Do the taxpayers of Maine know that the politicians in Augusta just bought a summer place with their money? That’s right — a lovely brick homestead built in 1837.

The Perkins Homestead was named a National Historic Landmark just last August. To view some photos and learn about the historical background, this link – may be of interest.

In a nutshell, two sisters inherited their grandparents’ farm in 1927. One of the sisters became politically famous; her name is Frances Perkins. The other, Ethel, was apparently not interested in the house.

Frances Perkins was born in Boston and raised in Massachusetts. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1902. When she could, she would travel to Maine to vacation and visit her grandmother in August, sometimes staying until September. That’s the extent of her involvement in Maine — she never lived here.

Legislative Democrats, however, recently deemed the Perkins Homestead to be of sudden paramount importance for the state of Maine to acquire. So important, in fact, that Democratic Lewiston state Rep. Margaret Rotundo, House chairwoman of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, slid the purchase of the house into the budget negotiations at the last minute.

Apparently, there was some potential that the property might change hands; something had to be done post-haste. Not to worry, though, the Maine Legislature can really pick up the pace when it wants to spend our money.

Rotundo’s connection to the Frances Perkins Center was not disclosed, but I discovered, after the vote, that she serves on the Frances Perkins Center’s board of directors.

Their website states: “Rep. Rotundo is Director of Strategic and Policy Initiatives for the Bates College Harward Center for Community Partnerships. She has represented Lewiston in the Maine Legislature for the past thirteen years, currently serving as the House Chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and has a niece who is currently a Frances Perkins Scholar at the College.”

In addition, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Robert Reich, former President Bill Clinton’s secretary of labor, both serve on the Advisory Council of the Perkins Center. How interesting.

Though we have many other pressing needs, including a shortfall in funding for hundreds of vulnerable Mainers waiting for services, legislators instead voted to immediately approve $200,000 to acquire this building as part of the two-year budget. (See Page 413 of L.D. 1019 for details on the expenditure.)

It is unclear to me who will own the 57 acres of accompanying land. Gov. Paul LePage objected to this budget expenditure with a line-item veto, but the veto was overridden, and enough Republicans voted with the Democrats for them to claim bipartisan support.

Shame on us — $200,000 could fund services for 10 cognitively and physically disabled people on the Section 29 waitlist.

A darling of the Democrats and strongly pro-union, Frances Perkins was secretary of labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As the first woman to serve in this position, she is recognized for being the architect of many progressive proposals under FDR’s New Deal. (She helped put in place Social Security, unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, a minimum wage, maximum work hours and a ban on child labor.)

Pingree recently voiced support for Frances Perkins to replace Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s first secretary of the treasury, on the new, but not yet fully redesigned, $10 currency. Other contenders for the highly coveted distinction include another famous Maine politician — Margaret Chase Smith, the Republican U.S. senator.

The Democrats also have proposed a $2 million bond, L.D. 1234, to complement the $200,000 acquisition of the Perkins Homestead. Members of the Appropriations Committee voted to carry over this bill and delay voting on this bond until next year. If successful, L.D. 1234 would provide for “a direct preservation easement to be held by Maine Historic Preservation Commission” for the Perkins Homestead for at least 50 years and would appear on the 2016 ballot.

If the people of Maine would like to visit their new summer place, the Frances Perkins Homestead is at 478 River Road in Newcastle. But they shouldn’t plan to stay overnight or pop in unexpectedly — it is a private residence occupied by Frances Perkins’ grandson and his husband. To schedule a tour, contact the Frances Perkins Center at 563-3374 or [email protected].

Rep. Heather W. Sirocki, R-Scarborough, is a member of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

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