Coming home has never felt so good. A bit worn and torn but also filled with hope, I pulled into our driveway in the wee hours of the 4th of July. It was pitch dark as I grabbed my briefcase and closed the car door quietly to not wake up our dog, Ruby. I used my phone to light the way up the moss covered pathway to our back door. Our farm was quiet and still, far from the exhausted energy that swirled within my mind and body. The darkness engulfed me and made me pause. It felt as if I had never left South Berwick and taken part in this new adventure which had claimed the better part of me and my family since January. The girls were sleeping on the couches in the living room. The air had cooled and I brought the blankets up over their shoulders and made sure their toes were covered. I bent over and gently kissed their foreheads and hesitated over each just a moment to take in their sweet smell of innocence and youth. Their troubles in life are still easily smoothed out with love and listening. I turned off the t.v. and glanced at the clock, it was nearly 3:00 am. “Happy 4th of July”, I mused and tiptoed out of the room and made my way upstairs. Ruby jumped off the bed and waited behind the bedroom door as I opened it. The room was dark. The light from the hall fell upon Kyle as he asked, “Did you guys get it signed?” I nodded and whispered, “the Governor signed it. I’m home for awhile.” I dropped my things, changed and slid into bed as Ruby jumped up and claimed the space around my legs and feet. I sank into my pillow and felt as though the ride had come to a full stop and the park would be closing for the night.
I guess that’s how I can best describe the past seven months spent in Augusta. It was a ride filled with thrills, chills, moments of hesitation, courage, and times in between when we just waited. I rode the ride with new friends from all over Maine and quickly developed relationships I could lean on in times when I asked myself, “why and how?” As I moved through the highs and lows and learned that creating and voting on policy would never garner everyone’s support, I fell back on a few important things I’ve learned along the way in school and life. You are never going to please everyone, so it’s best to not even try. Listen to all sides of the story and be open to a change of mind and heart when it’s deserved and right. Put your self in someone else’s shoes, maybe even take them for a walk, and when you’re done listening speak from your heart with an authentic voice. There were times when I voted for my district, my party, the other side of the aisle, small children, small business, and for some Mainers not supported by most. I received gratitude, disagreement, and even a voice of disgust at times, but looking back I know that I would not change a single vote I took. I learned that news shared in politics is always spun in a hundred ways and often what you hear or read is not the entire story.
It’s impossible to be able to form a true understanding of a bill or piece of policy from simply reading a headline, a shared post, or a sound bite. In fact they are often used to sway a vote, bring down opposition, or paint a light on a situation to favor one side or the other. To truly know what is a foot, one must be willing to read and grow their own understanding of all available information and form an opinion. When I found out that I had been elected and would be taking votes on behalf of my district and the entire state of Maine I went to my much older and wiser sister and asked her to share how she would approach voting. She paused and said, “I would want to take my vote, press the button, before looking to see what anyone else did so I knew that I would be voting from a place that wasn’t impacted by another’s wants, expectations, or motivation.” I smiled. She’s always been incredibly logical and pragmatic. She’s a programmer by profession and has built a career on well thought systems and finding the cleanest and quickest path from point A to point B.
Policy like life, can be messy and chaotic, winding around testimony, facts, opinions, and passion. I quickly realized that working towards a unanimous committee vote can be exhilarating, frustrating, demanding, and hopefully in the end, rewarding. You hardly ever get everything you want and often take votes on policy that aren’t clear cut or clearly defined. If you are in your seat whether on committee or in the chamber than you must vote. I missed one vote this year at the beginning of session. I was needing a signature on my bill from a Senator and gauged I had time to run to the other end of the hall knowing the Senate had convened. Not knowing I couldn’t hear the bell from their chambers I missed my one and only vote. I stood that day and stated if I had been in my seat I would have voted, yea. It was a lesson learned early and from that point forward I took every other one.
As the year ramped up and it became increasingly apparent that politics as I had experienced as an onlooker from the comfort of my home were indeed messy, I found myself engulfed by a world in which my words were taken out of context and my votes were misrepresented by omitted information or testimony. At the same time, I found myself becoming resilient towards the negativity that rose up intent on knocking me down and out of my seat. There were definite times when my face became flushed and hives appeared as I imagined my family reading political rhetoric and frustrated posts directed at me and my votes by people that have never met me or reached out to me personally to ask about my positions or the decisions I made and why I came to the place I did. I also became incredibly hopeful as I continued to meet some of the most articulate, intelligent, and compassionate people on both sides of the aisle. Politicians often get a bad wrap and maybe rightly so but in Augusta, the legislators are people just like you and me who have families, businesses, careers, and are trying to do good for their communities.
We are individuals with our own unique experiences, ideals, passions, and dreams of what life in Maine should be and the very best policy is created somewhere in the middle with collaboration and compromise. So today, I sit here in the store on my first day back in over a week. There is a reassuring calm as I begin to write for the first time in such a long while. I’ve landed this morning perhaps a bit tried and tested but also with a knowledge that I am still able to stretch and learn a bit about myself and others around me.