Jean Hay Bright - Democratic primary candidate profile
Bangor Daily News
June 6, 2006
DIXMONT - There's something unusual in Jean Hay Bright's driveway: Her car.

Hay Bright, a writer and organic farmer in this small Penobscot County town, has spent hundreds of hours and thousands of miles on the road in her effort to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe this November.

The day before her Saturn sedan got its rare rest, it took her to nearby Winterport, where she addressed a group of Democrats at one of many "Meet the Candidates" nights she has attended in the past several months.

"We all know that the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress are making a mess of this country," Hay Bright, 58, told the crowd that was nodding in agreement. "And those of us who have been paying attention know that Olympia Snowe is complicit in all of it."

But to take on Snowe in November, Hay Bright must first get past newcomer Eric Mehnert of Orono in the June 13 primary.

If she does, it will technically be Hay Bright's first face-off with Snowe.

But it wouldn't be her first try at toppling the powerful - and many say untouchable - Republican.

In 1993, Hay Bright bought her Saturn - which now has more than 300,000 miles on it - to run her first campaign against Snowe, who was then the 2nd District congresswoman. That race began with a Democratic primary that quickly became crowded once the incumbent Snowe opted to leave her House seat to run for the U.S. Senate upon the unexpected retirement of Democrat George Mitchell.

Hay Bright, who at that point went by just Jean Hay, lost in that primary to John Baldacci, who went on to serve four terms in Congress before becoming governor.

Despite Snowe's consistent ranking as one of the most popular senators, Hay Bright is confident she can win a head-to-head matchup. The political winds are shifting, she said, with recent polls showing President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress limping into the midterm elections.

"Times are changing," said Hay Bright, who during the Winterport forum hammered Snowe and her GOP colleagues for, among other things, supporting the Iraq war and confirming Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, whose writings and rulings have caused considerable consternation among abortion rights supporters.

Hay Bright counts herself squarely within the party's progressive wing. In 2004, she worked on the presidential campaign of Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who last week endorsed her campaign.

Her platform includes the immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, an increase in the federal minimum wage and the repeal of tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

Her work history includes stints as a Bangor Daily News reporter, a staffer for former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews and, currently, a commercial grower of organic blueberries and raspberries on the 30-acre farm she operates with her husband.

Her varied employment history, she said, gives her an advantage over Mehnert, an attorney, as the party's hope of unseating Snowe.

"I'm good at the details, the complexities - and I enjoy the complexities," Hay Bright said. "That's exactly what you get down in Washington."

Getting to Washington, however, will be no easy task, according to political scientist Jim Melcher, who said Snowe would be a "prohibitive favorite" against any Democratic nominee. But Melcher did agree with Hay Bright's contention that her gender might make her a stronger nominee for her party.

Snowe has never faced a woman opponent while in Washington, Hay Bright often repeats on the campaign trail.

"It's a very sensible thing to say in the primary," said Melcher, who said the June contest would likely amount to a "referendum on Jean Hay Bright," who has higher name recognition among Maine Democrats than Mehnert.

But Hay Bright said she also hopes to win support in the general election from those within the state's Green Party, with which she has had a longstanding, although informal, relationship.

Heather "Betsy" Garrold of Knox, a former chairwoman of the Green Party, said she remembered Hay Bright when she, although a Democrat, volunteered for Green Jonathan Carter's congressional campaign in 1992.

"She's really tough," said Garrold, a founding member of the informal group, Greens for Jean. "I feel she's the type who would stick to her guns in Washington and not be someone who would get co-opted."