Neil Rolde Looks Back: What Politics Used to Be Like in Maine

By IRWIN GRATZ • OF MPBN
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PORTLAND, Maine – Neil Rolde says the stories in his new book are real; the names were changed to protect – the politicians. Rolde, a former state legislator from York, has written a new book, “Real Political Tales: Short Stories by a Veteran Politician.” Rolde told MPBN’s Irwin Gratz that he drew the stories from his own time in Augusta.

Neil Rolde: “They’re people-based, sometimes on real people that I know. And real incidents that I was involved with, but disguised, in a way, in order to bring out that sense, you know – just ordinary folks doing a fairly extraordinary kind of work.”

Irwin Gratz: “Did you also take the license to exaggerate, or are these things as they really happened?”

Neil Rolde: “Yeah. No, I did not exaggerate. I think that’s what we get about plays and movies and so forth about political life, is exaggeration. I mean, you know, we’re all a bunch of connivers. Or there’s, maybe, one good guy – that sort of thing, and that’s not the way it really worked. Now, I have to do the caveat that Maine may be a little bit different than other states. I mean, I grew up in Massachusetts and I don’t think the book would be the same.

Irwin Gratz: Now, you know there’s been a lot of talk in the last few years that one of the problems in Congress is that the members don’t seem to be relating to each other personally as well, and, if they only did that, things would be better. From your experience in the Maine Legislature, talk to me about those human connections: How big a part of legislating were they?

Neil Rolde: Well, you know, I can’t say how it is today. But, in my day, we were very collegial. And one of my short stories is about a bipartisan group meeting at somebody’s house, and we did that. I always talk about my friend Jim Briggs. He was a Republican legislator from Caribou. And, he was an older guy. He’d been in the House and Senate, back when it was all totally Republican. And then he got elected and came down and I was always joking that we were freshmen Democrats; we made him an honorary, freshman Democrat. And Jim and I became very close friends. He was one of the great pioneers of the environment in this state. So he and I hit it off very well. We were both on the Natural Resources Committee together. And, you know, I’d go and stay with him in Caribou, and there was a great collegiality. We would get out there and beat each other’s brains out on the floor, but then we’d go have a drink. And we knew each other’s family and that sort of stuff.

Irwin Gratz: Does that collegiality ever translate into legislation?

Neil Rolde: There was a lot of criss-crossing. Now, take somebody like Jim Briggs that I mentioned. Jim was a Republican, staunch Republican. But, when it came to the environment, first of all, he took a lot of lumps in his own party for doing that. And we all worked together very, very well. But, you know, there were lots of people I worked with on bills, I co-sponsored bills with. We conducted ourselves in a way that was dignified, respectful and, at the same time, productive. And some of the best laughs I ever had were on the floor. Some people had great senses of humor.”

Neil Rolde’s new book, “Real Political Tales: Short Stories by a Veteran Politician,” is published by Polar Bear and Company of Solon.

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