Bangor Daily News
June 6, 2006
The Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate is more notable for who is not running than who is. Well-known legislative and congressional Democrats looked at Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe's nation-leading approval rating, her more than $2 million in campaign funds and strong party support, and they balked. That left a political newcomer, Bangor attorney Eric Mehnert, and longtime party activist Jean Hay Bright running in the June 13 Democratic primary.
Neither candidate has held elective office and neither has significant government experience. They have similar views. Both want U.S. troops to leave Iraq - Ms. Hay Bright immediately, Mr. Mehnert when international troops can take over. Both support stronger checks on executive power. On many environmental, and energy issues, their positions are the same as Sen. Snowe's.
Mr. Mehnert, who worked on a voters' rights project in Ohio for John Kerry after the 2004 presidential election, returned to Orono in 2004 after four years in Massachusetts where he worked as the chief of enforcement for the state's Commission Against Discrimination. He now practices civil rights law with his wife in Bangor. He is passionate and articulate about protecting the contract between government and the public, but he is virtually unknown and will have limited campaign funds to introduce himself.
Jean Hay Bright, on the other hand, is already well-known among Democrats, and she has a firm grasp of Maine politics and is a strong defender of her party's ideals.
Ms. Hay Bright, an organic farmer in Dixmont, ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primaries for Congress in 1994 and the Senate in 1996. Despite her defeats, she has remained loyal to the party, putting in time supporting other candidates and working for Democratic Rep. Tom Andrews. She has lived in Maine since 1972 and worked for the Bangor Daily News and other publications as a columnist and reporter.
Neither candidate has enough money for television ads and few of their signs dot the state's roadways. In a race that party leaders have written off, voters face a choice between candidates with similar views but different backgrounds and styles. Jean Hay Bright is a good choice.