The Long View
In Palin, echoes of another time
By Nancy Grape
Born and raised in Maine, an experience that colors her life and her outlook, Grape graduated from Bates College and from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, one of 11 women in a class of 70. In a career spent in journalism, she worked in Boston and New York before returning to Maine. She then served for 16 years as an editorial writer and member of the editorial board for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. Her column commenting on state and national affairs for the Telegram ran for 25 years.
About 30 seconds into Sarah Palin’s first campaign appearance on national television, I had a startling flashback. There, wowing the crowd as Republican Sen. John McCain’s surprise choice for vice president, was not the governor of Alaska, but a lively, bright-eyed Mainer, whose name has been synonymous with statewide tax reform for more than 30 years. “I did, too,” Mary Adams told me, surprising me just a bit. “Tears came to my eyes when I saw her.”
And well they might. A few tricks of time travel, a different decision here and there, and Adams might well have mounted a national podium at some point over these last 30 years.
“She was taking a different road than I did,” Adams said of Palin, speaking from her home in Garland, in central Maine “And how glad I was for her, really, that she was able to muster the kind of courage and grace to make it up to that level of political commitment, with the family she has.”
Now, on an autumn afternoon, Mary Adams, 70, spoke in a softer voice and softer words than some memorable lines that have popped out of her through the past 30 years.
“At a certain stage in life I was younger than Sarah when we finished the repeal of the state property tax in 1977 I was faced with the same decision,” Adams said. The political team she had led to a 2-1 victory repealing the state’s uniform property tax asked her if she wanted to take “the tremendous name recognition” she had gained throughout Maine and run for governor. The prospect was tempting very tempting, Adams acknowledged. “But I had two children, ages 9 and 12. I said, ’No, I can’t. I have to go back and finish that job.’”
That decision so understandable, even expected, in 1977 echoes as she assesses Palin now.
“When I saw her, I just thought these are different times and she is going to take the bit in her mouth and she’s going to do everything. She’s going to keep her family together and make this effort at this high offi ce,” Adams told me. “It just thrilled me to watch her.” So, would Mary Adams, a grandmother now, swap places with Sarah Palin?
The question slips silently into a pool of hesitation. Then, slowly, an answer emerges. “No, if I did anything and this is all fantasy, of course it would be just to give her encouragement,” Adams replied.
“It’s a brutal thing she’s going through. I can’t imagine that kind of hostility and anger that’s being unleashed on her and her family right now. I’d just want to keep encouraging her because she’s in a tough position doing a tough job.”
Mary Adams knows that territory well. She waded into politics again recently, spearheading a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) referendum that failed at the ballot box in 2006.
Now, a new and historic journey to the ballot box is looming. Sarah Palin is the Republican nominee for vice president. And a woman.
Whether you share her policies or not and I don’t Palin demonstrates there are women, perhaps many women, poised in unexpected places to compete in politics at the highest levels. They are there, in government and beyond. And don’t kid yourself. A good many like them were around in places like Garland 30 years ago. Some of these women will be conservative. Some will be liberal. And some, to be sure, will be better prepared than others.
The ballot box leaves it to us to decide their future. It’s that choice Palin faces on Nov. 4.