Preface to Real Political Tales: Short Stories by a Veteran Politician by Neil Rolde
Preface by Neil Rolde
These short stories are fictional, to be sure, but they incorporate almost a quarter of a century working directly in state government and even more years involved in the politics of Maine. They bear out my extensive experience of the political scene from the inside, not as expressed by opinionated media nor by the average person seeing things from outside. These are “political tales” but illustrating that our governments are made up of human beings—and in Maine at least, doing their level best to deal with the needs of the population at the lowest possible cost. It was said that we Maine legislators worked for a salary of three cents an hour.
The American federal system (fifty separate sovereignties and one centralized one) is often bewildering to non-Americans. Yet it has produced the most stable government in the world. France, for example, since 1783 has had five republics, three monarchies, two empires, and a fascistic dictatorship. Ditto disorganization for many other nations. Even Great Britain has evolved from an absolute monarchy to a parliamentary one.
I have been asked if there is a difference between state government and the federal government in the U.S. Of course there is. The federal Constitution spells out the powers devoted to each. Significant differences as well as similarities exist between the states themselves. When I once told some garage mechanics in France that we had fifty different license plates for our cars, they couldn’t believe it. They essentially have just one type in France, although many regional differences occur there.
Frustrated as I sometimes am and have been in my political career, I am always hopeful. We have a saying in Augusta: “It’s an idea’s whose time has finally come.” It takes frequent tries and changes in mood and personalities, but I see in the march of American history a continual upward swing, both nationally and in Maine. My motto has always been Never give up. (My youngest daughter has this printed on her New Hampshire license plate.) Our country is a much better place than when I was growing up in an era of Jim Crow laws and wide-openly expressed anti-Semitism from prejudiced members of Congress and celebrities like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. Maine, I will likewise argue, is a better place than when I first ran for office in 1968.
Admittedly, there are setbacks. But I have always liked the slogan, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That to me is the pure American spirit.
Finally, the question has been asked: Which of these stories reflect my own experiences? The answer: All of them and none of them. They are fiction. Some contain actual events in which I participated but in different settings and circumstances. I have tried to cover the complexities of the two different positions I held in Augusta; first the administrative side working for the governor in the executive department and then the legislative side as an elected state representative. Also included are boards and commissions and nonprofits, on many of which I served, that help form the matrix of stability in the U.S. There are even references to Washington, DC and how it can and does interact with the states.
All of this is part of the American political scene. Bashing the leaders we elect goes back to President George Washington, even though he was elected unanimously. Mud-slinging is as American as apple pie. I once had a fantasy of introducing a bill requiring every American to serve at least one term in a government body. That might add a sense of reality and humanity to our governance. Alas, it is “an idea whose time hasn’t and will never come.”
But it is still a wonder to me that there are always Americans who are willing to take abuse for the “crime” of running for office or being willing to work for minimal recompense. Take the responsibility the president has and what the position pays and compare it to the millions, even billions, that certain executives get to pay themselves these days. It is a phase, and no doubt we will grow out of it. Meanwhile, we continue to sustain the “great experiment” of the Founders, despite the naysayers of the eighteenth century, who kept assuring the world the United States of America would never last.