From a GOP county chair to running for the State House as a Democrat

My story by Katie Ouilette

I was a so-called Depression baby. I grew up in a Depression-necessities home — in other words, three generations "sharing life" at the corner of Chestnut Street and North School Street in Skowhegan. We neighborhood kids played in the cow pasture, which now proudly boasts our Maine State Armory and from which our Maine State National Guard have been deployed to serve in Iraq.

I grew up listening to my family praising President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his "saving our nation" from more depths of financial despair, and when eleven years old, having returned home from Sunday school, listened to President Roosevelt deliver his famous message declaring war on Japan, with my family gathered around the radio, Grandmother, Grandfather, Mother and Father weeping openly at the news that Pearl Harbor had suffered "the bombs of war." I, like so many other youngsters who listened to our president on that ‘day in infamy,’ didn’t really understand it all. And even as we were given small American flags prior to our walking from Lincoln and Garfield Schools to wave goodbye to our National Guard, as they marched in cadence from the Armory on Baptist Hill toward our downtown train station, real understanding of OUR DESTINY was beyond our comprehension.

Fast forward to those days of Skowhegan’s beloved Margaret Chase Smith making her mark on our political scenes and the excitement circulating when word went out: our Margaret is coming home and will speak for the Skowhegan Business and Professional Women’s Club or other area organizations. That is when I had the honor of meeting her and, admittedly, by this time in my life, I was moved by her "caring for her people."

We remained dear friends until she left our world. Needless to say, when on my 21st birthday, my dad said, "Today, you REGISTER TO VOTE," I did — and 57 years ago I became a loyal and principled Margaret Chase Smith Republican, never questioning the intelligence or integrity of my decision. Even those days when Jane and Ed Muskie and I shared enjoyable hours and, yes, political conversations, I remained loyal to the Grand Old Party that Margaret Chase Smith had set the bar for. I astutely stood my ground when father-in-law Joe Denis, Sr. expounded about my "wayward Republican ways"! I was even elected Somerset County’s Republican Party chairperson several years ago and held that position for two years, until I realized that, since the onset of the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s near dictatorial regime, my party’s principles were being eroded. I often mentioned to friends that, surely, our beloved Senator Smith must be weeping in her heaven, and it was time for her Declaration of Conscience to be addressed to every Republican who believed in the Bush doctrines. I, for one, had had enough!

Earlier on, I used those words "principles" and "integrity." Mine were being betrayed! Yes, I was even angry. Lew and I live in East Madison, and as an afternoon news correspondent reported on the Patriot Act, I resolutely closed the door behind me and drove to the Madison Town Office. When I announced I wished to Change my voter registration, Trisha asked, "Are you changing to be an independent?" My answer: "No, that doesn’t speak loud and long enough. I’m registering AS A DEMOCRAT." I confess, with tears in my eyes, I filled out and signed, Kathleen V. Ouilette, on that card. I was ending 50-plus years of my believing — no! I was, after 50-plus years, feeling betrayed! My America was sadly in trouble — and not the America I could recognize anymore. Proudly, I was standing on principle and integrity, because our America must be changed. We must exercise vision for our future. I was not born with a big R or D branded on me and neither were you. We were born American, even if our genealogy boasts other lands. We must exercise principle and integrity first and foremost to protect this land that is our land. I have learned that progress means we, ourselves, may even have to change to meet the challenges of our tomorrows. I did. Y’ know, "Poppy" Joe, with all his Democrat demeanor, always said, "Margaret Chase Smith is as much a Democrat as anyone, because she cares for everyone. It is time we are all Margaret Chase Smith Democrats, and she will smile in her heaven.