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Hannah and the Hutchinsons
Campaigning can be an incredible experience. It's never easy and it requires an enormous amount of inertia. I describe it as inertia because the most difficult thing about running for office is just getting started, especially in a grassroots campaign like an election for the Maine House. Getting out there— knocking on the doors of people you don't know, driving down long driveways, and wondering whether the people you meet will be positive and receptive— can be both an exhausting and an intimidating experience. But the key I have found is just to get started, get out there, and not slow down until it ends.
I find when you fully embrace campaigning— really getting out there and meeting the people of an area— the results are always unexpected and often wonderful.
This campaign season I found this to be especially true. The campaign folks who advise us from Augusta focus on knocking on doors as the key, but the "formula" includes spending no more than 3— 5 minutes at each door. While I have found this to be possible when I meet busy people who prefer only to chat briefly, it's a rare occurrence in my district. (A series of 10 small island and coastal towns.) Folks on islands like to talk. They like to " visit" and they appreciate the chance to sit down and get to know their representative. And while these visits are an opportunity for my constituents to ask me questions and voice concerns, I often find that these visits end up being something much greater than a standard campaign stop.
There are the long chats with elderly citizens who voice their concerns over their health, or the future of their community. There are fishermen who tell me about the way ground fishing used to be on the Downeast coast. There are single moms and families working in low-income jobs who sit with me and show me the family bills and the struggles and decisions they are forced to make each month. As a policy maker, this kind of intimate understanding of people's lives is the most important thing I could gain on the campaign trail.
And there are the many, many non-political discussions, which offer a welcome break and have given me a much greater sense of the history and people of the islands. During the course of the last election I have learned about the connected family trees of the islands— trying to sort out which Hutchinson and Eaton on Deer Isle and Stonington is related to the other or how the Quinn family of Eagle Island seems to be related to someone in every town in my district. I loved hearing stories from a 90 year-old on Deer Isle about the early 1900's on Vinalhaven where she grew up, when the town was booming with immigrants, granite quarries and regular Saturday Night dances. These are the kind of conversations and stories I don't expect but are the most amazing. The history of the islands and their connections to each other have given me insight into the past and, more importantly, the future of how islands and small coastal towns can work together.
Despite slowing my campaign schedule, I have always found going over the " recommended" 3— 5 minute guideline to be the best part of campaigning.
This election season I " hit" about 2000 doors in every town in my district. One of my favorite parts of campaigning this past fall was one of my many " island tours" with Senator Dennis Damon that we described as the " Lobster Feast Tour." Senator Damon and I campaigned together on Frenchboro, Swans Island, and Isle Au Haut together, three nights in a row.
It began with a ride to Frenchboro from North Haven with my dad by boat, where I met Dennis and David Lunt, one of the senior members of the Frenchboro Lunt family— a family with generations of history and leadership on Frenchboro. Dennis and I knocked on many of the doors on the island and met the majority of island residents (there are only 38 residents on this island according to the 2000 census). We then held a town meeting, following by a lobster stew dinner, cooked by David Lunt and his very generous wife. It was excellent, chock full of fresh lobster.
The next morning, Dennis and I got up at 5am to catch the tail end of coffee hour at John Lunt's. John is the oldest living member of the Lunt family who hosts all the fishermen and local people interested in getting up that early in his kitchen every morning from 4am to 6am. Dennis and I had early morning conversations on fishing, taxes, and deer hunting. One young fisherman cooked about 3 pounds of fresh deer meat that morning, which he and his stern man and Dennis ate, all before 6:30am. I wasn't quite ready for venison at that hour.
Next, Dennis and I got a 7:00am ride with Danny Lunt and his wife to Swan's Island. About 30 minutes later, we were at the Swan's Island Fisherman's Coop, where we spend the next 4 hours talking politics, hearing the local gossip and thoroughly discussing most local issues with the hodgepodge of people who wandered in and out— from the bait delivery guy to a local selectman. We then knocked on doors until our town meeting that evening. About 50 people showed up and we had an interesting meeting on local and state issues. Following the meeting, we spent the night with a friend of Dennis, the local ferryboat captain, with whom we feasted on three large lobsters given to us by a local fisherman.
The next day we traveled back to Mount Desert Island by ferry, then made our way to Stonington to catch the mid-day boat to Isle Au Haut. We then spent another day knocking on doors, hanging out at " the" store, and meeting the vast majority of the 81 year-round residents of Isle Au Haut. That evening at 6pm most of the town gathered at the community building for a potluck dinner, where folks brought their own dishes and plates (and luckily a kind resident brought plates for us). Again, we were treated to lobster. Mrs. McDonald cooked her incredible lobster casserole and the majority of the residents of the island showed up in full force. Following dinner we had a great conversation about island life, the future of island communities, and state issues from taxes to health care.
The next morning Dennis and I returned to Stonington from one of our most memorable campaign trips of this election season, full of lobster.