Maine Democratic Party State Committee Meeting
December 11, 2005
I'm Jean Hay Bright and I'm running for U.S. Senate.
I've been saying that a lot the last 10 months, and I've lost count of the people who have told me that I'm being brave or courageous. That puzzled me at first, until I realized that they were saying it took courage for anyone to put themselves out there, exposing their ideas to public debate, ridicule by the media or attacks by the other side.
But, as a writer, reporter, book author and columnist, I've been putting myself out there in public for 30 years. From my perspective, being a candidate is just more of the same.
Then I realized that I did have a bit of courage, the courage of my convictions. And I think that's what voters are looking for these days - Democrats with backbone. Like the backbone Congressmen Tom Allen and John Baldacci showed in October of 2002 when they both voted against the Iraq War resolution. Like the courage Mike Michaud showed last summer when he signed onto HJR 55, a resolution to bring the troops home from Iraq next year.
The trick for voters is to find - and to vote for - candidates who share their convictions.
My books and my columns lay out a lot of that. Here's another taste.
Those of us of a certain age grew up with, and internalized, the ideals of Superman, that brave, strong action hero who fought continuously for "truth, justice, and the American Way." Those ideals resonated with us, because we understood how special America was, and we were proud to be part of that.
So it is with great pain that I watch the America that we grew up in disappear before our eyes.
Truth is not operative at the highest levels. A war is started under false premises, government documents are classified top secret to keep us citizens in the dark about what our government is doing, whistle-blowers are punished, journalists jailed. Bold-faced lies about important things are not challenged by a cowering media.
Justice is on the ropes. The excruciating debate over the definition of what "torture" is, is so much more demoralizing than the debate over what the definition of the word "is" is. A news report detailing secret CIA prisons in foreign countries prompts an investigation into the leak of the information to the newspaper, not an investigation into the allegation of secret prisons. And the United States Senate, including Maine's own two Republican Senators, voted twice now to deny detainees we hold at Guantanamo Bay their habeas corpus rights to appear before our federal courts to challenge their detentions.
The American Way
I grew up in a working class family in northeast Ohio. My dad spent the entire four decades of his working life on the hot, dirty, noisy floor of a steel mill, retiring as a shift foreman. My mom worked as a crane-operator in that mill when the steelworkers, including my dad, went off to serve in the military in World War II. Years later she sewed cloth baby toys in a factory to pay off the mortgage early. For us, the American Way was a good job with respectable pay for an honest day's work.
Those good jobs were the ticket, a ticket that bought the American Dream of owning your own home in a safe neighborhood with good local schools where your kids could get a quality public education.
Those tickets are getting harder and harder to come by these days. What is so hard to take is the fact that it's not by accident.
We have NAFTA and CAFTA, and laws that encourage the outsourcing of decent jobs to foreign countries. The health care crisis is bankrupting both people and businesses, or is used to badger unions into bad contracts. The under-funding of pensions is deliberate, to keep the stockholders happy.
The federal minimum wage is an abysmal $5.15 per hour, which Maine's Republican Senators just this fall refused to increase to $6.25 per hour. Think about that. Since Maine's minimum wage is now $6.50 per hour, an increase would have helped the working poor across the country without affecting Maine's wage scale. The losers in this "no" vote were not only the working poor in other states, but also the many Maine small businesses who have to compete with companies in those other states -- companies who can continue to legally pay sub-poverty-level wages.
At the other end of the spectrum, capital gains taxes on unearned income are at their lowest level in history, with no justification that I consider reasonable. Income taxes on the wealthiest Americans are cut and cut again, on the pretext that the wealthy will spend that extra money creating jobs. But they don't. They buy more stocks and bonds, building up their portfolios, and then insist that Congress repeal the estate tax on all those accumulated assets.
What is gone is the cohesiveness, the recognition that we are all in this together, that we all have a responsibility toward our neighbors, our communities, our nation -- and as the last standing superpower -- our world.
I don't see any of that at the top levels of government these days. I see greed, incompetence, arrogance, a class war, a real but unnecessary and illegal war, a disturbing tendency toward violence and suppression of our basic freedoms, and a frightful ignorance of both history and foreseeable consequences.
The good news is that, as Abraham Lincoln said so long ago, we are a nation "of, by and for the people." We can turn this around. But it's going to take a lot of us paying attention in ways we never have had to before.
U.S. Senators are now examining the life philosophy of a Supreme Court nominee to see if they want our nation to live in his judicial world. We need to hold our candidates for public office to the same kind of standard, to compare our own world views with theirs, and vote for the candidates who most closely share our outlook.
It behooves us, in the next election, and in every election, to vote for the America we want to live in.
Do we want national health care? Do we want a federal minimum wage that is a living wage for a single adult? Do we validate Social Security as our government recognizing its responsibility to its elderly and disabled? Do we want to reinstate those taxes on the wealthy, to make them pay their fair share for the privilege of living in the United States of America? Do we want to get out of NAFTA and CAFTA and put Americans back to work again making things for other Americans?
I wrote three Iraq columns around the time Tom Allen and John Baldacci were voices of sanity in Congress, including one about Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations. In that column I referred to Powell's "stunning performance before the United Nations Security Council, where he presented bogus, vague, and/or conjectured information about the status of the Iraqi weapons program." This was in February 2003, before the war started. I got some pretty strong criticism for that column. But more than two years later, I was vindicated when Colin Powell himself apologized for that presentation.
If you want to see that kind of backbone in Washington, if you want a Maine Senator with the courage of her convictions, and if you happen to agree with those convictions, I urge you to have the courage to vote for me in the primary in June and again next November.
My name is Jean Hay Bright, and I am a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 2006, for the seat now held by Olympia Snowe.