The party slates are now set for the November election but hey, it’s summer, and most voters will not be thinking about the election until fall arrives. In the meantime, it’s a good time to consider the service of someone who will not be returning to Augusta.
Democrat Sarah Pebworth has represented Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Surry and Sedgwick in the Maine House for the past two terms (four years). She is not running again, one of just two Hancock County reps who have declined another term.
Politics has a short memory for those no longer in the game. Legislators get plenty of attention while in office, but once they are out? Not so much. One sign of legislative success is when friends and neighbors who were once a legislator’s constituents continue to turn to a former legislator for guidance on how to take care of state-level woes. Pebworth now has a skill set and a network that can serve her community when she is willing to make it available, but the spotlight will be on whoever takes her seat in the fall.
Before she officially departs, she was willing to indulge a request for an “exit interview” to consider her time in office. She was modest about her decision to run in 2018. With no other candidates stepping forward, her thought was “I’ll be better than nobody.” She describes her skill set for legislating as “not the best,” yet she exhibits some of the most important traits of a good legislator: curiosity, determination and a drive to do the job well.
Was it fun? There was a long pause. “I’m not using the word ‘fun,’” she said slowly, though she says she relished unique experiences like Governor Janet Mills’ inauguration. Most of her time in office was during the COVID-19 pandemic when legislators were to some degree isolated from their colleagues and the public, working remotely or in smaller, socially distanced groups.
She served on the Labor and Housing Committee, and on the IDEA Committee (Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business). A former inn owner with a literary bent and a past president of the Blue Hill Public Library board, she focused on small business development and education.
Pebworth likes to solve problems, so constituent work was a significant source of satisfaction for her. “The purpose of being alive is learning,” she said, and “learning from the inside” was an opportunity she treasures. Her goal was to make constituent conversations “a learning experience on both sides.” She believes investing in families and young children pays off significantly. “That’s a drum that I beat.”
The downside? She “continually felt I could have done more.” To do the job, a legislator receives “a tremendous amount of information and it’s hard to keep up.” The election itself was demanding and the amount of time required in office is a challenge, given that legislative pay does not come close to compensating for the time spent yet makes it challenging to hold an outside job.
Pebworth expressed admiration for her House colleague Nicole Grohoski, now a candidate for state Senate in November. Early in the pandemic, they teamed up to write a letter to the editor with detailed information about how the Legislature was adapting, ideas for coping with life under lockdown and the latest medical information. She describes Grohoski as “the real deal, curious and well-connected to Hancock County communities. She’s an activist with strong feelings for the big issues.”
Her bond with legislators in the same “year class” extended to Genevieve McDonald from Stonington, and Pebworth says she will miss working with her. McDonald is the other two-term Hancock County legislator who is not running for reelection.
Despite the challenges, she’s glad she did it. “It’s a cliché, but it’s such an honor to serve,” said Pebworth, with a momentary catch in her voice. “It’s different than anything else I’ve done, and it was hard to decide to step down. Constituents like the people they know to stay.” Would she ever go back? She’s not sure, but she has gained “an appreciation for politics,” and if the issues were right, she doesn’t rule it out.
Typically, Pebworth’s last words were focused not on herself but on an event coming up just before the November general election. “Can I plug it?” she asked. Of course! It’s the Word Festival in Blue Hill, a celebration of the literary arts, to be held the third weekend in October this year. Check for details on www.wordfestival.org. It’s a safe bet you’ll see Sarah there.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.