acres with the Nearings on one side and Eliot and Sue Coleman on the other.
For awhile we were successful in creating our own American dream, building our non-electric cabin in the woods, establishing subsistence gardens, starting our family.
And then Central Maine Power showed up and bought an option on land across the road from us, with plans to build a nuclear power plant. Our world had changed. It was clear we couldnít hide in the woods any longer.
A complaint to the Ellsworth bureau of the Bangor Daily News about lack of coverage of that CMP story landed me a part-time job as a reporter, which grew into a full-time job, and five years later, into my being named Hancock County Bureau Chief.
Being a reporter was an education. Town and county government, court, cops, business issues, accidents, fires. But it was also an opportunity to apply the Superman standard, for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. People dealing with obstinate bureaucrats at all levels would come to me with their stories. If I felt they were not getting a fair shake, I would call the office in question and try to get that side of the story. Sometimes it was just a misunderstanding. But other times, many times, the threat of public exposure would result in a quick resolution. People who, for whatever reason, had not been doing their jobs suddenly recognized the error of their ways and fixed the problem. In those cases, my office functioned as the Court of Last Resort, which is the Court of Public Opinion.
During the time I worked for the BDN, my world changed again. In 1979, as a single mother of two toddlers, I bought a 10-acre run-down farm across the street from the Blue Hill Fairgrounds. In the mid 1980s, I quit my job as bureau chief, opened Hayís Farm Stand, and became a full-time commercial organic farmer.
I also got active politically, joining peace and environmental groups, working on things like the AES coal-fired power plant fight in Bucksport in the early 1990s. We spent a lot of time in those years trying to get officials at all levels, from the local planning board to government regulators, to do the right thing.
If that right thing was not yet codified into law, we lobbied, cajoled, protested to our local legislators and members of Congress, trying to get them to submit bills, or sign onto bills, that would do what we wanted.
By 1993 I was looking for a job in politics. I landed one in the Portland office of 1st District Congressman Tom Andrews (not Tom Allen). Tom Andrews was a progressive Congressman who had the courage to vote his convictions, and he was an inspiration to me.
Thatís when it became absolutely clear to me that political activism is most effective when it results in not just the change of a mind, a position, or a vote of one politician on one issue, but in the election of like-minded politicians who are good on a whole range of issues.
I thought of that again last month, in that anti-war crowd of people who rallied outside Senator Snoweís office in Bangor, asking her once again to hold a forum on the Iraq War, as Congressman Tom Allen had done last July, and as Congressman Mike Michaud did last month in Bangor and will do again in Belfast on Jan. 29.
Anyway, back in Olympia Snoweís office, I looked around at that crowd and I couldnít help but think how different the discussion would have been if that had been my office and my name had been on that door.
I wouldnít have voted for the Iraq War Resolution, as Olympia Snowe did. I wouldnít have voted for the Patriot Act, as Olympia Snowe did. I wouldnít have voted, twice, to deny the Guantanamo Bay detainees their habeas corpus rights to challenge their detentions in our federal courts, as Olympia Snowe did, twice, last fall.
If I were a Senator and that were my name on the door, people would not need to rally, to petition, to read the names of the war dead, to get me to do the right thing. And no one would have been arrested, as 19 were that day in Bangor.
As you might expect, the Iraq War in all of its ramifications, is one of my top three campaign issues. Those ramifications include the issue of torture, of secret CIA prisons, of George Bush launching an illegal war, of George Bush signing laws that he openly declares do not apply to him.
Dropping bombs on civilian homes because someone suspects a bad guy might be in there is not the way to win friends. Anymore itís not even shoot first and ask questions later. Weíre not asking questions later.
I agree with Rep. Murtha, weíve accomplished everything we can militarily in Iraq. BRING THEM HOME!
The second top issue for my campaign is universal single-payer health care, Medicare for all. There is enough money already in the healthcare system to provide health care for all Americans, it just needs to be handled and redirected differently. We need to get the insurance companies out of the picture. As General Motors so dramatically pointed out recently, our lack of national health care makes our workers non-competitive in the world market.
Olympia Snoweís FEC campaign filings are rift with contributions from insurance and drug companies and their employees.
My third top campaign issue is the economy, jobs, which includes everything from the minimum wage, to OSHA standards, to issues around pensions and Social Security, and onto trade issues like NAFTA and CAFTA, both of which I opposed.
Olympia Snowe last fall refused to raise the federal minimum wage above $5.15 an hour, despite the fact that Maineís minimum is $6.50 an hour. This could have been a freebee for her. She could have voted to raise the incomes of poverty-level workers across the country without hurting workers in Maine. But by NOT voting to raise the minimum wage nationally she put the small businesses in Maine that have to compete with businesses in other parts of the country at a distinct disadvantage.
I think the minimum wage should be the living wage for a single adult, possibly adjusted regionally. What that might also do is cut down drastically on the illegal immigration problem. President Bush keeps saying Americans donít want to do the jobs that illegal immigrants do. But American workers are not fools. Itís not the hard work, long hours or backbreaking labor that is keeping American workers away. Itís the pay. Most Americans are not willing to work full-time at a job that does not pay enough to keep food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads. Why should they?
Social Security. My take on Social Security is that we need a government that recognizes its responsibilities to its elderly and its disabled. This current Republican government does not recognize that responsibility. In fact, it does not recognize any governmental responsibility toward the poor and disadvantaged. Look at the fiasco this winter with home heating assistance, and the new cuts in federal programs for the poor. That has got to stop.
I leave you with this final thought.
Olympia Snowe is not a moderate. Without her pro-choice record, she has nothing. And it is clear from the millions of dollars now being spent on TV ads on both sides of the Judge Alito issue that people, on both sides, arenít sure about how solid that pro-choice record is anymore. She voted for Judge John Roberts to be Chief Justice, much to the surprise of the womenís groups who had supported her for years. Will she vote to confirm Judge Alito? Weíll know in the next few weeks. For our countryís sake, I hope she votes against him, even though her vote to confirm him will give my own campaign a boost.
In her ten races for federal office, Olympia Snowe has never faced a woman. She has certainly never faced a woman who has a long public record of being adamantly pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-civil rights, and unabashedly liberal.
My presence in this race in November will neutralize the choice issue for all those women voters whose primary concern is reproductive rights. On just about every other issue, Olympia Snowe and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Next November, Maine could be one of six states to vote to change the course of history. The only way the draconian agenda in Washington can be stopped is for the Democrats to regain control of both houses of Congress. For the Senate, we need six more Democrats in place of Republicans. The seat now held by Olympia Snowe can be one of those six.
It is the only race this year that we in Maine have to work with.
Letís use that vote well. Letís vote for the America we want to live in. Thank you.