January 28

Mitchell to Maine Legislature: It’s possible to work together

Official portrait of former U.S. senator from Waterville is unveiled at the State House.

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell told family, friends and state legislators Tuesday that he is fortunate to have received many awards and honors during his life, but by far the greatest was serving the people of Maine in the U.S. Senate and as a U.S. attorney and U.S. District Court judge.

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Andy Molloy ON DISPLAY: Former US Senator George Mitchell thanks supporters Tuesday after unveiling his official portrait at the State House in Augusta.

click image to enlarge

ON DISPLAY: Former US Senator George Mitchell, left, thanks supporters Tuesday after unveiling his official portrait at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Additional Photos Below

Mitchell’s remarks came after his official portrait was unveiled in the Hall of Flags at the State House. He said it is humbling to know the portrait will hang with those of important Mainers including U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, Maine’s first governor William King and former governor, U.S. secretary of state and U.S. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie.

“For me, this really is dancing with the stars,” said Mitchell, who grew up in Waterville.

His portrait, by Ireland-based artist James Hanley, was donated by Mitchell’s family and friends and will hang in the Hall of Flags. Hanley also did a portrait of Mitchell for Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where Mitchell served 10 years as chancellor.

In a speech to state senators and representatives before the unveiling Tuesday, Mitchell, 80, spoke of the importance of public service, which he said is at times a thankless task but also among the most notable endeavors one can undertake.

This is a time, he said, when the inability of elected officials to work together at the national level to deal with problems facing the country — unemployment, underemployment and the country’s ongoing emergency from a long and severe recession — has led to a decline in public confidence.

He offered advice to legislators: learning to listen, being patient and respecting those with whom one disagrees can help reduce the polarization and hostility that make it difficult to work together.

The onetime Senate majority leader, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize after negotiating Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace agreement in 1998, told legislators that learning to listen was the most important lesson he learned in his political life. He listened to hundreds of hours of speeches during his five years in the peace talks and as a result, became more patient, and ultimately more effective, he said.

When Mitchell became Senate majority leader, he called Kansas senator Bob Dole, a Republican and the Senate minority leader, to ask for a meeting, telling him he wanted to have a good working and personal relationship with him.

“We discussed, we debated on hundreds of bills, some of them extremely contentious,” Mitchell said. “We often disagreed, but through it all, we respected each other.”

Mitchell said he and Dole represented different political parties with different goals and philosophies, but worked together without hostility or rancor.

“It can be done in Washington, in Augusta, in America,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, of Mount Desert Island and New York, was given a standing ovation from lawmakers.

Among those who attended Tuesday were former eight-year state Rep. Marilyn Canavan, a Waterville Democrat, who also is former director of the State Ethics Commission; and her friend, Betty Goulette, also of Waterville.

“It just makes me very proud to be a Mainer,” Canavan said after Mitchell’s speech to the Legislature. “The topic he chose was certainly relevant in today’s divided world. Listen up, Congress. Listen up.”

Goulette, who attended Waterville High School with Mitchell, concurred with Canavan.

“I liked him in high school and I still like him,” Goulette said. “I thought his speech was excellent. He’s a good speaker.”

State Rep. Thomas R.W. Longstaff, D-Waterville, called the speech “just incredible.”

“It is one of the most inspiring speeches I’ve heard in a long time,” he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

ON DISPLAY: Former US Senator George Mitchell directs Maine State Senate President Justin Alfond to his seat Tuesday before the unveiling ceremony for Mitchell’s official portrait at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

ON DISPLAY: Former US Senator George Mitchell, right, greets Maine House Representatives minority leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, Tuesday after the unveiling ceremony for Mitchell’s official portrait at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

ON DISPLAY: Former US Senator George Mitchell speaks with his family Tuesday before the ceremony to unveil his official portrait at the Statehouse in Augusta. They are, seated from left, his daughter Claire, wife Heather, grandson Ian and son Andrew.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Andy Molloy ON DISPLAY: Former US Senator George Mitchell speaks Tuesday at the ceremony to unveil his official portrait at the Statehouse in Augusta.

  


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