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149
Proud to be a Card-Carrying, Flag-Waving, Patriotic American Liberal

When God Hands You An Apple, You Bite
March 29, 1996

I was told it was a safe bet that Job Corps students are non-traditional students. I appear before you today as a non-traditional candidate.

My name is Jean Hay, I recently sold my farm in Blue Hill near the coast and moved to Bangor, and I am now running full-blast for the U.S. Senate.

The way this works, if more than one candidate in each party wants to run for the same seat, they hold semifinals, called a primary, to pick the party's nominee to send to the finals in November. The winner of the finals gets an all-expense paid trip to Washington.

I am in a five-way race for the Democratic nomination. It's me and four guys. Or, to put it another way, me, three lawyers and an accountant. All three lawyers have served at one time or another in this state's Legislature.

Congress is full of lawyers, and former state legislators, but it doesn't have a lot of what I would bring – experience as a newspaper reporter, an organic farmer, and a mother. Congress does not reflect the diversity of the population it represents. It should. But I'll say more about that later.

I was asked to give my educational background.

I am the product of an excellent public education which I got in Youngstown, Ohio many years ago. I graduated in 1965, fourth in a class of more than 400. I was the first girl in that school to be awarded the Bausch and Lomb Science Award, which is a nice medal I have in my desk.

I remember the apologetic tone of the principal when he announced the award.

It was like, ''Gee, I know the guys usually get this, but she's got the grades, so what could we do?''

My family had always made it clear that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I was willing to put forth the effort. We were expected to work after school as soon as we could convince someone we were indeed 16 years old. My folks knew that real work for real money was the key to their kids' independence.

As for college, my dad worked in a steel mill in Youngstown, so we didn't have a lot of money, or a second car. I knew if I went to college, I would have to pay for it. So I got a room at the YWCA just off campus, got a full-time job in the order department at the Youngstown Public Library – which paid $200.35 per month – and took a full load of classes at Youngstown University, across the street. My major was biology. That $200 covered my room rental, and full tuition.

A year later, with the Vietnam War and hormones raging, I married my high school sweetheart and saw him off to two tours of duty in Southeast Asia. I followed his unit around the country, and lived in California, Mississippi and Rhode Island, picking up jobs and random college courses as I went. All totalled, I have a little more than two years of formal post-secondary education.

My husband got out of the service and we moved to Maine in 1972. We went ''back-to-the-land,'' in the terminology of the time, hauling water, felling trees for firewood and to build our cabin in the woods, and living without electricity. I did this for seven years, during which time I had two kids, and after which I got a divorce, for reasons that have nothing to do with living in the woods. By that I mean that we probably would have gotten divorced about then even if we weren't living in the woods.

Anyway, by that time I had a job as a reporter for the Bangor Daily News, a job I had not sought. I had gone to the office in 1975 complaining that they had missed a big story at the Brooksville town meeting. I was told that the Hancock County office consisted of one reporter and a typesetter, there were openings for part-time correspondents, and since I had experience working at the Providence Journal (writing obituaries mostly), did I want a job?

One of the things I have learned in life is that when God hands you an apple, you bite.

I worked for that paper for 10 years, and off-and-on as a free-lancer in years after that. It was one of the best educations someone could possibly get. I had someone pay me to interview interesting people, cover scandalous trials, report on nasty accidents. I had to explain the workings of school boards, selectmen, county commissioners, planning boards, to a reading public which would come down on me hard if I got anything wrong.

It is one of the most public jobs I can think of, where what you did the day before is out there for everyone to see and grade, every single day. Even politicians don't have that much exposure.

It was a great job. But when I got divorced and found myself a single mom, I had to face the realization that night meetings and kids don't mix.

So I turned to other talents and passions, hooked up with another farmer, and grew and sold certified organic produce and berries from the small farm I had bought across from the Blue Hill Fairgrounds.

I did that until 1992, when that partnership broke up and I got involved in politics. In 1993 I landed a job in the office of Congressman Tom Andrews in Portland, through a set of circumstances similar to how I got my job on the newspaper – being in the right place at the right time. It only took a few months of working there to convince me that my background, strange though it was, provided a viewpoint which was not only lacking in Congress, but badly needed there. Too many of those folks have no real life experiences, and it shows.

I decided this is a free country, and no Democrat at that time was running against Olympia Snowe, so I would. I saw it as yet another apple God had dropped in my lap.

It was a great experience. I learned a lot, and lost badly to John Baldacci in the primary.

But I didn't lose my passion for politics, or my conviction that I could help make a difference in Washington. So last winter, with my kids now in college, I sold my farm in Blue Hill, and started putting a campaign together against Sen. Cohen. He announced his retirement in January, and now I am facing four guys in the Democratic primary for his seat.

Many people have said that I don't have a snowball's chance in a very warm place to win this election, especially since Joe Brennan is one of the three lawyers I am up against. They may be right. But they may also be wrong.

I know that my life has turned in remarkable and unpredictable directions several times already. I have come to accept that I am not in charge of what happens next.

I firmly believe that my life has some purpose not quite clear to me yet, and that it is my job to keep my wits about me, and to evaluate every twist of fate as a possible opportunity that I am supposed to seize. And I think that is true for each and every one of us.

I never, ever, would have expected, growing up in Ohio, marrying young, fully expecting to be a traditional mom and medical technologist on the side, that I would one day be running for the Senate from the great state of Maine. I mean, that's just not logical.

With this attitude of mine, and it is an attitude, that we are supposed to be all we can be, I am sometimes surprised that other people are not yet with me on this.

For instance, it surprised me Wednesday, when I spoke to the College Democrats at the University of Maine at Orono, that one student said that I shouldn't be running for the U.S. Senate since I had never served in the state Legislature.

''Why don't you run for the Legislature first?'' he asked.

I said we each have our own sense of where our talents and interests would best serve, that there is more than one road to Washington, and that maybe the fact that so few people take alternate, or non-traditional, routes is part of the problem.

He was not impressed.

It wasn't until I was halfway home that I realized he had pushed an old button of mine, one from my days in high school more than 30 years ago, when my high school principal had to explain why I had gotten that science award. It was a time when it seemed that all doctors were men, and any young woman who aspired in that direction was confronted with the language – and the attitude – that said ''You don't want to be a doctor, dear. Why don't you be a nurse instead?''

It's the message many women still face, despite a woman's movement several decades old. And that message is – ''don't aspire, know your place, don't take well-paying jobs away from men because they need to support a family and I don't want to hear that you're a single mom trying to support a family.''

As a woman, it's a message I reject, totally and actively.

When my kids, a daughter and a son, were struggling with what courses to take in college, I told them to follow their passions. I have always done that, and I have never regretted it.

I also have a double mantra which helps me to find balance. It is: We can only do what we can do. But we have to do what we can do.

I can run for Senate now, and present my ideas of how this country should be run. If I win in June and again in November, I get that all-expense-paid trip to Washington, and a six-year contract in the big league.

If I lose in June or in November, I will keep my eyes peeled for another apple from heaven.

-- Speech to Penobscot Job Corps Students, Bangor, Maine


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