She could have simply waved. Maybe hollered out a few words of encouragement.

Instead, way back on July Fourth as the annual holiday parade wound its way down Water Street in Eastport, Dianne Morrison made a beeline for Maine’s senior U.S. senator.

“Do you have time for a couple of questions?” Morrison asked Sen. Susan Collins, whom she’d known and supported all the way back to Collins’ run for governor in 1994.

“Walk with me,” replied Collins. “We’ll talk.”

“And so I did,” recalled Morrison in an interview Tuesday from her home in Yarmouth. “I wish more politicians were like her, to be honest.”

They talked about – what else? – health care. And the strong possibility that coverage for pre-existing conditions would be weakened, if not rendered completely unaffordable, under various Republican-led schemes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.


But mostly they talked about Morrison’s grandson, Zachary, who turned 12 at the end of August and has lived all his young life with cystic fibrosis.

Collins had last met Zachary as an infant. Now here he was with his grandmother and his mother, Stacey Morrison, his future entirely dependent on the coverage he receives through his mother’s insurance policy.

“Without insurance, nobody (with cystic fibrosis) would survive,” Morrison said this week. “They just wouldn’t.”

Two months ago in this space, Collins recalled how that meeting with Morrison loomed large in her decision to vote against repeal on July 29.

Now, Collins has done it again. And while it would be a colossal overstatement to suggest that Morrison’s sidewalk lobbying alone put the steel in Collins’ spine as she headed back to Capitol Hill, it nonetheless illustrates, now more than ever, the value in speaking up.

Truth be told, Morrison, who grew up in Eastport and returns there for its annual Independence Day celebration, is no fan of Obamacare.


She and her semi-retired husband, Eldon, saw the premiums on his employer-provided health insurance go up 34 percent in one year under Harvard Pilgrim – with individual deductibles of $10,000 – before they finally switched to something more affordable and hoped for the best.

That said, Morrison knows a thing or two about pre-existing conditions – not only with grandson Zachary’s daily regimen to stay one step ahead of his illness, but with other family members who have confronted prostate cancer, breast cancer and thyroid cancer.

“There’s hardly a household that doesn’t have a member in it who doesn’t have a pre-existing condition,” she noted.

Morrison also has followed politics long enough to know when our leaders in Washington, D.C., are truly representing the people – and when they’re not.

She still bristles even now, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reels from the outright collapse of the latest health bill and other fissures in his political pedestal, at the “disgusting” notion that he and a small group of fellow Republican senators – all men – thought they could ram through health care “reform” with no real hearings, no involvement of the opposition party, no due process whatsoever.

“Mitch McConnell is 75,” mused Morrison. “He’s one year older than me. He should be home doing something else.”


To watch McConnell and Collins in juxtaposition this week – one descendant in his recent defeats, the other ascendant in her self-assurance – is to appreciate what a pivotal time this is not just for the Republican Party, but for the entire body politic.

Uncertainty still swirls around the future of health care – witness Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield’s announcement Wednesday that it’s pulling out almost completely from Maine’s Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The daily news cycle pinballs from collusion with the Russians and confusion over tax reform to the delusion that “the swamp” is being drained when in fact it threatens to suck down the whole republic.

Yet even now, life goes on.

People still stand along a parade route waving flags, hopeful that out of this simple act of patriotism, something good still might blossom.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, marches in Eastport’s July 4th parade. “There was only one issue,” she told the Washington Post – her constituents’ focus was on health care.

Some elected leaders – we’re looking at you, Sen. Collins – see their stock rise not because they followed the orders handed down by their political bosses, but precisely because they didn’t.


And a Maine grandmother, worried about what will happen long after she’s gone, steps forward to ask the simple question: What about my grandson? Who will be there for him?

Zachary, his grandmother happily reports, is doing fine these days – thanks in no small part to his mother’s diligence, since the day he was born, in ensuring that he takes his medication, keeps his lungs as clear as possible, and gets the nutrition he needs to keep active and ward off the ever-present threat of infections.

“To see him, you wouldn’t think there’s a thing wrong,” Morrison said. “He loves sports – he’s tried them all. Basketball. Soccer, lacrosse – lacrosse is his favorite. And this year, he decided not to do soccer – he said he was going to do cross-country.”

Proud of him? You bet she is.

But she also knows that many of the 30,000-plus Americans with cystic fibrosis are far worse off than Zachary and that recent strides in research and treatment, while promising, come with a huge price tag attached.

Call me cynical, but I’ll bet that whatever discussion took place behind those back doors, as McConnell and his minions tried all summer to jury rig a repeal bill, had precious little to do with the real struggles countless Americans face each day just trying to stay alive.


I also suspect that as they counted noses, cut sweetheart deals and desperately tried to keep their deep-pocketed donors happy, they failed to fully gauge the anger that this week finally stopped them in their tracks.

“I think America is really fed up, obviously,” Morrison said. “People just want things done right. And these politicians aren’t God.”

Let’s hear it for the grandmothers.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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