While I’ve admired a number of Maine’s leaders from afar, I’ve also been fortunate to observe some of their leadership qualities up close and personal. Here are two examples, one from each side of the partisan aisle.
Congressman Tom Allen (D) – Spring, 1999
As mentioned in my last post, Congressman Tom Allen once spoke to our students at Bath. At one point, a seemingly exasperated student pointedly asked something to the effect of: Why should we consider pursuing the life you chose in public service when nothing ever really changes? Why should we believe that anyone can really make a difference?
Allen responded with a story about growing up in Portland. He explained how recreational opportunities on/in water were limited during his boyhood due to extreme pollution. (Log drives and paper mills did a number on Maine’s rivers!) “Then,” he continued, “A man named Ed Muskie came along with his Clean Water Act. And today my children fish and swim in the very same waters that were forbidden to me. I saw proof that one person can make a difference and it inspired me to want to do the same.” Allen’s response clearly resonated with the audience. Both students and faculty left the meeting seeing the whole notion of public service in a different, brighter light.
Senator Olympia Snowe (R) – Fall, 2000
During their pre-teen years, my daughters played travel team basketball on the Bath Lady Bucs. In order to raise money for uniforms, the Bath Iron Works would permit the team a once-annual solicitation of the early-AM shift of workers as they passed through BIW’s entrance gates prior to punching in on the time clock. Solicitation buckets in hand, parents and players would assemble at the two primary gates at the crack of dawn. It was always a big success. As I recall, in less than an hour we would cover the total cost of that year’s uniforms.
One year, our solicitation effort happened to coincide with Election Day. Hence, the BIW parking lot quickly took on a carnival atmosphere with politicians, posters, pollsters, TV cameras and commentators, competing protesters, lunch pail-carrying workers, and dollar-soliciting young girl basketball players (with parents in tow) all pursuing their respective highly focused purposes. I will never forget the picture of dignity and class presented on that day by then Senator Olympia Snowe.
First off, there didn’t appear to be any “handlers” in sight. Olympia was right in the thick of it, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. However, as impressive as she appeared, the respect accorded her by the workers was palpable. While they had been hurling some fairly humorous wise cracks at a number of the other politicians seeking their votes, I didn’t hear a single one directed at her. To add to the drama, it was known to all that these men and women were members of a labor union that had publicly declared support for her opponent. It was an inspiring display of reciprocal respect. As the father of two young and impressionable girls, it was a wonderful thing for all three of us to behold. Belated thanks, Olympia, for helping me out with my Biggest Job!
Onward, Malcolm Gauld