Speech to Maine College Democrats Convention
Bates College, Lewiston
September 30, 2006
My name is Jean Hay Bright and I am a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, for the seat now held by Maine's Republican Senator Olympia Snowe.
Forty years ago, when I was about your age, I never pictured myself doing something like this. Let me tell you a little about the path I took to get to this point.
I was born in Youngstown Ohio right after World War Two. My dad was in the Army during the war, and after it was over, he went back to work in a steel mill, an industry akin to paper mills here in Maine. It was the American dream - a good job, a house in the suburbs, good schools for the kids.
Those schools taught us about what a wonderful country we were living in. We had a Constitution that was the gold standard for the rest of the world. We had just saved the world from fascism, from the Nazis, from totalitarianism, and it felt good. When we watched Superman on TV, his theme of Truth, Justice and the American Way echoed what we were taught and what we believed about this great country of ours.
And while we were taught that any guy could grow up to be President, we were also taught that you didn't criticize your government, even, or especially, about things like the going to war. That was because, we were taught, the President knew more than you could ever know about what is going on in the world, and that the President of the United States would never do anything to hurt this great country.
I was a junior in High School when John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas. In fact, we heard the news over the school's intercom.
By the mid 1960s, the Vietnam War was raging. A year out of high school, I married my high school sweetheart and promptly saw him off to two tours of duty in Vietnam. I became one of thousands of young military wives, waiting and praying for our young husbands to come home safely from that awful place so far away.
He did come home intact, at least physically. They didn't talk about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome back then, but that's what he had. All he wanted to do was go hunt and fish in the woods.
And that's why we came to Maine in 1972, to be post-war homesteaders, in the model of Helen and Scott Nearing, who wrote the book Living the Good Life, which was popular back then. In fact, we ended up buying land from the Nearings, in Harborside, Maine, and promptly set about felling trees and building our dream cabin in the woods.
It was a challenging experience for me, coming from a comfortable, fully-applianced suburban home in Youngstown, to put together as self-sufficient a homestead as possible, heating with wood, cooking food on a wood-burning stove, lighting the cabin with kerosene lamps, growing as much of our own food as we could. I'll tell you, it is a different mindset to think in terms of how much food we need for the year and how to grow it and preserve it, instead of how much food the family needed for the week between trips to the grocery store. Thinking in long time-frames like that, thinking about infrastructure and how much independence was possible, and how much inter-dependence was necessary, was a life-altering experience for me.
My folks, of course, thought we were nuts to turn our backs on the comforts of modern living. But during the energy crisis of the mid 1970s, we did a little gloating, cozy and warm in our cabin, heated with that renewable resource that grows on trees.
On the other hand, home canning came back into vogue about the same time, and I discovered how dependent we were on a functioning national infrastructure when canning lids suddenly became scarcer than Elmo dolls -- not to be had anywhere in the country, bought out as soon as a new supply was delivered to the stores - and our winter food supply was at risk.
By the end of the 1970s, I was divorced with two kids, I bought an old farmhouse in Blue Hill with a few acres around it, and I was working for the Bangor Daily News, first as a reporter and then as Hancock County Bureau Chief. That experience, covering government at all levels in dozens of small towns - courts and cops, town councils, planning boards, school boards, town meetings, was an eye-opener for me about how government works, how everything fits together, and how important good-working government is to the functioning of our civilized society.
In all those situations, even at those local levels, the concepts in our U.S. Constitution came into play. As did our state's wonderful Right to Know law, which I had to invoke frequently as a reporter.
My job as a reporter forced me to override my own early upbringing, because it was my job to question government, to challenge government officials, on everything they did if they were not playing by the rules. In one such case, the local sheriff decided he would only open arrest and booking records to reporters he liked, and I was not on his good list. It took the threat of a court suit for that one to be resolved.
By the mid-1980s, with my kids growing up, I quit my job at the Bangor Daily News and became a full-time organic farmer. I opened Hay's Farmstand, across the street from the Blue Hill Fairgrounds. I also got active in politics, in a way I couldn't as a reporter. Particularly environmental politics, successfully challenging a plan for a coal-fired power plant in Bucksport. That lead to an interest in electoral politics.
By the early 1990s, I closed Hay's Farmstand and went to work for Congressman Tom Andrews as a legislative assistant in his Portland office. That was so inspirational that I ran in the 1994 Democratic primary for Congress, losing the primary to John Baldacci. I then ran in the 1996 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, losing the primary to former governor and congressman Joe Brennan. I sold my farm in Blue Hill, went back to college, I'm a 1998 graduate of UMaine, wrote and published three books, remarried, and we now have a 30-acre organic farm in Dixmont where we raise raspberries and high-bush blueberries.
The farm is beautiful, and I could be very happy spending the rest of my life tending to it, if it weren't for what is happening to my country and to the rest of the world. I've been opposed to the Iraq War since before it started, and I say Bring Our Troops Home Now.
My two other top campaign themes have been national single payer health care - it's time, it's necessary in fulfilling the Constitutional directive to "promote the general welfare," and it would make us competitive again in the global economy.
The third key theme is energy self-sufficiency through renewable resources - solar, wind, tidal, hydro, geo-thermal, plus bio-diesel, ethanol and other fuels made from annual crops and trees. National energy self-sufficiency makes so much sense and is positive on so many levels - the air would be cleaner because we would not be burning fossil fuels, it would boost the economy, with the invention, the manufacture, the sales, the installation, the maintenance of all those new energy systems. And, it would change foreign policy, because we wouldn't even have to think about invading other countries and stealing their resources to keep our society running.
So those three, ending the Iraq War, starting national health care, and setting a national goal of energy self-sufficiency, are the primary goals of my campaign. But those are goals, not reasons.
The reason I am in this race, the reason I am running to be one of 100 people making decisions for our country in the United States Senate, is that I want my country back.
The country I grew up in, in fact, even the country YOU grew up in, does not exist anymore. I'm talking about the country in which our Constitution was the gold standard for how nations should operate. A nation where human rights were paramount, where the rule of law protected each and every one of us. I'm talking about the Superman model of Truth, Justice, and the American way.
The American Way of my childhood has been disappearing for some time. Five steel mills were chugging away in Youngstown Ohio when I was growing up, and my dad was working in one of them. None of those mills exist today. That same destruction of our manufacturing base has been felt here in Maine, with the disappearance of our textile mills, our shoe factories, and the near disappearance of our paper industry. It is no longer possible to get out of high school, get a good job with a local manufacturer, work hard, build up a pension, buy a home in the suburbs, send your kids to quality public schools, and retire in comfort with the knowledge of a life lived decently and well.
What happened? Lots of things, like NAFTA, CAFTA, and laws that made it beneficial for corporations to outsource good jobs.
Truth started to disappear when George Bush was appointed president in 2000 by the U.S. Supreme Court. It disappeared entirely with the start of the illegal, immoral, and horribly unjust war in Iraq, the Shock and Awe killing thousands of Iraqi men, women and children who had done nothing to the United States of America.
And Justice disappeared last Thursday, September 28, 2006, when the United States Congress voted to debase the Constitution, to deny habeas corpus rights to "enemy combatants" designated as such on the word of the President of the United States alone.
Justice disappeared last Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006, when the United States Congress voted to allow the President of the United States to set the rules for what kinds of torture is acceptable for agents of the United States Government to inflict on prisoners.
Justice disappeared last Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006 when the United States Congress voted to allow hearsay evidence at military tribunals, to deny defendants the right to see what evidence is being used against them, and to deny defendants the right to face their accusers.
And Justice disappeared when the United States Congress voted to pardon George Bush for his warrant-less wiretapping of American citizens, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had already declared such wiretapping not only illegal, a violation of a specific law, but outright unconstitutional.
My opponent, Olympia Snowe, did not vote on the first three bills last Thursday, because she was here in Maine attending the funeral of the aunt who raised her. As a result, she could have taken a pass on those issues, and we would have understood. But instead, she issued a statement that, had she been in Washington, she would have voted in favor of all three bills.
As for the bill to pardon the President for warrant-less wiretapping, Olympia Snowe helped write that bill.
This is not the America I grew up in. It is not even the America you grew up in. But it is the world the Republican-controlled Congress wants us to live in. And it clearly is the world Olympia Snowe wants us to live in.
We are now living in a country where truth is being trashed, including the true count at the ballot box in Florida, and again in Ohio.
We are living in a country where bold-faced lies got us into a terrible war of aggression that has killed thousands of our good military men and women, has killed tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who had done nothing to us, and made us hated around the world.
We are now living in a country where we cannot trust that the President of the United States is ever telling the truth, and we have clear evidence that he is not acting in the best interests of us American citizens.
When I started running for U.S. Senate a year and a half ago, I thought the American Way, could be salvaged, that we just had to invoke the values embodied in our Constitution, that we had to remember and apply the standards of equality and justice and fairness and hard work that our country was founded on. But as the weeks and months have passed, I have noticed a change in people, in how they see what is going on, in their concerns.
People today are afraid, but they are not afraid of terrorists as much as they are their own government. I talk about those three goals in large groups - Iraq, health care, energy - but one on one, people talk about their fears for this country, about being afraid to speak out for fear of governmental retribution, of fear over losses of basic freedoms. They are talking about making plans to move to Canada, or to Europe.
And then, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006, their fears were confirmed. On Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006, Justice died in America, and the American dream died along with it. As of Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006, the Congress of the United States of America turned our great nation into a totalitarian state.
The 2006 election is about five weeks away. I hope in the deepest reaches of my soul that the American people will rise up on Nov. 7 and take back our country, by voting into office people who share their views of the world, of their hopes for America, and that they, we, will throw out of office the people who have gotten us to this awful place in American history. And that, unfortunately, includes our own Senator from Maine, Olympia J. Snowe.
Her world view is the one coming out of Washington. My world view is one coming out of a working class family, homesteading in Maine, newspaper reporting, organic farming, and feeling a deep love for this great nation and the wonders of our remarkable Constitution.
How Maine votes in this election will make a difference in what happens next in this country. Use your vote well, and vote for the America you want to live in.