George J. Mitchell Oral History Project
 

Interviewee

Robert 'Bob' O. Lenna

Interviewer

Andrea L’Hommedieu

Date

9-14-2009

ID Number

GMOH 140

Document Type

Interview

Subject Headings

Maine gubernatorial campaign (1974), Maine politics, Negotiating skills, U.S. Senate campaign (1982)

Abstract

Biographical Note
Robert Oscar “Bob” Lenna was born in Jamestown, New York, in 1945 to Harry Albert and Babette (Simon) Lenna. He received his undergraduate degree in American studies and his graduate degree in American and New England studies at the University of Southern Maine. In 1970, he worked on the staff of Senator Charles Goodell of New York, then moved to Maine and was hired for a position on George Mitchell’s staff when Mitchell announced his run for U.S. Senate. He later worked for Libby Mitchell.

Summary
Interview includes discussion of: family and educational background; working on Mitchell’s 1974 gubernatorial campaign; Lenna’s motivations to get involved in politics in the 1970s; Lenna’s impressions of why Mitchell lost the 1974 campaign; difference Lenna noticed between Mitchell’s 1974 and 1982 campaigns; Mitchell’s legacy; Mitchell’s reaction to Nixon’s pardon; and Libby Mitchell’s career.

Restrictions

This recording and transcription are © 2011 Bowdoin College and are presented for private study, scholarship, or research only. For all other uses, including publication, reproduction, and quotation beyond “fair use” (Title 17, United States Code) permission must be obtained in writing from the George J. Mitchell Dept. of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, 3000 College Station, Brunswick, Maine 04011-8421, USA.

TEXT

Andrea L’Hommedieu: This is an interview for the George J. Mitchell Oral History Project at Bowdoin College. The date is September 14, 2009, and I’m at the office of Robert Lenna, in Augusta, Maine, and this is Andrea L’Hommedieu. Do you go by Robert or Bob?

Bob Lenna: Bob is fine.

AL: Bob, could you give me your full name?

BL: Robert, middle name Oscar, last name Lenna.

AL: And where and when were you born?

BL: I was born in Jamestown, New York, in 1945.

AL: ‘Forty-five, and did you grow up in that area?

BL: I was in Jamestown till I was about thirteen, and then I was away at school, but I didn’t leave Jamestown until I was about nineteen.

AL: And so what was that area like to grow up in, in the ‘40s and ‘50s?

BL: Well, Jamestown, New York, is a small community about as far west in New York state as you can go before you fall into Lake Erie, and down near the Pennsylvania border, farming country, small manufacturing, a nice solid, middle class community.

AL: And what were your parents’ names?

BL: My father’s name was Harry Albert Lenna, my mother’s maiden name was Simon, Babette Simon.

AL: And what did they do when you were growing up, for occupations?

BL: My father was a business executive with a manufacturing company in Jamestown, and my mother was a homemaker, she stayed at home.

AL: Did you have siblings?

BL: Two brothers and a sister.

AL: And so that was the ‘40s and ‘50s, yes.

BL: Well, the ‘50s and ‘60s.

AL: Are you one of the older children, or?

BL: I’m the youngest.

AL: You’re youngest, the baby.

BL: Yes, a lovely position to be in.

AL: And so growing up in your family, were your parents political?

BL: Well my grandfather, and my father to some extent but not a great extent, were business people who were involved in politics the way business people would be, both solid, hard-core Republicans.

AL: And is that the way you grew up, did you have outside influences, or?

BL: A good question to which I don’t have the answer. I mean I don’t know. I grew up in a Republican household, my father I believe literally cursed the [NRA] Blue Eagle every day he walked to work when it was flying, but they never exposed me much to their political beliefs. As children we were always – required is maybe too strong – but it was expected that whenever mother and dad went to vote, we had to go with them, and that voting was something important to do and so there was that kind of direction towards public service and public involvement, but no, they were not political people.

AL: And talk about your education.

BL: I went to a preparatory school in Pennsylvania, and then I spent eight years as an undergraduate at a couple of schools and got my undergraduate degree in American studies, and then I got my graduate degree in American and New England studies at USM.

AL: And so talk to me about when you first met Senator Mitchell, and in what context.

BL: Sure. It was when the Senator was in the, I’m not sure it was ill-fated, but it didn’t go the way at the time I think he wanted it, or any of us wanted it to, but he ran for governor against Jim Longley and Jim Erwin in a three-way gubernatorial race in the early ‘70s – that was the race that the Independent candidate Jim Longley won, and that was when I met the Senator. I worked on that gubernatorial staff.

AL: You did. In what capacity?

BL: General dog’s body, I did a little of this and I did a little of that, I worked out of the Augusta office for a while and then I worked down at the Portland office, and I really don’t remember with any specificity. I did some press work, I did some field organizing, I did a little of this and a little of that.

AL: And what interested you to get involved? I think that’s interesting to find out.

BL: Well, it is important to remember this was all going on for me in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Richard Nixon was in the White House, there were many of us who had problems not only with Vietnam but with other things associated with the Nixon White House. I had in 1970, yes, in ‘70, become a member of the staff of Senator Charles [Ellsworth] Goodell from New York. Senator Goodell was also from Jamestown and so I knew his family, and Senator Goodell had been appointed by President Nixon to fill out the Senate vacancy because of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination.

As it turned out, Senator Goodell was about the only Republican senator who opposed the war, and so when it came time for reelection, the State Committee and the National Republican Committee and the White House made it very clear that they didn’t think Charlie Goodell was a Republican, and Charlie Goodell didn’t support the president and so therefore Charlie Goodell had to go. So, that campaign was my first political campaign. And I watched the vice president of the United States, and indirectly the president and his staff, do just a hatchet job on a very decent man. And perhaps the kindest thing that Spiro T. Agnew said about Charlie Goodell was that he was the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican politics. You may not know the name Christine Jorgensen, but at that time everybody was aware that Christine was one of the first people to acknowledge and make a celebrity of herself after a sex change operation.

And it was a pretty brutal race, and so then he lost, and then I was down in Washington for a little while and then I decided I needed to find a home so I packed up my car and said I’d come to Maine first and if I couldn’t find a place to live in Maine in three days, I’d drive out to Montana and see if I could find a place to live there. And in fact, I came to Maine – I’d never been in the state before in my life – and in three days found a 60-by-40 converted barn to buy in Whitefield, and I’ve never left. I can’t even say that I’m one of those people who got here as quickly as I could as soon as I knew about it, because I didn’t know about it, I just came.

That was my political start in New York, and then I had worked with Jim Mitchell on a congressional primary race and so I was at the time reasonably involved as a political person. And so when Senator Mitchell, then not Senator Mitchell but George, announced that he was going to run, why I signed up to work on his staff.

AL: And who are some of the other political people that you knew to get in touch with from having worked with Jim?

BL: Well, I’m sure you know from the work you did with Senator Muskie and Maine politically in lots of ways, we are a small state, so the cadre of people who work in Democratic and Republican politics in an active way get to know each other pretty quickly.

AL: Larry Benoit, for instance.

BL: I knew Larry, Mary McAleney.

AL: Tony Buxton.

BL: Tony Buxton, were some of the folks that I had met in passing in different guises. So there were several people there who at least felt that I could walk and talk and chew gum at the same time. And I was cheap. And so it was pretty straightforward.

AL: Can you talk about the impressions that you got during that campaign of who was going to win, or where it was going?

BL: Sure, yes. It was an interesting campaign in many ways. What happened was, well two things happened: a) the Republican candidate, a man by the name of Jim Erwin, who was a nice enough fellow, tanked, just tanked. Now, some of that was due to the Independent, Jim Longley. Governor Longley was an interesting man. I thought he was probably amongst the worst governors we’ve had since WWII, but as a campaigner he was driven, he was a driven person generically anyway, I mean he was just, for lack of a better phrase, a super Type-A personality, and he was very effective. He put together an effective campaign where he was literally out campaigning sixteen, eighteen hours a day, out of a, I don’t know if it was a Winnebago, but it was some kind of an RV, and he was very effective.

So that, combined with Jim Erwin’s just sort of fading, made the race one between Senator Mitchell and Jim Longley. And I’d say two or maybe even three weeks before the election, the Senator was in Waterville and he’d gone through a couple of the plants that were then still in Waterville – they’re now long gone but – and he came back into the office in Augusta, and I think Tony was there, and he said, “We’re in trouble.” And he said, “Well, I just did the two plants in Waterville,” I mean he didn’t say it quite that way, but the message was he’d just done these two plants in Waterville, he’d gone through, he’d seen a lot of folks that he grew up with, that he went to high school with, and a number of them were talking about Jim Longley, were asking, saying, “Well George, what about this Longley guy?”

And George’s political antennae, which have always been moderately extraordinary, along with his ability to memorize names, which I don’t understand at all, but he felt the shift then. He didn’t give up, he didn’t stop campaigning hard or anything, I mean he kept going, as George always does, but he felt at least two weeks, and maybe three weeks before the election, that clearly the race was between he and Jim Longley, and that Longley was doing quite well. And then eventually, as I say, Jim Longley became Governor Longley and – not one of my favorite governors, but -

AL: Do you have a sense of what it was that gave the shift to Longley?

BL: Oh, I think it was a whole bunch of things.

AL: I mean, I know you did talk about Jim Erwin’s bowing out gave a lot of votes to -

BL: Yes, but there was also the, there was a sense of people wanting something a little bit different, and certainly Governor Longley was a very, very effective campaigner. The role of television in that race I think is very hard for me to measure. The Longley campaign, and whether or not it was Jim Longley or somebody who worked for him or something, came up with an extraordinarily effective three-word campaign phrase, which was “Think About It.” And for whatever reasons were going on in the Maine culture at the time, that phrase, ‘think about it,’ under a picture of Jim Longley, took on a life of its own and clearly created, if you will, a brand identity for Jim Longley that he, in his willingness to work long, incredibly hard hours, moved him from relative obscurity to being effective.

He had been chair of a commission two years before that had studied state government operations, and made recommendations about more efficient state government, the report was referred to as the Longley Commission Report, so he had had some statewide visibility, and that certainly helped. But I think it would interesting, as you pursue your discussions with people, and perhaps also get some data, I would be fascinated to know what the, and to go back and look again at the expenditure reports to the extent that you can get them, there weren’t that many in those days, you didn’t have to file six hundred pages of reports to run for office, but Jim Longley also had his own money, he was a very successful insurance man in Lewiston, and that certainly helped.

All of those things came together to push Jim Erwin down and give Longley a unique identity, and I don’t think our campaign was ever able to gel with a clear image of who George Mitchell was and what he could do. Because, it seems strange to say now, but in those days nobody knew even who George was. And so he had, and other people more senior in the campaign would be able to give you I think a better insight into this, but I’m not sure that that campaign ever really completely gelled. But that’s just my perception.

AL: So after that ‘74 campaign, Senator Mitchell went back to practicing law and went into the D.A.’s office, and then became a federal judge, and then all of a sudden in 1980, the Senate appointment. In that period from ‘74 to ‘80, did you stay in contact with him in any capacity?

BL: No, not particularly. I might see him occasionally in places, but then, and also once he became a federal judge he had to back out a little bit, because they’re so sensitive about being perceived as, even though half of them came out of very partisan politics, once they’re judges, somehow or another, they become something else, I don’t know. So no, I’d see him occasionally.

AL: Did you stay involved in Maine politics after that ‘74 campaign?

BL: Yes, I was involved a little bit, my wife worked on a couple campaigns for Libby Mitchell, as did I – well I worked on one. But then when I came to the [Maine Municipal] Bond Bank in 1988, part of the understanding was that I would become less politically active, because this is a pretty technician’s role here, helping people sell bonds and stuff, and I have to deal with all of the towns and all of the cities and all the water and sewer districts so, I mean certainly never made any secret of the fact that I’m a Democrat and I give money occasionally to Democratic candidates, certainly to Libby, who’s been one of our best friends. But no, my political involvement pretty much ended in the ‘86 era. I was done.

AL: Did you, were you involved at all in ‘82, when Senator Mitchell had to run in his own right for the Senate seat?

BL: I was involved a little bit, indirectly. Once again, I think as you talk to more people, or other people, you will certainly, the big issue was before that, it was the whole appointment, and who should get that appointment. There were a number of people who felt that Ken Curtis was the logical person to receive that appointment as a former governor and former ambassador to Canada and well known and well-loved figure in the state, and certainly popular within the Democratic Party. So there was a lot of pushing and hauling that went on surrounding that appointment – I’d be fascinated to hear what Governor Brennan has to say to you about that.

AL: Me too.

BL: And I had known Ken for years, in fact I knew Ken probably better than I knew George but, and fortunately nobody asked and I didn’t volunteer what my opinion was, so I didn’t get involved in that. But no, I mean I supported the Senator in ‘82 and gave him some money, but I was not on the campaign staff or involved directly in the campaign.

My relationship with George and history with George really is the gubernatorial campaign, and then over the years we’ve, I wouldn’t describe myself as a good friend of George’s or anything like that, but certainly someone who knows him, and I see him around and we can talk and pass the time and the like, but my ties with George really were that gubernatorial campaign.

AL: I want to ask this question, then maybe as an observer in ‘82, you had worked on a campaign in ‘74 and that was really his, that was his first political campaign. And something didn’t, you know, he was early, young into the process of running a campaign and being a candidate, and then in ‘82 he faced a huge deficit against Dave Emery initially, and came back and won it significantly. Did you observe changes in how he campaigned, from the outside?

BL: Yes, well I think there were two things there, of: a) many of us who knew both Dave Emery and George never really believed those early numbers. And I know everybody can say, ‘well I didn’t believe those numbers,’ but when you talk to people like Tony Buxton or Mary McAleney or Larry or people like that who had worked with George and knew George, when I talked with them, we normally got to the point where it was that those early numbers were all name recognition numbers. David had upset Peter Kyros, had been perceived to upset Peter Kyros in the congressional race, and then had worked pretty hard, and David’s a pleasant guy, and he was the incumbent, Maine has a history of holding on to incumbent people. And so those early numbers that came out and showed David with this just insurmountable lead over George, were numbers that some of us took with a large grain of salt.

But the other thing that had happened was that George was a few years older, he was I think more comfortable as a campaigner. At times over the years George, by people who didn’t know him, had been sometimes referred to him as a reflection of Stone Mountain, I mean George can come across sometimes as a very, very serious and unapproachable sort of person. And until you had spent some time with him, why, you know that he’s certainly approachable, but he certainly doesn’t suffer fools gladly, that’s probably one of the reasons why he got along with Ed Muskie, who didn’t suffer anybody gladly.

So by the time that ‘82 had come around, he had gone through the experience of that gubernatorial race, I’m not sure that the D.A.’s Office had much (unintelligible), but certainly being a federal judge, to me anyway, he just seemed much more comfortable. And to me, he projected the fact that he really wanted to stay in the Senate, and I believe that in campaigns, one of the things a good candidate does is at some level communicates an honest desire for the office that she’s running for, or that he’s running for. And if you don’t do that, if the candidate is, they can do more than just go through the motions but it’s still not quite there, and on the other side, they don’t communicate an arrogance of ‘I deserve this thing, and so therefore you have to give it to me.’ There’s a band in there where a good candidate communicates to people that, ‘I really do want this job.’

And that’s, to me, what happened in ’82. And George always works hard, I mean he worked hard. One of the other ways to read those early numbers as a political issue was that when those early numbers, that were like seventy-thirty or something, just crazy, about a month as I recall, it’s a long time ago, but I mean not too long after those first numbers came out, maybe a couple months, another set of numbers came out and all of a sudden George had jumped fifteen points or something. Well that created a perception that, oh, this guy’s really going somewhere here. And that was very helpful, because that gave George the feeling of movement and momentum in the campaign, that he never lost, and then he just kept going. And then when it was almost sixty-forty as I recall, in the end, so that was an interesting race.

AL: I guess logically the next question I would ask you is, having seen George Mitchell over all these years in his career, what do you take from his career as what his legacy will be? Sort of, what will be the most lasting thing about everything he’s done, in terms, we have his Senate career, majority leader, and then the Northern Ireland, and currently he with the Middle East peace project, but then you also have in Maine the Mitchell Institute.

BL: No, my intuition about that is that there will be two George Mitchells, there will be the George Mitchell of Maine, who is the U.S. senator, the majority leader, the Mitchell Institute, you know, they’ll probably find a post office somewhere to name after him or something. So there’ll be the guy who went to Waterville High School and then to Bowdoin, and so there’ll be the Maine George Mitchell, but the biggest focus will be on that. And then there’ll be the national/international George Mitchell who will carry the Senate majority leader stuff that is focused on in Maine, but then layer onto that Northern Ireland – I wish him luck in the Middle East. I’m afraid even George, with all his skills, is not going to be able to solve the Middle East.

So I think there may be two George Mitchells, because, I mean while certainly the people here in Maine are proud of the work that he did in Ireland and hope that he does well in the Middle East, and certainly he’s doing well, as well as anybody’s ever done, but it’s still the guy who went to Waterville High School and was our senator and got to be Senate majority leader, and that I think is the Maine image of George.

AL: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you think is important to add, something I missed?

BL: After you called me, I thought about whether or not I was going to talk to you about event that occurred in the gubernatorial campaign, or not.

AL: An anecdote.

BL: Yes, it’s an anecdote, and my academic background tells me that I should include it. Personally, I’m not sure that it’s the best idea in the world, but my academic requirements as a historian I think are going to override me here. And you, it’s something you may want to ask other people about who were involved in the gubernatorial campaign.

AL: Sure, because those stories are really great to illustrate the period and the events.

BL: Yes, and that’s why I think this story is an interesting one. As you may recall, it was toward, just two or three weeks before the [1974] election, maybe three weeks before the election that year that Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. As you might expect, in a highly partisan Democratic campaign office, the fact that Nixon had been pardoned was looked upon by most as a just horrendous thing to have done, just awful, legally, politically, just a bad, bad, bad, terrible thing to have done.

And that announcement was made, I think, standing with his face to the wall on a Sunday morning, Gerald Ford said, I’m going to pardon Nixon. And so on the weekend, everybody, all the people running for office, everyone in the country, were being bombarded by reporters for their comment on Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon.

And I happened to be in the office that Sunday, for reasons that I have no recollection of, but I was there, and George called, and I think he asked for Tony. I said, “Tony’s not here.” So then he said, “Well, what do you think?” And, well I mean I knew exactly what he was talking about, and I have no love loss of any kind for Richard Nixon, even a little bit, for lots of reasons, but at that time my immediate response and what I said to George was, “Well, I don’t know, I’m not sure that compassion has gone out of style, because my instinctive feeling was that as much as I would have been happy to see Richard Nixon spend the rest of his natural life in jail, it was a bad thing for the country, it just wasn’t the thing to do.”

So that’s what I said, and whether or not that had any [influence], George is always one for going out and reaching out and talking to lots of people, and so whether or not this comment from a mid-level staff person on his gubernatorial campaign meant anything or not, subsequently George came out with a statement that split the middle a little bit. He didn’t condemn President Ford for the pardon, he didn’t praise Richard Nixon. The vast majority of his staff was incensed, was incensed, that he had not just ripped up and down Gerald Ford one side and the other. Incensed to the point that the staff called a meeting, and because they knew what I had said, I wasn’t part of all of that, but my understanding was that the staff, almost all of the staff but me said, “George, you have to come to this meeting, we got to talk to you.”

And so he was flying in from a campaign stop up in Bangor, or up in the county or something, and I picked him up at the airport in Portland and took him to somebody’s apartment I think, in Portland, and dropped him off, because I was not invited to the meeting.

AL: You were uninvited to the meeting.

BL: I was uninvited to the meeting. And apparently it was quite a meeting, I wasn’t there, I can’t witness what happened, I did not witness what happened, but my understanding is it was quite a meeting, where a very, very, very irate staff of a candidate spoke their mind, in the middle of a campaign, which I found interesting: a) that incident I think is interesting on a whole bunch of levels in terms of getting a feel for the visceral passion that Richard Nixon could generate even up in Downeast Maine, and [b)] George’s ability to deal with what essentially was an uprising in his own campaign staff, and to somehow or another work through it and keep going. As I say, I wasn’t there, but -

AL: Do you know from others how that meeting was handled or resolved? Was he able to -?

BL: No, not really, because you see, I really was the odd person out. They didn’t talk to me much about that because they knew that I had sort of said, “Well, it’s not worth getting excited about here, people.” And so there was no good at yelling at me because - So no, I inferred things from what I heard people say and the like, but the only thing that I felt reasonably comfortable was, well felt that I had learned, was that it was a very, very emotional and emotionally brutal session. But I wasn’t there, and I’m glad I wasn’t. I don’t need that kind of, I didn’t need it then, I certainly don’t need it now.

AL: But none of the staff left because of it?

BL: No, I think there were some people who said they were going to leave, but no, or not that I recall left because of that. I think to some extent the meeting probably served as a sort of quintessential venting session, so that rather than have a whole bunch of people on your staff who for the last three weeks or whatever it was of the campaign running around with a bunch of built up anger in them, that meeting allowed them all to say what a terrible thing that George had done without, because he didn’t eviscerate the president of the United States for pardoning Richard Nixon. So I think in that sense, that may be another one of the reasons that it worked, and that nobody left. And perhaps, a very early example of George being able to sit in a room with a bunch of really angry people, who were angry at him, and deal with it.

I’m sure he ran into that in Ireland, and I’m sure he’s running into it now, where when you’re a mediator in a dynamic like that, often a mediator will in many cases deliberately try to turn the mutual anger between the two sides to allow that anger to focus on the mediator as a way to allow those people to talk to each other without having to talk directly to each other. And I think that you can learn that skill to some extent, I mean it’s teachable, but to be really good at it, the way George obviously was in negotiating deals in the Senate and then doing work like Ireland, you, I believe, have to have, there’s got to be something in you that allows you to do that. I couldn’t do it, I’d just sort of go, “Well, good, you’re all fired, goodbye, go away, I’m not doing this. I’ll go out and drive my car all by myself.” So, but it may well be, I hadn’t really thought of it in that way before, but I wonder if perhaps it’s not an early example of that really powerful ability that George has to allow things to come at him and then give people a chance to work through him to sort it out and then get to the other end, because he certainly did it there.

AL: Well, one more thing I want to ask, because you mentioned working closely with Libby Mitchell over the years.

BL: Yes, right.

AL: And she’s such an interesting figure in Maine politics, she really is a trailblazer, especially for women. Can you talk just a little bit about her and what her career in Maine politics has been like, because you’ve been there with her.

BL: Libby is a, as you say, someone who has cut the path, certainly for women politicians in Maine. I mean not that there haven’t been others, and certainly Margaret Chase Smith is, but Margaret Chase Smith was, sui generis is perhaps not the right word, but she’s sort of set aside, I mean Margaret was a special kind of person in a special time, and she did quite well, but I’m not sure how much of that actually translated down to sort of the legislative level and things like that in Maine.

And you take a woman like Libby, who moved to Maine, same time that I did. Jim and Libby were coming up, Jim was going to work on Ken Curtis’s staff and they were moving to Maine, and we literally met each other on their second day in Maine and my third day in Maine. And so, but Libby, first, running for the House and being in the House, and then being speaker of the House, and now president of the Senate, she was a sacrificial lamb against Bill Cohen, where she ran a campaign that was fascinating on lots of levels, where she was left to twist in the wind by the men in the Democratic Party who had all the money, who didn’t quite get around to raising the money for her that perhaps they had alluded that they might.

AL: What year was that, do you remember?

BL: The Senate race against Bill Cohen would have been ‘82, ‘81, ‘82 I think.

AL: Okay, okay.

BL: I obviously, I’m not sure -

AL: Yeah, I can, I’ll look for that, yes.

BL: Yes, and for example, one of the issues that she ran on in that race was public accountability for donations. And I’ll always remember, as part of that campaign we were always saying that Senator Cohen should disclose who he gets his money from, that just makes sense that if you’re getting one hundred million dollars from the insurance industry, why, just tell us, I mean you can take the money and you can spend it, but let people know.

Well, the Portland Press Herald and Jim Brunelle thought that that was unconscionable. Oh yes, Jim Brunelle wrote a vicious – well, vicious is not, well yes – close to vicious column, about how dare this young whippersnapper woman with no credentials challenged the integrity of Bill Cohen about where he gets his money from and stuff. And then five years later Jim Brunelle was writing preachy columns about how we have to have public disclosures. And one of the things that has happened in Libby’s career is that on things like that, she has been on the cutting edge of those issues.

My other favorite example of that with Libby is the, you know now, for the last four or five years, all the discussion about the cultural economy and supporting Maine artists and anything else. Well, back before she was speaker, when she was majority leader of the House, Libby was the person who put in the 1% for Art Bill, long before anybody was talking about the cultural economy and stuff, so that whenever public money is spent, like on a school or a state building, one percent of the cost of the project has to be set aside to have a Maine artist do a sculpture, do paintings or whatever, to put into these buildings. And consistently over the years, or at least from my not unprejudiced perspective, she’s been up front on those issues.

And the other thing is, well there are two things: a) she’s a grown-up, and that was reflected most recently and probably as well as anywhere in her, this past year, as president of the Senate. The last session of the legislature, of the Senate, the Senate was in total chaos, there was no leadership, there were a bunch of people playing in a large sandbox, and Libby, as majority leader, had some limited ability to do something about that, but when she became president, and she got a two-vote majority, things started functioning the way a legislative body is supposed to function. And so she’s always been a grown up, in that sense.

And tied to that is, when you talk to legislators, both Democrat and Republican, but certainly Democratic legislators who served in the House when she was speaker and had served in the Senate, they will talk to you about going into the speaker’s office or going into the president’s office, sitting down, and talking.

End of Side A

Side B

AL: We are now on Side B.

BL: Coming out prepared to do what they want to do, but prepared to do what they want to do after Libby had explained to them what they wanted to do. And so she’s a natural leader, she’s a very, very, very bright woman, and it is, I mean obviously, my hope is that she gets the Democratic nomination and is able to become governor, because I think she’d be a very good governor. But regardless of whether she wins that race or not, I would argue that Libby is perhaps one of the most under- – I don’t want to say under appreciated, because that’s sounds like I’m whining – but she’s the most often misunderstood political leader the state’s had for the last thirty or forty years. John Martin, who’s also done wonders for the state, got caught up in a bad thing, but has done more for more Maine people than probably any other elected leader since the Second World War in the state, he and Libby.

Libby’s role has been very, very important, and the kind of example I think that other people will say, well, she did it, and you know, Vassalboro, Maine and all that sort of stuff. So, no, I think Libby’s career and contributions to Maine have been substantial. And I think there is a group of Democratic politicians, elected politicians, there are other non-elected people who have also played important roles, but it’s Senator Muskie, Senator Mitchell, Governor Curtis, John Martin, and Libby Mitchell, and certainly there are others who have done great things, but I mean Ken was really the first serious Democratic governor and he got the income tax passed and didn’t kill off the Democratic Party for a hundred and fifty years doing it; Senator Muskie was Senator Muskie, George is George, John Martin is an extraordinary human being who’s done a lot, and then Libby, and those five people I think constitute, if you will, the post-war pantheon of Democratic politics in the state of Maine.

AL: Great, thank you so much.

BL: Thank you, good luck.

End of Interview

 
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Interview with Bob Lenna by Andrea L’Hommedieu

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