A talk with Chellie

A tale of two pols: Congressional candidate Chellie Pingree (left) and U.S. Senate hopeful Laurie Dobson. (photos/courtesy Pingree, Dobson campaigns)

A talk with Chellie
By Laurie Dobson

“Hi, Chellie,” I said to her on North Haven Island, Wednesday morning, August 13. “Thank you for taking the time to talk. You know Michael?”

“Yes. Hi, how are you doing?”

“Very well, thank you,” my husband said, and shook hands.

“Let’s go up on the deck to talk,” she said.

My husband, Michael Dobson, and I walked with Chellie Pingree over to Blake’s, the deli by the ferry landing across from Waterman’s Community Center. She and I had bumped into each other at the grocery store the day before and she had agreed to my request to talk with her this morning. “It’s a beautiful morning,” I said.

“Yes, for a change,” she agreed.

We put up the umbrella on the picnic table and sat down; Michael joining us. She was wearing a knee brace. I told her that Michael’s been doing very well. I asked her if she had seen the article I wrote about Michael’s fight with brain cancer, which was in the Kennebec Journal; she hadn’t seen it but said she was glad to hear he was doing well. He nodded.

I started. “I wanted to speak to you as another woman involved in politics here and tell you some things I have on my mind, which should take only about 15 minutes, which you said you could spare.”

“As you know,” I continued, “we have been supporters of yours forever. Early on with your involvement with Common Cause and Emily’s List, and when we supported your early campaign against Susan Collins…. and then following your political path, with Hannah’s rising star.”

(Chellie’s daughter, Hannah Pingree, is now grown and involved in Maine politics, being carefully groomed for what appears to be a very promising political future. I have seen all this evolve over the years here on this island. Michael and I have been going up to North Haven for over 15 years, staying in a cabin which Michael’s family rents out. I’m from Kennebunkport originally, and my father’s line goes back 10 generations there, but my husband is a longtime summer resident from Connecticut.)

“I remember when you spoke at the [Maine State Democratic] Convention a few years ago, as head of Common Cause, about clean campaign money, and you got a standing ovation. Your position on that was really clear,” I told her.

“Also,” I said, “when I saw you at the [anti-war] rally in Kennebunkport last year, and you talked then about being in favor of impeachment…. And at a fundraiser there” — this was after I had announced that I was running for the U.S. Senate, but had not yet declared a party — “you said you agreed with me about Tom Allen [not showing leadership on the issues of the war and impeachment].”

She nodded.

“You showed me and everyone that you were strong on progressive issues and against big-money interests, corporate and special interests,” I said.

“In fact,” I continued, “at the rally, there was an effort that I was part of, a petition called the Kennebunkport Warning, which people signed, stating that if Iran was attacked, that we would consider that Cheney was responsible for it. There was a run-up to war back then, last August, just as the pieces are being put into place now for a new attack. This time Bush and Cheney are threatening to reignite a new cold war.”

Michael interjected that now they “are gearing up for an attack on Russia. [Obama foreign policy advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski is using Obama as a puppet. It could be far more serious,” he said. “Israel has interests in Georgia and we are locked into our alliance with Georgia through NATO. It could be a nuclear confrontation.”

I said that I have taken responsibility for getting the best intelligence that I could on these issues, and raised my concern that we are headed toward fascism. I told Chellie that I had made it clear early in my own campaign, in concern about our country’s alliances with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (the lobbying group known as AIPAC), that I had declared myself independent of those influences.

She quickly said she was also not tied to AIPAC influences, and mentioned her support for a two-state solution. She wanted to know what it was that I was taking issue with.

“Sussman,” I said, referring to S. Donald Sussman, the wealthy hedge fund manager who’s brought over $100,000 into Pingree’s Congressional campaign. Pingree has refused to acknowledge that she and Sussman are a couple, but I’d seen them together, holding hands and acting very much like a couple, at the Lungfest event on the island a couple nights before and in town the following morning.

“He’s not in AIPAC,” she said.

“He is a board member of that lobbying committee for Israel,” I said.

“The Israel Policy Forum,” she said. “They support the two-state solution.”

To my silence, she kept on defending the organization. Finally I said that she has “the appearance of conflict of interest. What side are you on? The people’s or the powerful interests’?”

To her looks of indignation, I said that she looks like she has been compromised by her association with Sussman, and he is “neck-deep in influence peddling.” I said that it looks as though she will be the next rep in Congress and I was concerned that it was no longer clear where she stood.

She said that I should not be bringing up her personal choices and that we did not have to agree about them.

I said to her that I had a right to be in front of her and question her about this because I have taken the knocks and made the commitment to put myself out there on the line politically. I have paid the price to be able to challenge her and earned the right to be before her and to call her out on her positions. I raised the fact that the money she got from campaign donors like Sussman allowed her to wipe the field in a contentious race against her other competitors who did not accept that kind of support.

Chellie said, “Well, I am going to be in the Congress. And although Tom Allen and I disagree on many things, I support him [because it is important that he beat] Susan Collins. Collins held Jimmy Carter’s book over the wastebasket and dropped it in.”

I agreed that there were gradations of difference between them. I was about to say that the differences were slight compared to the similarities in their corporate, “soft money” influences. But Chellie asked me: How would you do it? She was apparently referring to the challenge of getting into office. I said, “Exactly the way I am doing it.”

She protested, seemed alarmed, started to get up from the table. “But your campaign is over,” she said. “You can’t win. You may have made some important points, when you talked about the fight with cancer and” — she added, in what I took to be a condescending tone — “your hunger strike.”

I interrupted, and said that I “have a serious economic recovery program that would deal with the issues that Mainers are facing.” 

She said, “Well, your campaign isn’t happening anymore.”

“You don’t know that,” I said. “We have an appeal going — anything could happen. You need to show people that you are on their side.”

She left her seat at that point, as I pointed to my own example and my own political decisions, in contrast to hers.

“I am not going to stay here and listen to any more of this,” she said. She stood at the end of the picnic table and said, “For eight years I have shown what I stand for and I won’t hear you question my integrity or my associations.”

“Why not?” I asked. “You are running for office — we should be able to talk [about these things].”

“I am not going to say any more,” she said, appearing stung and offended that I would challenge her, and left, limping stiffly.

To my husband’s clear chagrin, I said that we had done what we could; she had made her decision.

“She never answered your question,” he told me. “You asked her, what side was she on? She never answered you.”

“I think she told me,” I said to him. “She didn’t stay and she didn’t declare that she was fighting for the people. She was defensive and offended and she left before she had to commit herself.

“That’s an answer,” I said.

Laurie Dobson is attempting to run for U.S. Senate as an independent; her nomination is currently under appeal before the Maine Superior Court. Her Web site is www.dobsonforsenate.com.