GROVELAND — Harriett Stanley, waiting for her plate of meatloaf and french fries, looked out the window of the Groveland Diner at the Bates Bridge and thought back to the day 18 years ago when she stood on the restaurant’s steps and launched her first campaign for public office.
The view has changed a bit since the summer of 1994; back then, the diner was still called Sheehan’s Restaurant and the warm summer sun reflecting off the Merrimack River helped make the 81-year-old truss bridge look a little less dilapidated than it really was.
Today, a replacement bridge is rising from the water next to the aging structure, a point of considerable pride for the Democratic state legislator from West Newbury, but the view is foggier, and not just because of the cold wintry mix that coated the landscape one recent day.
“Everybody has a time, and I think you need to know when it is,” she said. “I’ve been bipartisan since the day I got there, and I haven’t changed, but there is no room in politics for someone who calls it down the middle. You have to be so extreme, and that’s why we can’t get anything done.”
On Jan. 2, Stanley, 62, will step down as state representative after 18 years on Beacon Hill. When she does, she will leave behind an ideologically divided house where power is consolidated within the leadership and legislators are discouraged from being independent thinkers.
“They’re expected to go along with what they’re told to do,” Stanley said. “But that’s not me. It never was me.”
Back when Stanley was first elected as 2nd Essex District representative, the political climate was much different. She arrived on Beacon Hill with 30 other freshmen, many of them Republicans, and despite the typical split between liberals and conservatives, the freshmen bonded and frequently voted together, becoming a powerful force on the Statehouse floor.