June 30, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Sen. Katz bravely reprises 'class acts'

If ever there was a time for a true gentleman to step forward, this was it.

click image to enlarge

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta

"As a lifelong, proud Republican who was overjoyed to see a Republican elected back into the Blaine House three years ago, I have one thing to say. I am embarrassed," wrote state Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, in an op-ed that quickly went viral last week.

He was referring, of course, to Gov. Paul LePage. And while it's highly unusual, if not unheard of, for an assistant minority leader of the Maine Senate to call out a governor from his own party in a 719-word statement of conscience, Katz said in an interview Friday that he had no choice.

"There are times in my life when I really do sit there and wonder what my father would have done if he were in that seat today instead of me," said Katz. "That's why I wrote the article."

His father was Bennett Katz, a much-loved and widely respected Republican majority leader who represented Augusta in the Legislature from 1962 through 1980.

Bennett Katz died in 2007 at the age of 89. But as Roger Katz took to his keyboard last week to once and for all denounce LePage's antics of late -- the nasty name-calling, the empty threats, the use of a sexual obscenity to denigrate a Democratic opponent -- he could feel his father looking over his shoulder.

Roger Katz wrote of growing up in a "Republican household" where he got to meet his father's many Republican friends. "Class acts like Joe Sewall, Ken MacLeod, David Huber and Sam Collins," he recalled.

Class acts indeed.

Joseph Sewall served as president of the Maine Senate from 1975 to 1982. When he died last year, two hard-core Democrats of his era had no qualms about singing his praises.

"He was, in my opinion, one of the best presiding officers to serve in the Maine Senate," said John Martin, who became speaker of the Democrat-controlled House the same day in 1975 that Sewall took over the Republican-controlled Senate.

"Joe Sewall was a true gentleman," echoed Jim Tierney, who served as Democratic majority leader under Martin and went on to become Maine's attorney general. "It was an honor to serve with him in the Legislature. We are a better state for his service."

A "true gentlemen." An "honor to serve with him." How's that for partisan name-calling?

Ken MacLeod became Senate president in 1969, the same year Maine first instituted the state's income tax. He opposed it at first, but eventually came around to support it.

"I sided with the conservatives more than the liberals, except on the income tax," recalled MacLeod in an interview with the Bangor Daily News.

The interview took place in 1993. Looking back more than two decades, MacLeod observed, "The average legislator then was of a higher quality than they are now. We had some real top-quality people in the Senate in both parties."

Just a thought, but when was the last time you heard a seasoned politician use the words "top-quality people" and "both parties" in the same sentence?

David Huber served in the Legislature from 1973 to 1982, including a stint as the Senate's assistant majority leader.

Along with his wife and fellow Republican stalwart, Sherry Huber, he went on to found the Maine Family Planning Association, which to this day cites them on its website as "individuals dedicated to the proposition that every Maine woman should have equal access to high-quality reproductive health services."

A Republican champion for family planning. How, we can only wonder, might that go over today?

(Continued on page 2)

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