Hay Bright touts practice of the causes she preaches
Portland Press Herald
May 28, 2006
DIXMONT - Jean Hay Bright uses her eclectic career as a selling point in her campaign for the U.S. Senate. For instance, there's the story of the dented skull. When Hancock County court clerks discovered the skull in an evidence locker in 1982, Hay Bright wrote about it in the Bangor Daily News, where she worked for 10 years.

By the time the 100-year anniversary of Sarah Ware's murder arrived in 1998, Hay Bright had become managing editor of The Enterprise, a weekly newspaper in Bucksport. She petitioned a judge to release Exhibit 4, for which she helped organize a burial ceremony. The event drew national media attention and an appearance on the History Channel.

"Jean was the one who was creative enough and connected enough," said Sharon Bray, a former Enterprise publisher. "She's one of the most intelligent women I've ever known. I would love to have someone with that kind of brainpower in Washington."

Hay Bright, 58, hopes to convert her contacts from reporting and her familiarity with government into a successful campaign for U.S. Senate. She is campaigning in the Democratic primary June 13 against Eric Mehnert, an Orono lawyer. The winner will challenge Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe in the Nov. 7 general election.

Hay Bright worked in the Portland office of former U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews before running herself for Snowe's House seat in 1994. But that was the year that former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell retired. Snowe campaigned for his vacant seat and won.

Seven candidates flooded into the Democratic primary for the open House seat; the winner of both the primary and the seat was John Baldacci, who has since become governor.

Hay Bright ran in 1996 for the U.S. Senate seat held by William Cohen. But when he was appointed defense secretary, the Democratic primary became a five-way contest won by former Gov. Joseph Brennan. Republican Susan Collins won the seat.

"It did show me the ropes," said Hay Bright, holding a mug with a silhouette of the Capitol that said, "A Woman's Place is in the Dome!"

She acknowledged not being as sharp a public speaker as Mehnert, but argued that her experience is broader. She said she would make a better opponent as Snowe's first female general-election opponent in 28 years in Congress, particularly after Snowe supported Justice Samuel Alito's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I really believe I'm the best candidate in the race," Hay Bright said. "She's lost her credentials."

Her unabashed liberalism has won supporters across the state. Roger Roy of Caribou, who publishes the Aroostook Democrat newsletter, offered his personal endorsement this month by saying that Snowe "masquerades as a moderate" and that Hay Bright "has a long record of activism in numerous progressive causes."

Roy conceded that either Democratic candidate is a dark horse who wouldn't stand "a snowball's chance in hell of winning" in a normal year. But he said disappointment with President Bush and congressional Republicans could lead to a political upset.

"If lightning is to strike, we better have a lightning rod - and Jean is a lightning rod," Roy said.

During the 1970s, Hay Bright lived in a cabin in the woods in Blue Hill without electricity or other amenities. Gravity pulled water into the home from a spring. Kerosene lamps provided light. An outhouse contributed to organic vegetable farming.

"I know what I need," she said. "It's good to know at what level you can live well."

She is still an organic farmer of raspberries and high-bush blueberries at BrightBerry farm in Dixmont. Technological advantages include a computer and a campaign Web site. But she and her husband, David, are contemplating solar panels to power the tractors.

"I'll put my organic farming experience up against Tom DeLay's pesticide-applicator business any day," Hay Bright said of the former House Republican leader from Texas.

She got married out of high school. After raising two children, Becca and Dagan, she earned a bachelor's degree in university studies from the University of Maine in 1998 - two weeks before her daughter graduated from the University of New Hampshire.

Ending the war in Iraq is a top priority for Maine Democrats. Hay Bright seeks a congressional consensus to pull out troops and to forbid any American company from owning assets or operating a business in Iraq.

But Hay Bright, whose first husband served in Vietnam, has also won support from veterans for advocating better health benefits.

"We just want to make sure when our military people come back that they're not treated like they were in Vietnam," said Bob Mills of Biddeford, a Marine Corps veteran and independent candidate for York County commissioner who has endorsed Hay Bright.

The Iraq war and high gas prices offer familiar terrain for her proposals for greater oil conservation and development of alternative energy. For example, she urges higher mileage for all vehicles and promotes LED lights to save energy.

"I have no patience for people who say you can't have windmills because they're ugly," Hay Bright said. "Windmills or war: take your pick."