There were French dignitaries from Canada and France. There were senior citizens visiting the State House for the first time. And on Thursday there was Rita Dube of Lewiston.

She not only attended the Franco-American Day at the Legislature but was inducted into the Franco-American Hall of Fame for her work in preserving the heritage.

Dube, 62, was born in a Franco-American household where French was spoken “all the time. It was our native tongue. We had to learn English.” Her mother was born in Auburn, her father in Canada, one of 13.

In addition to raising a family, most of her adult life Dube raised money for the YMCA and for St. Dominic Regional High School. She enjoyed success, but several years ago decided “it was time to stop. I had said I was done with fund raising.” But she got a plea from Lionel Guay asking her to take on the project of turning the St. Mary’s Church into a Franco center. Initially Dube wasn’t enthralled. “I was tired of begging.”

But Guay said things that spoke to her heart. “He said, ‘This is your heritage.’ We need someone like you to make this happen.’ The more he spoke of preserving our heritage, our culture,” the more she got excited about the project. “I couldn’t say no.” A few years and $2.2 million later, the church has been transformed into a performing arts center.

“We’ve come a long way. But we still have a lot of work to do.” The eight display cases of Franco-American artifacts signify the current challenge: creating a museum and learning center. The $2.2 million is about half of what’s needed to be done.

In one year Dube is hoping to have raised enough to develop the museum and learning center. On Thursday Dube sat in front of the House chamber and heard her name being read, along with praise and applause.

“I’m not deserving of it. I know so many others out there that have done more than I,” she said later. “It was very emotional for me. I could not help but get teary-eyed.” Being inducted into the hall of fame in front of her husband, Paul, and son, gave her encouragement to see the center completed.

Most leave behind children and grandchildren. Dube is helping the area hold on to its roots. “I know in my heart I’ll be leaving a legacy.”

$900M red ink looming

As reported last week, on Tuesday Gov. John Baldacci said he’d listen to proposals to raise some taxes – opening the tax hike door. After strong reaction to that on Wednesday, Baldacci quickly shut the higher tax door tight.

What a difference a day makes.

Some Democrats, including Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, favor raising “sin” taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. Republicans want no tax hikes.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the governor warned that the many agencies that deliver social programs would change. “I do not want people to have any false understanding that somehow we’re going to continue what we’re doing. We’re not,” Baldacci said. “I’ve got a $900 million structural gap in the 06-07 budget.”

That means another big deficit for the two-year budget that lawmakers elected this November will deal with next January.

Election season begins

Despite that budget problem, there’s no shortage of candidates. The Secretary of State has reported a large number has filed for office, with few State House seats going unchallenged.

A Clean Election 2004 kick off was held Monday celebrating that this year, 75 percent of candidates may campaign with taxpayers’ money. Maine is one of a few states that give money to candidates to avoid the influence of special interests. The cost to taxpayers: $2 million a year.

Quote of the week

“The various ethnic groups which make up the state of Maine, including Franco-Americans, remind us of the many contributions of all our citizens. Let us not forget that all people are due the respect and dignity accorded each individual under our laws and constitution.” – Franco-American praise given in French by Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara

Bonnie Washuk is the Sun Journal State House reporter.

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