He's more than a decade removed from Congress, yet Tom Andrews vividly remembers what he still calls "my moment of truth."
It was 1991. A military base-closure bill was before Congress. And - after months of battling to get it off - Loring Air Force base in Limestone was on it.
Like so many of his colleagues, Andrews had a choice: Vote down the whole package because it forced his home state to share in the pain, or vote his conscience and support the bill because he felt the national interest trumped his own.
Andrews chose the latter - and in the process, committed political suicide.
"I don't regret it for a minute," Andrews said this week from Washington, D.C., where he now serves as executive director of the advocacy coalition Win Without War. "I'd do it again."
Which brings us to the question that in all likelihood will face Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Reps. Tom Allen and Mike Michaud as the latest Pentagon reshuffling works its way from the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to President Bush and ultimately to Congress:
Assuming they don't hit the trifecta and get the commission to remove the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the Brunswick Naval Air Station and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Limestone from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's current hit list, how will they vote on the final package? And, just as significantly, why?
Put another way, would Maine's delegation have gone into rhetorical orbit so quickly - Snowe sounded like a Star Wars promo Friday when she called the list "a blunder of epic proportions, nothing short of a travesty" - if Maine hadn't taken so big a hit? Or would they now look sympathetically at some other poor state and say, "Well, we have to cut somewhere."
"The same thing you're hearing from the Maine delegation, you're hearing from delegations all across the United States," said Andrews. Meaning that if you listen only to the politicians, every base on the list has the hardest workers, the lowest costs, the most critical mission . . .
Andrews remembers one day in 1991 when the Maine delegation actually praised the previous commission for the fair and thorough job it was doing. That changed, of course, after Loring remained on the list and Andrews announced he would swallow his parochial interests and support the package because it was in the nation's best interest.
"I remember being referred to as Tom 'Benedict Arnold' Andrews," he mused.
He also remembers having his political head handed to him in his subsequent race for the U.S. Senate - Snowe got 60 percent of the vote to Andrews' 36 percent.
"The bottom line is, I have to look myself in the mirror," Andrews said. "I'd rather lose an election because I did what I thought was the right thing than win an election because I did what was the wrong thing."
Some would say so.
Some did say so.
Apt to happen again?
Don't count on it. With only a few months to save 7,000 jobs (not to mention their own), Maine's congressional delegation barely has time for protests, promises and above all, politics.
Leaving precious few moments of truth.
© 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers