Another in a weekly series on what Mainers across the state say about the race for the White House — and what they want from the next president.
PORTLAND – Sarah Schindler got her first lesson in politics as a Girl Scout Brownie. She was on a field trip with her troop to Los Alamitos City Hall, near Los Angeles. As she walked through City Hall, she noticed that all the framed photos on the wall showed middle-age white guys.
Not a woman anywhere.
Schindler asked the lady who was leading the tour why all of the important people were men. The woman could offer little more than an unknowing shrug.
Schindler learned later that her pointed question had an impact. The woman who led the tour eventually won a seat on the City Council, because she didn’t want other little girls asking why there were no women on the wall.
The episode sharpened Schindler’s personal political focus, as well. She is 34 now, living in Portland and making her career as an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Law.
She moved to Maine after spending large parts of her life in California and Georgia. She earned her law degree from the University of Georgia.
For her, gender equity and equal rights for all have always been motivating issues. Her decision to earn a law degree and teach law springs from that field trip. Ever since, she has been keenly aware of the mistreatment of individuals, and has worked to rectify it.
“All the pictures were of old white men. That’s the history of our country,” she said over a breakfast beverage at her home in Portland’s West End. “That sort of thing has always bothered me.”
Schindler is a registered Democrat who plans to vote for Barack Obama, mostly because she believes the policies and philosophies of the Democrats more closely align with her beliefs than those of the Republicans.
“I think it’s more likely that Obama shares my views on these things than Mitt Romney,” she said.
But she isn’t necessarily fond of Obama. She doesn’t feel a personal connection with the man, and at times finds him arrogant. She supported Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary four years ago.
She said she will vote for Obama because the stakes are too high to do otherwise. The president and the controlling party have the most influence over the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, which makes the most important decisions — morally, ethically and otherwise.
Schindler rejects the idea that an individual’s vote doesn’t matter, or that the outcome of the presidential election doesn’t influence our lives every day. “To say it makes no difference (who wins the election) is just not true,” she said.
ASTONISHED BY ABORTION DEBATE
Schindler finds it astonishing that abortion remains a political topic nearly four decades after the Supreme Court settled the issue, and is further offended that most of the people still debating it are men. She finds the tenor of the discussion disconcerting.
“There is always room for intelligent discussion, but it does shock me what people feel OK saying these days,” she said. “I can’t believe some of the things they are saying on the Internet.”
The issue she will pay the most attention to is the Defense of Marriage Act. She supports LGBT rights and gay marriage, and sees the law of the land as denying gay people basic rights that are given to straight people.
“They are a minority group of individuals who are treated differently and unfairly,” she said.
Schindler said that campaign finance reform is long overdue, and that both political parties are to blame for the lack of effective reform. Public trust in elected officials suffers because everybody knows, or assumes, that the system rewards donors with political favors.
“Any elected official at that high a level owes a lot of people favors because they have donated to their campaign,” Schindler said. “What does that do to our trust?”
She wants more money spent on public transportation, including high-speed rail and bus systems, and feels embarrassed for America when she considers how other countries handle public transportation. “We need to transition back to moving large groups of people at once,” she said.
PRACTICING WHAT SHE PREACHES
She supports alternative energy, and believes that energy efficiency begins with reducing our individual dependence on automobiles. She tries to practice what she preaches. She owns six bicycles, including one that she reserves for guests, and rides her bike to work whenever possible, even in the winter — though she admits that it’s challenging and dangerous to ride on Portland’s streets regardless of the weather.
She estimates that she fills the gas tank on her Volvo station wagon every few months.
Schindler has voted in every election since she turned 18, and pays attention to issues that affect her locally, regionally and nationally. She has given time and resources to local transportation issues, and thinks she might have an effective voice locally when it comes to urban planning.
Among the law classes she teaches are real estate and land use, local government and property law.
She has always felt a little on the outside when it comes to politics. After living in California, her family moved to the Atlanta area. She was in fifth grade during the 1988 presidential election contest between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. When the teacher asked about the election, all but five students in the room said their parents were voting for Bush.
Schindler was among the five.
“It didn’t bother me at all,” she said. “I’ve always been in some sort of minority.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be reached at 791-6457 or at: