During the darkest days of Watergate, the political scandal that drove President Richard Nixon from office, I printed a bumper sticker for my car that stated: Republican and Proud of It.
I could be proud, even during Nixon’s disgrace, because I knew that he was not the Republican Party, nor was he representative of my Republican values and principles.
My Republican Party has been a political force of creativity and ideas throughout its history. During the 19th century, Republicans dominated our nation’s intellectual life: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Melville, John Greenleaf Whittier, Francis Cabot Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, George Parkman.
My Republican Party led us into the 20th century as the strongest and most compassionate nation on earth. We were responsible for most of the important social legislation in the 19th century — the Homestead Act, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, federal conservation programs, the Food and Drug Administration, child labor laws and even the creation of the Department of Labor. During my lifetime, Republican presidents have led our nation during some of its most successful years.
Three Republicans particularly influenced and inspired me as I grew into my party: President Teddy Roosevelt, Maine’s U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith and Marion Fuller Brown.
In a 1907 speech at the Deep Water Convention in Memphis, Roosevelt noted, “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all the others.” And he didn’t just talk the talk. Roosevelt achieved the most remarkable conservation record of all of our presidents.
In 1908, he convened the governors for a congress on natural resources and 36 of them returned home and started their own conservation commissions.
During his tenure, Roosevelt worked consistently to protect the nation’s natural heritage, saving some 84,000 acres per day, creating 150 national forests, five national parks, four national game preserves, 18 national monuments (including the Grand Canyon, where there was strong resistance to creating a national park), 24 reclamation projects and 51 federal bird reserves.
Smith achieved national recognition and respect, and helped set my political course when I spent two hours with her in her Washington, D.C., office during a 4-H trip when I was 18 years old. She presented an example of hard work, integrity and commitment to service and the people of Maine. While she was plenty conservative, she was often described as a moderate.
Many “firsts” are associated with Smith: first woman to serve in both the U.S. House and Senate, first woman to represent Maine in Congress, first woman nominated for the presidency. Widely respected for her 1950 “Declaration of Conscience” that criticized the tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, I wish so much that I could drive up to her Skowhegan home today and hear what she has to say about the political tactics practiced today in Washington, D.C., and Maine.
Brown served in the Maine House of Representatives from 1966 to 1972 and was the prime sponsor of legislation that banned billboards in our state, Maine’s returnable bottle law — one of the first in the nation — and Maine’s Clean Water and Clean Air Act. More than 40 years ago, she was a conservation and political powerhouse.
Brown served on the National Republican Committee and was a delegate to three national Republican conventions. President Nixon appointed her to the National Highway Beautification Commission. She was a charter member of the first Land for Maine’s Future Board. She was an amazing woman, and she inspired me when I got to know her during my early years as an active Maine Republican.
Brown also put her wealth and property where her heart was — in land conservation — placing conservation easements on her farmland in the 1990s, and in 2000, with her children and grandchildren, conserving her unspoiled half-mile of York River shoreline with another 54 acres of fields through the York Land Trust.
It is difficult to be in the same political party with people who put themselves ahead of the people they serve, who have disgraced our party, who have abandoned our commitments to conservation, small businesses, and individual responsibility and freedom, who do not share our values and principles, who have not an ounce of compassion, who don’t respect or understand the value and importance of local government, and who don’t understand how to make the government work for the people.
I do not consider those people to actually be Republicans. They don’t belong in the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Margaret Chase Smith, and Marion Fuller Brown — leaders who made me proud to be a Republican. And still do.