Civil rights attorney Eric Mehnert faces organic farmer and writer Jean Hay Bright in a June 13 primary which will decide which of them will take on Senator Snowe.
They both support swift withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, a reversal of President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and creation of a single-payer health-care system.
They both highlighted the hypocrisy of Senator Snowe who publicly sounds as if she is opposing Bush but then votes in his favor.
A Congressional Quarterly study found that Snowe sided with the Bush administration in 82 percent of the votes during his first term.
Hay Bright said she would be the first female opponent that Snowe has faced in her 28-year congressional career. Mehnert said national Democratic polling suggests that Snowe is vulnerable when voters learn of positions she has taken to support beginning the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and bankruptcy reform.
Meet the candidates:
Jean Hay Bright:
Jean Hay Bright is a self-professed liberal, and proud of that distinction. She’s frightened at the direction in which the country is going.
Hay Bright, 58, grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, the daughter of a steelworker and a seamstress. She moved to Maine in 1972 as a homesteader during the back-to-the-land movement with her first husband, who had just returned from the Vietnam War.
Hay Bright finished next-to-last in crowded primary races for the Second District congressional seat in 1994 and for the U.S. Senate two years later. A former newspaper reporter, she is the author of three books.
Hay Bright’s first book, “Proud to Be a Card-Carrying, Flag-Waving, Patriotic American Liberal” (1996), is a collection of her writings on many political topics, including choice, civil rights, and workers’ rights. “A Tale of Dirty Tricks So Bizarre — Susan Collins v. Public Record” (2002) is Hay Bright’s look at Maine’s 1996 U.S. Senate race. “Next Door to the Good Life” (2003) details her homesteading days on Cape Rosier in Maine, and tells how Helen and Scott Nearing impacted her life. She is married and lives on BrightBerry Farm, a 30-acre organic farm in Dixmont.
Hay Bright said her books offer a written record of where she stands.
“Mainers are independent and innovative, frugal, down-too-earth, and loaded with common sense. We think long term, know history, connect the dots. We care about each other, we recognize our interconnectedness, and we help each other out when the need arises,” said Hay Bright.
As an environmental activist, Hay Bright has specific ideas of where Maine should be heading with energy issues. “In this time of high gasoline prices and wars being fought over oil, Maine’s self-sufficiency and inventiveness are leading the way toward a more sustainable future. It is no accident that the solar panels that were removed from Jimmy Carter’s White House by the Reagan administration are now at Unity College in Maine. The alternative energy tax credits and rebate program just passed in the Maine Legislature, for solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources, should be replicated and expanded nationally. In addition, building codes should emphasize energy conservation, orientation of buildings for maximum solar effectiveness, and such things as mandating solar panels built into new roofs, as is the case in some European countries.
“We also need to do what organizations like MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) has been advocating for years — promotion of local agriculture to feed Maine and New England. With the impending ‘peak oil’ situation, it will soon not be economically feasible to bring California strawberries to Maine in January. We need to plan now for food security, in Maine and New England.” The lack of support for the information superhighway is of concern to Hay Bright. “With the growing importance of call centers to the Maine economy, and telecommuting to high-paying jobs becoming not only more feasible but preferable in some businesses, we need to recognize that high-speed internet access and cell-phone services have joined electric lines and land-line telephone service as integral parts of our community infrastructure. As such, that infrastructure should be a government responsibility, either directly, as are our roads and bridges, or in an oversight capacity, through regulations on rates, minimum standards, and public access. Telecommuting also has the added advantage of reducing traffic, gridlock, and air pollution from car emissions, and should be encouraged wherever possible.”
While Maine is suing the federal government for allowing factories to pollute more, Hay Bright says she will do more if given the opportunity in the Senate. “Maine has long recognized that, because of the wind patterns, we suffer from an accumulation of pollutants generated west of us. And we are suffering the consequences — from acid rain damage to our forests, to higher incidents of asthma and other ailments. We also have a history of Democratic U.S. Senators Ed Muskie and George Mitchell who have led the fight for cleaner air and water. As an organic farmer, I share those concerns, and in Washington I would continue the fight for cleaner air and water for all Americans. Two immediate areas would be tighter controls on emissions from factories and utilities, and significantly higher car mileage standards, along with research into cleaner alternative energy sources for those plants and vehicles. And it is long past time for the United States to join the world community and sign the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty.”
Hay Bright said she is running for Senate because, “I want my country back.”
Eric Mehnert is concerned by the growing divide between rich and poor in America and the continual erosion of our civil liberties with the Bush administration. He compares what is happening politically today to the struggles of late 19th century farmers who battled the power of the railroads. “We see large corporations with an incredible amount of influence in both parties, while individuals and the voting public are not represented in Washington,” he said. “That’s a real issue to me.” He said the Patriot Act had striking similarities with an act by King George that stripped the colonies of their rights.
Ever since his parents took him to see Bobby Kennedy he dreamt about becoming a lawyer, inexorably drawn to civil rights. His parents instilled a sense of what was right to do in their children, “To follow what your heart tells you to do. They taught us not just to exist in life but to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Mehnert.
Mehnert, 45, is a civil rights lawyer—a defender of the underdog, who has a law practice in Bangor with his wife. “There are disenfranchised people in the state, and someone needs to stand up for them,” he said. Mehnert grew up in Orono and is a graduate of Colby College in Waterville. This is his first time as a candidate. He said he chose the U.S. Senate because, “That’s where I believe I can make a real difference.” He was chief of enforcement for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
He takes on cases that aren’t popular but are in need of justice. Being a lawyer trains a person to analyze law and to become a critical thinker, “using the law to protect the individual,” he said. These attributes Mehnert believes will be useful in the U.S. Senate.
In a high-profile case he proved that AMHI documented in a logbook that a patient had been stalked and threatened before she was murdered at AMHI. As a result of Mehnert’s action, more measures are now in place to protect mental patents from stalkers in the hope of preventing another tragedy.
Mehnert led the fight to train state police in how to relate to mental patients. Using the American Disabilities Act, he argued that the act should protect those with disabilities, not just give them access to buildings, but also give them protective rights. So that when a police officer comes across a mentally disturbed person, the officer is trained in how to deal with the individual, thus protecting the disabled person. Too Often mentally disturbed people give mixed signals when they are afraid. These gestures have been misunderstood by the police as being aggressive. “The police do an excellent job. They have a tremendously hard task; training them in this way should help everyone,” said Mehnert.
Sometimes he is most heartened by the people he defends, like Kathy Lyons who was a victim of sexual harassment. Despite her ordeal she kept to the principle that going forward would help others who would follow.
Mehnert points out that the human capacity to find ways to break the law is such that always making new laws is not ultimately the answer for society. “We must find the human connections to put things right,” he said. “We need to reconnect with the social contract that was prevalent in the 70s. People helping people, neighbors helping neighbors, was a given. It was the norm, and one of the things that I love about Maine is that it still is.
“Unfortunately too many cases don’t go to trial; most defendants want to settle out of court, so a jury of their peers can’t make a decision,” said Mehnert, who prefers to bring cases to court. “When the system works it’s the best system in the world.
“The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are a piece of art. They are the foundation of our government and we should always seek to protect them,” said Mehnert passionately.
“The Fourth Amendment has stood as a shield around the American people, protecting them from unwarranted search and seizure for over 200 years. This foundation stone of our government protects the populace, while simultaneously providing an avenue for law enforcement to investigate and gather evidence as needed. It requires only probable cause to garner a warrant. For over 200 years this has stood—but no more.
“In one fell swoop, the Bush administration violated the rights of each and every one of us by conducting illegal wiretapping of American citizens without a warrant. The Bush administration has decided the laws of this country do not apply to them. Having done away with Habeas Corpus and the Geneva Convention, they moved on to strike the Fourth Amendment.
“This is a grave threat to each and every one of us. This administration has demonstrated a ready and eager willingness to trespass upon our guaranteed civil liberties—and shows no sign of stopping. The fact that they claim to be targeting ‘terrorists’ and that we are law-abiding citizens, is irrelevant. The line between questioning authority and ‘treason’ has become too thin to be measured. When we allow any in our society to be stripped of protection, we expose ourselves.”
Mehnert first entertained the idea of running for Senate after he worked for two months in Ohio on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. “I saw first hand how the Bush administration is eroding the Bill of Rights, replacing policies that change our society, so we stop trusting one another,” said Mehnert. “The most important thing is to give people back hope. This administration has us living in fear. There is nothing that the American people can’t achieve with the right leader that inspires hope, like JKF when he told us we could go to moon. This country’s greatness lies within its people and what they can achieve.”