It hit me at Hattie Bickmore’s memorial service two weeks ago. In the good old days, politics was good — serious for sure, but also fun. Republicans and Democrats fought for their respective positions while remaining friends, reaching across the party divide often to collaborate on solutions to our problems.
Seated a few rows in front of me at Hattie’s service were Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers and former Republican U.S. Rep. David Emery. In between sat state Sen. Barry Hobbins, a Democrat. They’ve been friends for years.
Hattie and I worked for Dave during his tenure in Congress from 1974 to 1982. Between 1978 and 1982, she also served as the first chairwoman of the Maine Republican Party.
Tony Payne described her tenure best. “She worked tirelessly to make sure we had a party that worked and had a big tent. She had a very big heart, and a big vision of what the party ought to be.”
And here’s the best part. While she did that, Hattie made life-long friends in both political parties. Many were there for her service.
A week later, I was at lunch at the Brunswick home of Angus King and Mary Herman, along with Kay Rand and Sue Bell, two of Angus’s top aides during his eight-year tenure as governor. As we talked, I was reminded of how much fun we had in the Capitol during those years.
They created an atmosphere that invited intense discussion and examination of the issues, collaboration between parties, and creation of lasting friendships. It hasn’t been that much fun since Angus left Augusta.
It’s no surprise that Angus’s independent candidacy for the U.S. Senate is drawing so much support from Republicans and Democrats — including many who were leaders during the time Angus was governor.
Many of us miss Hattie, but we also miss the good old days when politics did not trump politeness, when fighting for your position did not require demeaning insulting remarks about your opponent, when most issues did not require partisan caucuses and solutions.
It absolutely astonishes me that legislative committees, including the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, now hold private partisan party caucuses to create their positions on issues and bills, rather than working together in open work sessions.
When I started lobbying for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine in 1992 there were no partisan issues at that committee — nor any need to caucus as party members. Hunting and fishing issues are (were) not partisan.
Perhaps I am also a bit nostalgic because I’ve just read Christian Potholm’s latest book: “Maine, An Annotated Bibliography,” published this year by Lexington Books. Chris, a long-time Bowdoin College professor, managed Bill Cohen’s first campaign for Congress in 1972, a campaign that provided my first paid political job (as Bill’s driver).
And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Bill Cohen turned out to be one of those politicians who set aside partisanship to provide real leadership and work with other leaders of all political persuasions.
Chris Potholm became, in the ensuing 40 years, the state’s top pollster and political strategist.
He’s written many entertaining and enlightening books about Maine politics (for the record and full disclosure, my brother, sister and father, along with me, have been mentioned in some of those books).
Chris’s new book is an anthology of various written works that bring the history of Maine — economic and political — to life. The book also includes Chris’s insights on each work — some of which are hilarious.
Many of the works listed in Chris’s book recount times I experienced firsthand, the good old political days. I was comforted by a Ben Ames Williams quote, from Fraternity Village, at the front of Chris’s book: “A thing gone, but well remembered, is not lost.”
Indeed. But it sure would be good if those things that are gone from our political world could be revived as well as remembered.
Perhaps Hattie Bickmore will help. So typical of Hattie, she left us a letter, printed on the back of her memorial service program.
“Remember all the laughs and the good times we have shared, but the most important thing to remember is that I am going to be watching all of you and I am coming back as a seagull.
“So keep your eyes to the skies and if I see you thinking ‘poor old Hattie’ — bombs away!”
I’ll bet Hattie’s also targeting today’s angry divisive politicians. Perhaps they’d better stay inside.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmith [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.