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Public Statements

The Progressive Message from the Progressive Caucus

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

THE PROGRESSIVE MESSAGE FROM THE PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS -- (House of Representatives - May 14, 2009)


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Thank you very much. Thank you to all of my colleagues here today. It's nice to have the opportunity to join the two of you.

I first want to say that I concur. It was an important day to cast the vote that many of us did to recognize that there are serious issues around Iraq and Afghanistan. In spite of many of us coming from States where we have a lot of people serving in the military, and I greatly respect their service and the importance that all of us see in taking care of those who serve their country, this was also an important day to talk about the essential nature of finding an end to the conflict and making sure that we send the President that message.

I thank you for giving me this chance to talk a little bit about what it means to be a Progressive. You're right, I was fortunate to be on the floor just a few moments before we started the Progressive Hour to recognize something that had gone on in my State in the past week.

Maine is now the fifth State in the Nation to recognize the equality of marriage that everyone, regardless of their gender, should have the right to marry. As we all know, this can often be a contentious and difficult debate.

Thousands of people literally turned out at a public hearing in Maine to discuss this topic. People from all walks of life; from all religious backgrounds; people who were married and who weren't married.

I very proudly quoted from my daughter today. My daughter happens to be the Speaker of the House in Maine--far more important than her mother--and she gave a very eloquent speech about the fact she was married only a couple of summers ago by a wonderful friend of our family. And during the conversation preparing for the wedding, it occurred to her that her good friend who was marrying her had been part of a couple for 30 years, but because he was the same gender as her partner, was not allowed to be married.

So the person who gave her good advice, who performed the ceremony, was able to remind her everyone should have this right. I believe fundamentally it should be a Federal right. We should be talking about this at some point in our tenure.

But I'm just so proud of my home State, my own Governor, the State legislators, many of them who thought long and hard about the best way to cast their vote, but in the end said, Our goal is to do the right thing.

I just want to follow up a little bit about some of the things that you were already talking about before I close my remarks, but really on this idea of what it is to be a Progressive because Jared rightfully said that it's sometimes about asking the questions, of searching a little bit further, of taking the tough votes. I also think it is a matter of recognizing that we're all in this together.

For me, getting into politics--and I was first elected to the State legislature in 1992--but I became a school board member in my community years before that. Part of what I learned along the way is that the reason we do this is to recognize that we're all in this together. That if we're not all succeeding together; if we don't have health care; if everyone doesn't have a job; if we're not thinking ahead about the security or everyone, whether you're a soldier or not a soldier, we're not going to get ahead in the world. We're not going to have the kind of world that we want to have.

To me, that is the fundamental of this--our overarching political philosophy is just recognizing that none of us get ahead unless we all do it together. For me, that's always a question when I make a decision, whether it's an economic decision or an issue of health care.

I have been a small business owner. I'm proud to say that I employ other people. But I want to make sure that they're treated well, that they get fair wages, that their health care is covered. I believe that's part of the fundamental of the responsibility that we share to each other in this country and in countries abroad.

For me, that's a fundamental principle, and I'm proud to share these moments with my colleagues from Minnesota and Colorado, where I know those are their fundamental values, as well as many others that they bring to the floor today.

Mr. ELLISON. Will the gentlelady yield?

Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Absolutely.

Mr. ELLISON. Do you think that perhaps part of the Progressive tradition is this idea of individual liberty? There are certain things that we as Americans may not agree on, but we will agree that the decision rests with the individual.

I can't tell you, from Maine, how many children you should have, or whether you should have any. I can't tell you who to marry or who not to marry. I can't tell you about these essential decisions that are like your business.

This is a very Progressive idea. Sometimes when you hear about the government getting off people's backs, you associate it with people who are on the ``right'' end of the political spectrum. But when it comes to many other decisions that are essential and private, these are Progressive values.

How does the gentlelady from Maine feel about this idea?

Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Well, absolutely. Maine is an interesting State. We're about a third Republican, a third Democrat, and a third Independent, but pretty much everybody is independent there. I would say the overarching value that most people share is this idea that there is a right of privacy, of individual liberty; that I'm not going to interfere with your right to live your life in the way you choose as long as you respect my rights as well.

Because of that, even though we're economically quite disadvantaged in my State--it's about 38th in per capita income--people have worked hard to take care of each other, but also to somewhat leave each other alone. We have a lot of independent fishermen and farmers and people who make a living in a variety of ways, and most of them would say, Just preserve my independence and individual liberty and, while you're at it, can you make sure we get health care coverage.

But I think it's because people see those as values that should be shared, that come together.


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Absolutely. I am glad you put this list forward today. I think it is an excellent collection of those things that we have done collectively to make sure that we are all better off.

Rural electrification was a very progressive idea. The idea that for economic development, for everyone to succeed, for people to have better opportunities, we all needed to be connected to each other.

I think one of the things that this underscores about Progressive values is the idea that you need to choose those things that will really benefit everybody. We all recognize we can't do everything. People sometimes accuse us of expecting government to do everything. We don't want to do that, and we don't want government to meddle in everything. But this is a very good list of those things that have benefited the greatest amount of people. And coming from a rural State, I know the importance of rural electrification.

In fact, I happen to live in a community that is about to construct a major wind tower, benefiting us as we look into the future, and we are still able to do that because of the organization that is there around rural electrification.

Mr. ELLISON. Would the gentlelady talk for a moment about the corollary of rural electrification and extending broadband access to all of America?

Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Absolutely. Again, representing a rural State, most people don't know, but Maine happens to be the most rural State in the Nation. Most of us live in small communities without access to cable, and the kinds of things that many other people have. Broadband has become essential for communication, education, and running a small business. Any kind of business, you need to be able to connect to people on the Net.

I personally run a business, and people wouldn't be able to find us if it wasn't for the Internet. But the fact is that many small communities don't have this. This is one of the reasons that this was part of the stimulus package that many of us supported and voted for because we believed it would help communities move ahead. Sometimes it is an inner-city neighborhood, and sometimes it is a distant neighborhood that needs that access to broadband. I think there is a correlation between what went on with the REA and rural electrification and what we are trying to do today to make sure that everybody in America has access to high-speed Internet. It is fundamental for education and now for medicine. We have many doctors who are able to diagnose at a distance in those communities that can't have a full-time doctor or the kinds of medical specialties that they need.

But people want to live and work in those communities. It is a great part of the American tradition. Whether you are a fisherman or a farmer, we want to continue that. It is a very important part of why we need to expand broadband.

Mr. ELLISON. I think it is a Progressive value because it says, look, we know Americans who live in rural America like living there. They grow the crops and they enjoy that life. But if there is no economy out there, then it is difficult to live out there and you see young people moving into the city, not necessarily because they want to but because they feel that they have to.

This rural electrification in one generation, broadband access in another, represents our shared commitment to each other to live our lives as we would choose.

Ms. PINGREE of Maine. Absolutely. People would say fundamentally, it was a part of America to expand west and be in rural areas. Many people choose the environment of rural America. But, frankly, we are dependent on those people who choose to grow our food, harvest our fish. Many in my State harvest the trees that make our paper and make our furniture. These are people with solid American values. Kids have wonderful schools to attend, and feel safe in their communities. We want to have more people who can have the opportunity to live there.

One of the biggest issues in my State is, How am I going to make a living and support myself? I think it is an important Progressive value to say what exactly does government need to do. We know we need to have security and roads. Maybe a high-speed train. You need to have health care available to you so you can feel comfortable and secure. But you also need broadband access. It is a very important thing.

Mr. ELLISON. Moving down the list, women's suffrage, 1920. It is important for Americans to know that women could not always vote in America. It was progressive women, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others who stood up and fought. It was Sojourner Truth and a man by the name of Frederick Douglass fighting for women's right to vote. And it was women in the West who made the claim, we are already voting. You may not have a constitutional right to do it, but we do it in our State, and they helped lead the way.

But what about the abolition of child labor, the 8-hour workday? Pretty progressive. We all hope we can do that. Minimum wage, Social Security, civil rights for minorities and women, voting rights for minorities and the poor. Cleaning up our air, water, toxic dump sights, consumer product safety and Medicare.

Today, I ask the gentlelady from Maine, are we done?

Has the Progressive agenda been completed? Do we have more work to do?

Ms. PINGREE of Maine. We are both standing here and many of our colleagues are here, many who wouldn't necessarily call themselves Progressive, but they are here because they want to pass more legislation that will foster our Progressive values.

That is a wonderful list that looks at issues that people struggle with in the economy. But the fact is, I would say that one of the number one concerns of people in America today is to have access to health care and have it be affordable. I think that needs to be added to that list. I think many of us won't rest until it is done.

Many Members in this Chamber hear from their constituents every day, Do something about health care. I am thrilled that we passed a budget with $630 billion in it for health care, but we have a lot of work to do to actually design the system and make sure that it is available to everybody, whether you are running a small business or you are an individual who has no coverage, or struggles with coverage that has such a big deductible it doesn't provide you with the care you need when you are sick.


Ms. PINGREE of Maine. You have said almost everything that needs to be said. You have a great chart. In talking about some of the proud things in progressive history, I want to emphasize that virtually everything on that list is where people have said, We are all in this together. What do we need to take care of the basic fundamentals in this world so that we can prosper, so we can be safe and healthy and have a sense of security? That is what we are dedicated to.

I know those are the commonsense values of people in my State, people of vastly different political perspectives and economic perspectives who say, Look, unless we are all in this together--we have to move forward together or we are not going to get anywhere.

As you mentioned, we have a tall order in front of us. We have done a lot in the few months we have been here. And I feel proud as a freshman to have come at this moment in time when we have a President who cares so deeply about our relations around the world, economic justice for people and health care. It is a great moment to be here, but it is certainly a difficult task. Many, many people are struggling in this economy. States like mine are having a hard time balancing their budget and getting ahead. We have a lot of work here to do. I have been pleased to be here tonight, and look forward to many other dialogues like this in the future as we accomplish many of our goals.

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