Mike Ruane: Heroism On The Hill

MAY 2000 -
Salem Rep Is A True Role Model - Some people would consider the Massachusetts Legislature an unlikely
place to look for a hero -- a person that the youth of our state could
look up to.

But if
the many high school tours that take place at the State House were to
stop by at Room 238, the office of Salem Representative J. Michael
"Mike" Ruane, they wouldn't have to look any further.

A
World War II veteran, Mike cut his political teeth working for Francis
X. Collins, the legendary 20-year mayor of Salem. "Mayor Collins was my
first and greatest mentor," said Ruane. 'Never forget your roots and
always help the little people,' was his philosophy."

Prior to being elected to the House in 1975 Ruane had held a seat on
the Salem City Council and at age 47 was far more life-experienced than
the average young freshman Representative entering the Legislature. At
the advice of Collins he had also studied municipal law and finance,
nights at B.C.

Recognizing
his experience then-Speaker Tom McGee promptly appointed Ruane to the
key Committee on House Ways and Means - an unusual honor for a freshman
Rep - a seat he has held under every Speaker since that time. He
currently serves as Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley's vice-chairman.
Haley readily acknowledged that Ruane has served as his mentor.

Each
spring the House Ways and Means Committee holds hearings on the state
budget during which time various state agencies present their budget
requests. Woebegone the agency head who is not fully prepared to fully
account for every dollar in his budget. A fiscally conservative
Democrat, Ruane decries fat in governments at any level. "It's
taxpayers' money," he said.

"He
knows each agency's budget right down to the smallest detail," said
Association President Ralph White. "He has little use for fat cats or
self-serving special interests. Mike is a passionate, feisty man who
says 'I'm only a street kid from Salem.' And it's no secret that he's
had a few physical confrontations during his earlier days on the Hill."

But
from the point of view of our Association, Mike Ruane is as close to
being a saint as you can get. There hasn't been one piece of beneficial
pension legislation passed in the last 25 years that he hasn't helped
shepherd through Ways and Means or carried during floor debate. Members
will recall Mike's leadership on the House floor in 1997 when the
landmark COLA bill (Ch. 17) was passed despite strong opposition. He
has always been a voice for the little people.

Last
year when the Boston Red Sox began their push for a new stadium which
would involve public funds, House Speaker Tom Finneran named Ruane
chairman of a legislative committee formed to deal with the issue. When
news commentator John Henning asked, "Why Mike Ruane?" Finneran's reply
was, "Because he's the absolute best guy on figures that I've ever seen
at the State House."

While
the Red Sox will probably get their new stadium, there's no way the
taxpayers will get cheated during Ruane's watch. "I'll bet that the Red
Sox lobby firm doesn't know that Mike is an old National League fan at
heart," joked White. "He can name every player on the '48 Boston Braves
championship team. He and his wife Helena spent their honeymoon in 1953
in Milwaukee as a guest of Lou Perini at the Brave's new ballpark.
Mike's an old ballplayer and he loves the game, but the taxpayers come
first."

Speaker
Finneran, who has served alongside Mike for 21 years, calls him "a
legend and a hero for those who yearn for great public servants.

"He
is a man of honor and virtue. He brings integrity, intelligence, and
initiative to every meaningful issue and he does so with the modesty
and humility of someone who has suffered through great personal
tragedies. His great faith and fidelity is an example to all of his
colleagues and constituents."

Compared to Biblical Hero

While
there are other legislators who can match Mike Ruane's record of
dedication, there are none who have been as personally tested as this
Irishman, who in the eyes of some might be compared to the Old
Testament hero, Job. Of course, Mike will disclaim any such comparison.

In
1984 when the chairman of House Ways and Means was sick, Ruane was
asked by Speaker McGee to carry the budget on the floor. It was a
debate that raged on for seven weeks. During that period Mike's
daughter, Christine age 18, was dying of cancer. "It was a contentious
budget... I wanted to pull Mike off," recalled McGee. For seven weeks
he was either on the House floor or at his daughter's bedside in the
hospital. He said that budget debate gave him strength to face his
daughter's struggle and that his daughter's courage gave him strength
on the House floor. "Christine's spirit was with me on the floor of the
House," Ruane later shared.

Tragedy
again struck Mike and his beloved wife Helena when they lost another
child in 1997. Son Patrick, an Army veteran, died suddenly of a heart
attack at age 40.

Mike,
himself in extreme pain for many years, was forced to have his larynx
removed last year. He now communicates by using an electro-larynx
operated by a battery which he holds to his throat. On a busy day he
uses 3 or 4 rechargeable batteries.

He
has also undergone additional surgery whereby 16 inches of malignant
colon was removed. He said that he didn't consider it to be "a major
operation" and was back at the State House, spunky as ever within a few
weeks.

Originally
embarrassed by his hollow battery-powered voice, Mike is as talkative
as ever and hopes he can be an inspiration to others. "I believe God
gave everyone a talent that can be put to use to help others. I can't
sing Galway Bay or Danny Boy at nursing homes or hospitals anymore, but
I've proven that I can still do my job effectively," he said.

Folks
who have seen Mike on TV have called and asked him to meet and talk
with people who are struggling with a similar condition. His loyal
staff assistants Sharon Armstrong and Joan Fix say that he honors every
request and truly goes out of his way to help people. "It's been my
pleasure to reach out. I love what I do, and perhaps I can be an
inspiration to others" Mike said.

And
come this fall, Mike Ruane, who truly loves what he does, will be back
on the campaign trail along with his two remaining children, Michael
and Keri, and his wife Helena, running for another term in the House.

Best of luck Mike, we're all looking forward to having you on the Hill for many more years.

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