It's Not the Same(-Sex) Question
"Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?"
That's the question that Maine voters will see this November when they head to the voting booths. Simple and straightforward.
Or is it...
The groups that worked hard to collect more than a hundred thousand signatures to get this question on the ballot in the first place now say this is the wrong question. They want the question the Secretary of State sends out on ballots across the state this fall to include the fact that the law ALSO will not force any group to perform or recognize any marriage that violates their religious beliefs. "Mainers United for Marriage", the main political group behind the question, is adamant that this wording must be included. They included it in the underlying law on which people are voting. They included it in the petitions circulated to force the question. They want it on the ballot.
So far, Secretary of State Charlie Summers is not saying if he'll add it or not. He has until the end of July to decide.
So why the fuss?
Here's why. Same-sex marriage supporters believe that one of the things that sunk them at the ballot box in 2009 was people believing (and being told by the opposition) that churches, etc. would be forced to perform/recognize same-sex unions or face lawsuits. Same-sex marriage supporters insist that wasn't true the last time around, but they want to be double-certain to underline that point this time around... as a way to allay concerns of some folks who might be on the fence. (And yes-- even on such a well-known, divisive issue-- there are people still undecided.)
As for Charlie Summers, some are claiming that he is leaving out that language from the ballot question deliberately, to curry favor with conservatives as he mounts his own bid for the U.S. Senate as the Republican nominee. In fact, critics claim this is a prime example of why he should step down as the state's top elections officer while running for office. Summers, himself, has repeatedly said that he can do his job well and fairly while also running for Senate. He also points to the precedent set in 1994 when a Democrat, Bill Diamond of Windham, stuck with his job as Secretary of State while unsuccessfully running for Congress. He also points out his job includes coming up with clear, concise, accurate summary questions to present to voters... insisting that's exactly what he's trying to do.
Add it all up, and that's why this "question about the question" is running hot right now.
The Secretary of State is soliciting opinions from the public right now, and so far, hundreds have responded with about half wanting the language added about respecting religious beliefs. The other half either says leave it as is or add other language, such as that voting "yes" will change current Maine law.
We'll have an answer on the question (the wording anyway) by the end of the month. The bigger question-- whether to allow same-sex couples to marry-- will be decided in November.
(If you have a topic you'd like Gregg to blog about, please send him an email at email@example.com.)
PINGREE AND PINGREE LIKELY
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-1st District) said this morning that she is still weighing a decision to run for U.S. Senate now that Olympia Snowe will not run for re-election. But she spoke about what an important opportunity this is, believing it's "important that a woman hold the seat" and added that if she runs (which seems all but certain) that her daughter, former House Speaker Hannah Pingree, likely will run for her First Congressional seat.
That seems a big part of what is delaying her official announcement... she wants to speak face-to-face to Hannah and her other family members this weekend.
The announcement will likely come Monday. No one expects her to do anything but run for Senate, but as she points out, the decision is hers and hers alone, and she's not ready to say for sure yet.
As for others, former Gov. John Baldacci is expected to make an announcement this afternoon. Word is, he's in, too. That's likely it for the Democratic primary. Interestingly, Rep. Pingree said this morning that she's "not concerned about a primary", which sounded like a confident, indirect shot at Baldacci. But that's reading between the lines.
On the GOP side, very interesting developments. Kevin Raye, the Senate President, is staying in the CD2 race. That seems to be a Mike Michaud/Kevin Raye re-match setting up from 2002 after Baldacci left the seat to become governor. Michaud narrowly won that race.
Many other candidates... Secretary of State Charlie Summers, Attorney General Bill Schneider and Treasurer Bruce Poliquin are ALL SAID TO BE IN. Announcements coming this afternoon. They have a lower risk than, say, Chellie Pingree-- in that they can run and loose in either the primary or general election and still be appointed back to their jobs as constitutional officers, assuming the GOP retains control of the legislature.
One other name... former Senate President Rick Bennett, is taking out nominating papers this afternoon. He's a wild card in the GOP primary. He's very well respected in many GOP circles and has both political experience and private sector experience (running a business for the past decade). But he's been out of the public eye for a long time and would need to build that quickly. He's returning from a business trip to London right now and likely will make an official announcement tomorrow (Saturday).
Updates, of course, at wgme.com and on News 13 at Noon, Live at Five, News 13 at 6 and beyond!
MICHAUD WON'T RUN FOR SENATE
Just got the word from Mike Michaud's campaign. He will NOT run for Senate, but rather will remain in the House race, running for his sixth term.
He says, in part: "While I am humbled by all the support and encouragement I have received in the last few days, I've decided to not run for the U.S. Senate this year. I want to continue to represent the wonderful people of Maine's second district and keep working on the unique issues and challenges we face."
This seems to pave the way for a collision in the Democratic primary between Chellie Pingree (D-1st District) and former Gov. John Baldacci.
Rep. Pingree is making some sort of announcement tomorrow (Friday) morning at 9am. She originally said she would wait until early next week to announce her intentions. She still may do that, but is planning to make some sort of announcement in the morning.
We've heard privately that John Baldacci and his supporters have been talking with Michaud, encouraging him not to run for Senate. The belief is that the CD2 seat is more vulnerable to a Republican flip than CD1 if the incumbent leaves to run for Senate.
However, Michaud's announcement is a little unexpected as he put out a statement just hours after Sen. Olympia Snowe announced that she would not seek reelection, that he was all-but in the Senate race.
On the GOP side, we're also hearing that an announcement could come as early as tomorrow. The GOP leadership is trying to find one candidate to get behind in the primary. That definitely is not Scott D'Amboise, the former Lisbon Falls selectman who jumped in the race to challenge Olympia Snowe in the primary saying she's not conservative enough.
We did learn earlier tonight that former ambassador Peter Cianchette will remain as an executive at the family business, Cianbro, and will not run for Senate, despite some heavy lobbying from party insiders to recruit him.
That leaves Secretary of State Charlie Summers, Senate President Kevin Raye (if he doesn't stay in the CD2 race) and former gubernatorial candidate Steve Abbott as possibilities. However, it's well-known that Abbott is in something of his "dream job" as Athletic Director at U-M.O. and is in the midst of a number of reforms and initiatives there that he would like to see through. We're also hearing of a late recruitment of former Senate President Rick Bennett to possibly jump in, but that does not seem as likely as some other scenarios.
Updates to come in what is a very fluid situation.
THE SNOWE-BALL EFFECT
Olympia Snowe says she won't run... and that has a huge number of people now saying they might.
First, Senator Snowe is justifiably receiving praise today from Republicans and Democrats, including the White House, for a very long and distinguished career. She just turned 65 years old. She's spent 33 years in Washington in the House or Senate. Do the math... that's more than half her life.
I talked to Sen. Susan Collins last night about it and she was quick to offer up praise for Maine's Senior Senator (a title Collins will soon hold herself). Like everyone I've talked to, she was stunned by the announcement and did not see it coming. She says she understands and respects the decision to leave, involving the hostility and partisanship in Washington, but disagrees with Sen. Snowe that it's gotten to be essentially unworkable.
But I also asked Sen. Collins about the suddenly huge shake-up in the primary election cycle. She wanted to make it clear that she thought the focus should be on Sen. Snowe right now, but understands the speculation about who will jump in the race to fill her shoes. She offered up the idea that she expects a field of good candidates to emerge very quickly, including multiple GOP candidates.
That may seem like an innocuous statement... and it mostly is... but it speaks volumes to Scott D'Amboise. D'Amboise is the little known former Lisbon Falls selectmen who already planned to take on Olympia Snowe in the primary, so as of this writing-- he is the only official GOP candidate still in the Senate field.
No one should expect it to stay that way.
Don't get me wrong. It's not for the likes of me to disparage D'Amboise's candidacy... In fact, that's my point... his own party already is. Or at least "the party establishment" is. Party leaders like the chairman and vice chair (Charlie Webster and Ruth Summers) who say they expect and encourage others to jump in.
And jump they will...
So who?... Well, the biggest names on the list include Senate President Kevin Raye. But Raye already is planning to run for the 2nd Dist. House seat against Mike Michaud. Raye seems more likely to stay in that race-- definitely so if Michaud jumps and runs for Senate.
Other possibilities on the GOP side include Peter Cianchette, the one-time gubernatorial candidate and former ambassador. Cianchette is currently Mitt Romney's state chairman and is working for his family business-- Cianbro. Cianchette is well-connected, a seasoned campaigner and can raise a lot of money and an organization very quickly.
Secretary of State Charlie Summers is also said to be considering a run. He is also a well-connected and respected seasoned campaigner. (He is the husband of GOP State Vice Chair Ruth Summers.) The word is he is heavily considering it.
Current U-Maine Athletic Director Steve Abbott is also said to be seriously weighing a run. A.D. to U.S. Senator may seem a leap. But he ran a credible gubernatorial primary campaign in 2010, losing to Paul LePage and was Susan Collins's Chief of Staff and campaign organizer. He knows how to pull together people and a campaign.
Another person said to be "kicking the tires" on the GOP side is Les Otten. The businessman and one-time gubernatorial candidate has ambition, savvy and money. But if he wants to run, he needs to prove he can pull together enough volunteers to get 2500 petition signatures in just about two weeks. In fact, anyone who wants to jump in the primary needs to do that, but Otten is the one with fewer party connections and organizational chops, so that would seem to be a tougher climb for him-- but we'll see.
On the Democratic side, it all starts with Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree. In short, they both want this Senate seat BADLY. Both have started to collect signatures, ready to shift from defending their House seats to running for the open Senate seat.
But will they both really run against each other in a primary? That seems hard to believe. But it's certainly possible. Sort of like a high-stakes game of political chicken... both cruising head-on at each other, hoping the other one will yank the wheel and bail before the collision. However, both believe they're the most likely to get the nomination, and the win in the fall. So who blinks, if either one?
Another big wild card, word is John Baldacci is ready to end his one-year political hiatus that began in Jan. 2011 when term limits pushed him from the governor's office. (Assuming he could have won that fall-- given the political mood in Maine in 2010, that's a big 'if'.)
So this could set-up a three-headed monster in the Democratic primary -- Michaud, Pingree, Baldacci. (With apologies to Matt Dunlap, the former Secretary of State who announced he was in even BEFORE Olympia Snowe bowed out.)
But if Michaud and Baldacci both run, that seems to all but assure Pingree the primary win. That's because Michaud and Baldacci seem to have the same demographic strength (i.e. 2nd District). The word is Baldacci is trying to convince Michaud to stay in the House, arguing that the Second District is vulnerable to a Republican gain if Michaud gets out and runs for Senate. Of course, if that's the case, Baldacci could always run for his old seat in the 2CD while Michaud runs for Senate!-- but word is Baldacci has no interest in that.
All of this should be much more settled by early next week. The reality is, with that March 15th deadline, candidates need to declare and get rolling ASAP.
The only one who is seriously considering a run who does not have such a deadline pressure is Angus King. The former independent governor tells me he is "actively considering" a run for the Senate seat, but he has until June 1 to file petition signatures since he would run as an independent. But he says he won't wait that long to decide-- probably making up his mind by mid March or so.
So-- to sum up-- one of the potentially more "ho hum" election cycles in years, suddenly became one of the most dynamic.
NEW POLL SAYS A "DO-OVER" WOULD BRING NEW GOV
As we all know, there are no do-overs in politics. You can have a recount, yes. A run-off, yes. A re-do, no.
Which makes the results of this one question from the new Pan Atlantic SMS Group 49th Omnibus poll purely academic. But still interesting. Among the questions, the pollsters asked: "If you could vote in last fall's gubernatorial election over again, who would you vote for?"
According to the survey, 36% said they would vote for Independent Eliot Cutler. That's almost exactly what he actually got last fall. But about 33% said in the survey they'd vote for Paul LePage if they had it to do over again. Last fall, he got closer to 38%, five points higher.
In other words, this poll claims that if people had a "mulligan", we'd get a different result.
As for Libby Mitchell, she dropped even more in this poll-- down to less than 15% after she got about 19% in the real election. Independent Shawn Moody got 5% last fall. He's at about 4% in this poll.
But before you get too caught up in this, another number stands out. More than 12% of those surveyed said they really don't know what they'd do if they had it to do over again. As we all know, those "undecideds"-- or most of them anyway-- have to commit to someone in the real thing, so that throws the premise of this poll uncovering "buyer's remorse" into some doubt.
But Eliot Cutler is still out there. At last word, he's still gauging the possibility of another run. At this point, many think that's likely. This same Omnibus poll found that 43.5% of respondents view Cutler favorably, compared to 21% who view him unfavorably. Those are pretty good numbers. However, here's the bad one for him... 35.6% don't know or didn't answer. Still, he's not nearly the unknown he was before last fall's election.
As for the Gov. LePage, his favorability is up from the spring... 42.5% favorable now compared to 39% then. But his unfavorables are still high... 52% now compared to 56.1% in the spring.
But the Governor's base of support is still very strong... 75% of Republicans polled approve of the job he's doing. Democrats still hate him... 17% favorable, 76% unfavorable. And independents aren't so hot on him either... 36% favorable, 61% unfavorable.
So, the poll confirms what we already know... Gov. LePage needs multiple opponents to split his opposition vote in order for him to win.
But Gov. LePage makes it clear he doesn't really care about any of that. He feels he has a job to do and plans to use his legislative majority to get it done.
After all, there are no do-overs.
Collins Breaks Ranks
Senator Susan Collins is getting both praise and a lot of grief today.
She's the only Republican senator to break ranks and vote in favor of a Democratic plan to extend the payroll tax cuts that expire at the end of the year, and pay for them with a 3.5% surcharge on people making more than $1 million per year. The plan fell short of the 60 needed to move ahead in the Senate, and Democrats are now accusing Republicans of protecting the wealthy few over the working many.
Except, that is, Susan Collins.
This is the latest in a series of debates on Capitol Hill this year pitting the two parties in this seemingly endless death staring contest, where compromise is considered worse than weak, even at the expense of gridlock.
But whether you see Collins as a hero or villain in this depends on where you are in this debate.
Republicans are very clear. They believe that raising any taxes right now is a mistake, no matter what Warren Buffett says. They say Democrats are shying away from an equally easy answer to cover the cost of the payroll tax cuts-- stop spending. And they argue that taxing the wealthy will hit a lot of "job creators", including small business owners. In fact, that's what Sen. Olympia Snowe talked to us about today, when explaining why she voted against the plan. She believes that four out of five small business owners will get hit by the 3.5% surcharge tax. Bad idea, she says.
But here's where Sen. Collins makes another point. She insists it would be relatively easy to craft the legislation to exempt those creating jobs and small business owners from the surcharge. In fact, she tells us she'll submit that legislation next week as part of another effort at-- wait for it-- compromise.
At any rate, Democrats believe they have a wedge issue here-- and Sen. Collins' vote would seem to speak to at least a small wedge. And that wedge could get bigger depending on what Sen. Collins does next week.
And that has those who see her firmly carrying the "RINO" label ("Republican in name only") believing that she's turning that label into a banner.
Collins tells us she's mostly hearing supportive comments from constituents on this vote. We suspect she's hearing from both sides-- loudly.
Another thing that's clear... without some sort of compromise on this issue, if you earn a paycheck, you're taxes will go up Jan. 1.
A HEALTHY DEBATE
Republicans are clapping their hands.
Democrats are shaking their fists.
Welcome to Maine's battle over health insurance reform...
Republicans, with support from a few Democrats, passed LD 1333 this week, and Gov. LePage signed it. One of two things just happened... Either we just fixed health insurance in Maine. Or we just really screwed it up.
The question you should be asking is: Who's right? The honest answer is: Who knows?
There is no real clear, impartial study saying that this effort to inject more competition into Maine's health insurance market will lead to anything that anyone says will happen, on either side. In fact, that's part of what has Democrats miffed. They believe that this was rushed through without any conclusive review.
We'll all know in a year or so, when it starts to take effect. Gov. LePage says he's convinced it will lower prices for a key demographic.... younger, healthy workers trying to afford coverage for their families. That's a big deal, if true. He believes that will help keep more, younger workers from fleeing the state. Democrats aren't convinced that will happen. But they are convinced it likely will raise costs for rural, less healthy and older people.
The truth is... there's a good chance... they're both right.
Think of it this way... What happens when you let market forces have more sway? Well, it stands to reason that insurance companies will find a way to apply costs more closely in line with risk. Thus, if you're young and healthy, your costs go down. If you're not-- well, your costs could go up.
Again, that's just speculation. Remember, we don't know for sure about any of the impacts.
But it seems clear to me that this whole fight over health insurance only underlines a basic philosophical difference... Democrats tend to want to focus public policies on the less fortunate. Republicans tend to worry about who ends up paying for that.
At any rate, in LD 1333, Democrats believe they have a major campaign issue on their hands (and they believe they're stockpiling them) for 2012.
They especially look forward to trying to turn the tables on the GOP on a "tax issue".
Specifically, the health care reform plan includes a $4 fee on every health insurance policy in Maine. Frankly, that sounds an awful lot like what Dirigo had that the Republicans hated... but I digress. Democrats call it "a tax". Remember in 2010, the Maine Republican Party elegantly and effectively skewered Democrats for trying to expand sales taxes the year before on a host of new things like auto repairs. The GOP mounted a "people's veto" that passed, then used it as a hammer in legislative races across the state. In fact, I believe that one issue, more than anything, helped propel the current GOP majority in the State House. Never mind that Democrats ALSO tried to lower income taxes at the same time, as an effort to shift a little bit of our tax burden on to out-of-state visitors. That part of the story the GOP left out and Democrats inexplicably failed to effectively push back with a counter message.
Regardless, Democrats won't make the same mistake twice... They'll try to exploit the $4 fee at the polls next year.
That we know for sure.
What we don't know, is what exactly all of this means for what you pay for health insurance in Maine.
Dan Demeritt's resignation caught many by surprise. Not because he resigned. But because he did it so quickly. Whether it was his idea or he was "encouraged" is almost beside the point. Demeritt needed to leave. Frankly, it's my personal opinion he needed to leave the job of Communications Director for the LePage administration regardless of his current legal and financial problems.
As you likely know, Demeritt spent the past few weeks dogged by foreclosure lawsuits and tax liens on five properties he owns. While I don't pretend to know all the particulars, from what I've gathered from the court records and from talking to Demeritt directly, in many ways, this is one more story among the many of those who tried to expand a business right into the teeth of the Great Recession-- and lost a lot of money. At any rate, his legal problems really started to come out in media coverage over the past few days-- and then came the abrupt Saturday morning resignation.
It's the right call. The LePage administration can't abide any more distractions.
But again, I believe Demeritt was struggling in that job regardless of these legal problems. He had been a trusted adviser to Paul LePage on the campaign trail and had done a reasonably good job running communications for the campaign. But he was having a hard time getting out in front on articulating the administration's agenda once the LePage team switched from campaigning to governing. Also, when those moments arose that, in the governor's words, "helped to sell newspapers", he wasn't effective at containing any damage.
And we've seen this movie before. A new governor has a trusted adviser and wants to find a home for him/her in the administration, and they choose Communications Director. But that job is not for someone who's prime asset is that they have the governor's ear. That job needs someone who understands the media, their deadlines and can earn trust.
I'm reminded of when John Baldacci was elected. His first Communications Director was Lee Umphrey. Umphrey, from my experience, was a decent guy who had been someone Baldacci liked and trusted, who wanted to be in the governor's inner circle, and he got plunked down in that job. It never was a good fit. He tried to control the message and never understood why members of the press corps would ask questions other than what he wanted to have asked. He left (or was "encouraged" to leave) after a short stay. Again, not a bad guy at all. But not a good Communications Director, period.
Demeritt followed the same script. Which is why I say I don't think he was likely long for the job regardless of his own legal problems. For what it's worth, I think Adrienne Bennett, the former WABI reporter turned Press Secretary, has been doing a much better job. She understands the media, keeps her cool, answers questions but still articulates the message the administration hopes to get across. Whether she's elevated to the full Communications Director's job or not remains to be seen. But I do know that we saw a lot more of Bennett in recent weeks than Demeritt, handling the difficult "Labor Mural" story and other issues well-- again, just from my opinion.
In closing, I wish Dan well. I had good interactions with him on the campaign trail and in the (very!) early days of the administration. You never want to see anyone have to deal with such a financial mess. And for the record, I feel at least as bad, and probably more so, for his tenants who are paying their rent but are suffering collateral damage from his financial disarray.
But for the LePage administration, it's time to turn the page and try to find a Communications Director who understands that you can't really "control the message". You can only hope to articulate, early and often perhaps, the message you want heard, and try to earn trust by playing it straight with members of the public and media.
Governor Vows to "Tone it down"
Gov. Paul LePage always has been the first to admit that he has a tendency to "fire from the hip" when it comes to his comments. It's who he is. He was elected in part because of his plainspoken ways-- and partly despite them. In short, his base loves it. His detractors hate it.
But the problem is, many in the middle cringe as well. And even more of a problem-- it gets A LOT of attention. Now, I'm not trying to stir up that old debate. I'm sorry-- but if you publicly say, as governor, that the only potential drawback of BPA in bottles is women may get "little beards", that's newsworthy. And, of course, that's just one of many, many examples already.
So now, Gov. LePage is one again being candid-- in saying that he needs to tone it down. According to reporting by the dean of Statehouse journalists
, Mal Leary, the governor emerged from a closed-door GOP caucus today saying that his comments too often are a "distraction" and undermining efforts to move ahead on his job-creating and red-tape-slashing agenda. The governor's exact phrase was that he would "zip up his mouth."
He also admitted that his timing in removing that labor mural
from the Dept. of Labor was poor. He still believes the mural, which has hung there since 2007, is biased (pro-labor) and counterproductive to his goal of projecting all of Maine government as more business friendly. But he believes (rightly) that waiting until after the legislative session was over would have been a much better call. Whether he's right to remove it still would have been intensely debated, but it wouldn't have been a distraction during a critical time in the legislative process.
My sincere hope is that the governor will continue to be accessible and to speak his mind. There's no doubting, as he agrees himself, that he needs a little more thought and dignity before speaking at times. But his candor is refreshing (at times!) and members of the public and the media must continue to have access to the leader of our state.
In other words, I personally believe it would be a big mistake to equate "zipping his lip" with not talking at all.
Also, a quick but interesting side note on the whole labor mural controversy. Early this week, I heard an interesting theory and saw an interesting flyer that's been circulating, especially among conservatives in Maine. It says that former Baldacci administration Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman not only presided over the placement of that mural in the department in 2007-- but that she's in it!!! I checked, and if you look at panel 8
(counting from left to right) which depicts FDR's Labor Secretary and Maine labor icon, Frances Perkins, it shows her talking to a red-headed woman with her arm on a child who looks decidedly like Fortman. (You can google the image and there are tighter views of that section posted elsewhere.) I put in a call several days ago to Fortman's home to try to get a comment or clarification. I'm still waiting for a call back. I'm not sure it's a big deal, but if it's true, it definitely warrants an explanation.
Notes on Franco-American Day
Paul LePage is only Maine's second Franco-American governor. And he's the first in more than 100 years. That's amazing when you consider that nearly a third of Mainers have French heritage. The big question-- why haven't there been more?
A friend of mine, Judy Paradis, a former lawmaker from Aroostook County, once told me that a lot of Franco-Americans-- especially from older generations-- grew up feeling like second-class citizens in Maine. That's a big part of why she and others helped to start a celebration of Franco-American heritage in the State House back in the 1990s.
And that tradition continued today with ceremonies marking "Franco-American Day". But with a new twist. Like I said, Maine now has a Franco-American governor. Gov. Paul LePage kicked off today's event by speaking, impromptu it seemed, French. I'm far from fluent, but from what I could gather from my limited French, he gave a simple greeting welcoming people to the celebration today. Not a big deal at one level.
But at another level, it was a big deal. Don't underestimate the importance to many Franco-Americans-- especially older generations-- of having a Franco-American governor speaking French in the State House.
By pure coincidence, I learned today that a key strategist of Paul LePage's "out of nowhere" primary and general election wins, Brent Littlefield, just won a very prestigious award for political consultants-- a "Pollie Award"-- for his work on LePage's campaign. For those who don't know, Littlefield is a Maine native and U-Maine graduate who now is a well-known political consultant based in Washington.
And the statement he put out today about the award hits right to the heart of what we're talking about here. Here is what he had to say:
"Specifically we received the award for the work I did targeting French heritage voters in the state... Our nearly 20-point Primary win in a super competitive 7-way race and our win in the general election, where we were significantly outspent, was driven in part by this effort and the other micro-targeting efforts I deployed to account for our tight budget. No one predicted the LePage primary win and our success was noted as one of the biggest wins in Northeast political history. The innovative program involved micro-targeting voters who understood the French language. I targeted those who likely had French spoken in their childhood homes or who still speak French today. After targeting those voters, we delivered recorded messages from now-Gov. LePage in French, his first language... The emotional appeal on issues important to the under-appreciated community resonated." (end quote)
With events like Franco-American Day today, that sense of feeling "under-appreciated" is fading-- especially with the sight of a Franco-American governor! And that "under-appreciated" feeling probably is not shared nearly as strongly by Franco-Americans under the age of, say, 50 or so. But there's no denying that LePage's pride in his heritage, and his effective strategy targeting that community, are big reasons why he is Maine's governor today.
LePage to NAACP: "Kiss my butt"
It's one of those "what was he thinking" moments for which Gov. Paul LePage is earning a solid reputation. You'll find a link on our website with sound where Gov. LePage tells the local Portland Chapter of the NAACP to "kiss my butt."
You can't make this stuff up.
And here's the answer to the question "what was he thinking?" Answer: He wasn't.
That's the quality that's both refreshing (for some) and cringe-inducing (for others) in our new governor. He speaks his mind-- in ways that often boggle the minds of others.
First, the context. Gov. LePage initially said he couldn't go to the MLK event this holiday weekend (which many politicians-- or their representatives-- of both parties routinely attend) because his schedule was too busy. But when we asked him about it today, he said that the NAACP is a "special interest-- end of story" and he "won't be held hostage by any special interest." The follow-up question asked him about contentions that this is a pattern of him refusing to meet with the NAACP... and that's when he made reference to a pucker and his posterior.
Leaders of the NAACP, locally and nationally, are not laughing. They're both incredulous and offended. And several prominent republicans I've talked with today are among those privately cringing as this story goes viral nationally.
And that's bad for Maine.
Here's my point... I'm not sure that Gov. LePage is doing any damage to his own reputation. He's certainly giving political fodder to his opponents, but he was known for these sorts of comments before he was elected and it's clear he sees no need to change. And while others may disagree on this-- he doesn't seem to mean it maliciously. Instead, he doesn't seem to think first about the possible reaction and fall-out-- not to mention that key detail that he's governor now. The one who represents the entire state. And that is a problem. Judging by the reactions nationally, including the response from the national head of the NAACP, it's hard to see any part of this episode reflecting Maine in a positive light. Not at all.
For a governor concerned about attracting business and jobs to Maine, that should matter to him if nothing else in this does.
Now, it's important to say that few see this is an issue of "racism", including local leaders of the NAACP who spoke with us. Paul LePage has a black son he adopted from Jamaica. He's attended MLK events while mayor of Waterville. And he understands struggle as a street kid who grew up poor and abused by his father in Lewiston.
Rather, it's an issue of respect... for others and for the office he now holds.
And he doesn't seem to understand that when you're governor, sometimes you do things to represent all the people. In fact, that's exactly the words he's chosen when describing the kind of governor he wants to be-- one who represents all the people. And in this case, that means you probably go to the MLK event or send a representative-- and at the very least, you don't say anything needlessly insulting when declining.
Candor is refreshing.
Disrespect is not.
Dennis Bailey Blogs: "I co-created 'Cutler Files'"
Well-- it's been one of the worst kept secrets in politics. In fact, just this week, I was talking privately with a high-ranking elected official about the widespread (but unproven) belief that Dennis Bailey, the well-known political and PR consultant, had created the Cutler Files.
Tonight, after publicly denying it for a long time, Dennis Bailey admits he did it-- co-created it with people who remain anonymous (and appear they will remain so). He wrote a fascinating, detailed blog about the creation of the site. I suggest, if you have any interest in this subject, you read it for yourself.
Of course, the Cutler Files website was one of the political curiosities of this past gubernatorial campaigns. It created a lot of discussion-- mostly over who the heck created it. And now, Bailey admits that he's the one who received a $200 fine this week from the Ethics Commission, largely because he didn't put a political disclaimer on it in a timely way.
A relatively small penalty for a website that drew outsized attention, not from the public for the most part, but from the candidates, campaigns and media.
In his blog, Bailey claims that the mainstream media only became interested in the site after Cutler, himself, started to throw an absolute fit over it. I think, by and large, that's true-- this reporter included. Honestly, the details seemed interesting (and we did independently cover some, such as his ties to Chinese outsourcing of jobs and the timing of his residency in Maine), but the site itself seemed to strike an off-note, that I believe diminished it's effectiveness as a vehicle for spurring coverage and dialogue. But that's just me.
I thought it was sort of an insider's footnote to the campaign. I may be wrong.
And certainly-- with all the attention even now-- perhaps I was.
I'll be honest... I remain surprised that Cutler would want to draw so much attention to a site that seemed well-sourced with accusations about his record. The number of page views went from hundreds to thousands virtually overnight after he went after it.
At any rate, I'm not sure how much the revelations of Bailey's involvement will matter. Perhaps it will hurt his PR and political prospects going forward to some degree-- perhaps not.
I think it's important that Bailey denies that it was a function of any of the campaigns he was working for-- including Rosa Scarcelli's democratic primary bid, and Shawn Moody's independent bid in the fall. Remember, the site popped up long before Bailey worked for Moody. I take Bailey at his word, personally, that it was not a "political dirty trick" by a campaign he was associated with.. Honestly, to me, that's one of the more important points in all of this.
Again, I suggest you read Bailey's blog for yourself. I also will tell you we invited Bailey to appear on our air to talk about it, and he declined. Former Cutler campaign manager, Ted O'Meara, who I think ran a brilliant campaign for Cutler, especially in the final weeks, likely will come in to talk to us about it in the next day-- look for that Christmas Eve.
Don't Quote Me!
I've noticed a definite trend in the race for the Blaine House.
Democrats are trying to get you to believe that Paul LePage would not be a good governor. And that has Paul LePage and Republicans accusing Libby Mitchell and the Democrats of getting negative and nasty.
Alright, I know. Not exactly a news flash. But bear with me here
The interesting thing is that the Democrats and Libby Mitchell are "attacking" Paul LePage, mostly, by using his own words! So what I'm trying to figure out is, when LePage and Republicans call it "negative", what are they miffed at? I mean, how can they be offended at Paul LePage's own words quoted back at them?
Case in point, LePage and the Maine Republican Party are accusing Libby Mitchell of launching "attack ads". You probably saw the first one. It features a giant nuclear power plant dropping out of the sky, then a fiery oil rig dropping off the coast, followed by claims that Paul LePage wants these things and also wants to weaken Maine's environmental laws. Then Libby Mitchell explains how she doesn't want those things-- so, vote for her.
Ok-- here's my question. Where exactly is the attack?
I've talked to Paul LePage and he's very clear. Do you support nuclear power? LePage: "Yes. If it can be done competitively and lower our overall energy costs." Do you favor exploring off-shore drilling for oil or natural gas? "Yes-- ditto the reason."
And during last Saturday's debate on News 13, as the moderator, I asked all of the candidates if they believed Maine's environmental regulations were too strict and needed to be weakened. LePage leaned into his microphone for emphasis and said that, not only were they too strict, they were "suffocating!"
So, again-- it seems that Libby Mitchell's ad is not really an attack at all. It's accurate! Ok, the graphics in the ad are a little over the top, but still-- Paul LePage and the GOP shouldn't be mad-- they should be thanking Libby Mitchell for spending her campaign money to outline his positions.
The candidates can have an honest debate over whether the lack of a clear solution for dealing with the nuclear waste and the tremendous start-up costs of building a nuclear plant (Mitchell's position), outweigh its emissions-free operation and the cheap energy it produces once up and running (LePage's position).
That's a fair policy debate.
But don't tell me calling Paul LePage "pro-nuclear" is an attack. That's his position! Voters can make up their own minds over who's right and who's wrong.
So why the GOP posturing?
Next example you're likely hearing about-- LePage says that if he becomes governor, the people of Maine should get used to having a governor who "tells Obama to go to hell." LePage is on video saying this, and on the video, you can hear the line drawing laughs and applause from his supporters, who love it when he says things like that.
Basically, here's how I read the "go to hell" line. LePage is saying that he believes the federal government is broken, so the current guy in charge of Washington better not try to tell a LePage-led Maine what to do, because they're sure as "hell" not going to follow him.
But here's the rub. The GOP is now acting indignant that this video is out there. The GOP put out a response: "This is yet another example of Libby Mitchell and her friends doing everything they can to distract Mainers from the real issues. Mitchell has spent more than 3 decades destroying our economy and raising our taxes, and she's going to try everything possible to keep Mainers from discussing her record."
In other words, the Democrats are once again going negative. How?... By wanting you to know that Paul LePage says he'll be a governor prepared to tell President Obama to "go to hell".
Ok-- except for one thing... That's exactly what he said!
So why doesn't the GOP put out a different response to all of this.
How about this: "Libby Mitchell and the Democrats want you to think Paul LePage would be a governor who would tell President Obama and the Democrats in Washington to 'go to hell' if they try to tell us what to do. Our response: You're damn right! Go Paul!!!"
Why don't they stand up and stand by his statement? Be proud of it. Revel in it. OWN IT! After all, most of the GOP base LOVES IT!
Instead, they put out a statement acting offended that the Democrats want people to see it..
Look, here's the deal. Libby Mitchell and the Democrats badly do want to get people to take a hard look at Paul LePage and his ideas, believing if they do, they'll be less likely to vote for him. They may be right. They may be wrong. But that's their strategy. They are trailing in the polls, and they need to try to make a move. And yes, they seem to be spending a lot more time talking about what Paul LePage thinks, and not nearly as much time talking about what Libby Mitchell thinks!!! That's totally a fair criticism, in my opinion.
But this idea that they're "attacking" LePage? When time after time what they're doing is "quoting" LePage?? And as far as I can tell, not out of context or inaccurately?
To me, the GOP response is not true outrage, but their own strategy. A counter-stroke to try to blunt any criticism and (effectively?) label Mitchell and the Democrats as desperate. And don't underestimate this fact-- it stirs up the conservative, GOP base to think of LePage as the man under attack-- as the victim.
Just don't tell me that it's true outrage from the party and the campaign.
And there's another point in all of this.
It's a golden rule of politics that you want your opponents talking about you and your issues, and not the other way around. Mitchell and the Democrats appear to be violating that rule in a big way with a little more than a month to go in this election. Which only reaffirms the view that LePage appears to be the guy to beat.
And I won't be offended if you quote me on any of this.
Mitchell and Moody BFFs?
The first live televised debate of the gubernatorial election is now in the books. For those who missed it, you can find it on our home page, wgme.com
. As the moderator, you always enter a debate with one main question-- Am I going to have to give the candidates a nudge forward or am I going to have to rein them in. (I know, it's hard to believe candidates would ever need to be urged to debate over their differences, but it does happen!) However, in Saturday's debate, that was answered early and often-- no nudging necessary!
I thought all five candidate came prepared. I also think it's clear that Eliot Cutler, one of the three independents in the race, came ready to go on the offensive first. He was sharply critical of Libby Mitchell (D) and Paul LePage (R) questioning specifics in their plans and trying to demonstrate he has a firmer command of details than they do, and trying to knock them down a few pegs. As the candidate who appears to be in third place, that seems like the expected and prudent strategy.
I'll leave it to you to decide if he scored points in the debate. But in my opinion, Cutler did prove, once again, that he has an immense command of the issues. But it's not his "smarts" that voters seem to question, from what I've seen and heard. Rather, they are trying to figure out something more basic-- do they like him? Anyone who's seen him in action knows he has what appears to be a towering intellect. But does he also have a towering ego? He needs to connect with voters in a way, it seems to me, he hasn't quite demonstrated yet.
In fact, the reality is, many people do tend to vote on "gut feelings" about who they like and connect with, and not just who they agree with. That's an astonishing thing if you think about it. The reality is that few of us will ever meet face-to-face with our top elected leaders, much less "hang out with them." So why don't more people set aside their personal reactions to a candidate, and go purely with the one who seems the most capable and whose views are most closely in line with their own? Simple: We're human. That's how we're wired. Gotta like a candidate to vote for him or her.
Ok, now to explain the title of this entry.
Prior to Saturday's debate, we'd already seen instances at other candidate forums, where Libby Mitchell and Shawn Moody seemed to get along very well. Libby Mitchell, especially, seems to go out of her way to offer "warm fuzzies" to Moody, the independent businessman with no prior political experience.
And Saturday, we saw this in full effect. Case in point, during the lightning round, I asked if the candidates believed that the total number of state workers has gone up, down or stayed about the same over the past 8 years. Cutler, Mitchell and Moody all said that they believe the number of state workers has gone down. (Which, it has, by most measures.) But Moody paused before answering, smiled, then looked to Mitchell (they happened to draw podiums next to each other), then said "down"-- as if they'd had this discussion before and that Mitchell had convinced him of his answer.
They then laughed and all but hugged!
Don't get me wrong. Nobody minds a light moment in a debate. In fact, truth be told, as a moderator, I deliberately try to give the candidates opportunities during things like the lightning round, to demonstrate not just their knowledge, but who they are as individuals. That's why I ask things like "Moxie: Wonderful beverage or too much like cough syrup?" as I did in the democratic primary debate this spring. (In fact, that question seemed to be the one people remembered most!) I don't really care if they drink Moxie, and no one really does! But we DO care who they are as people, how they handle themselves on the fly, and whether they have a sense of humor or seem stiff. (See my thoughts above on the importance of "liking" a candidate for further explanation of why I do this.)
Anyway, back to the moment between Mitchell and Moody. There are many explanations for what's going on, and I don't pretend to know which it is. Here are the possibilities. Mitchell and Moody genuinely are decent folks who like each other despite some disagreements. In fact, that may be true regardless of whether there's something deeper going on.
However, there are deeper possibilities.
Moody presents himself as a genuinely likable person, who created a successful auto-repair business, but with question marks about his readiness to lead as governor. It could be that Mitchell is making a strategic point of trying to grab some of that "likability" as a counterpoint to when she's forced to go more on the offensive/defensive when sparring with Cutler and LePage.
Also, Mitchell may feel that a strong Moody candidacy helps to weaken Cutler and LePage more than her own campaign. This is a bit murkier. Moody appears to be growing in popularity from the 5 % he was at in some of the early polls, but it's hard to see him rising much higher at this point beyond 10-12 %. And getting higher still will take some real momentum (and stumbles by others) that we don't seem to be fully seeing yet.
So it could also be that Mitchell feels that Moody may be ready/willing to drop out if he doesn't rise, and that she's trying to position herself to get his support, his votes and any momentum he may have as the "nice guy" of the race when he does. If this is the thinking in the Mitchell camp, it may be wishful thinking. I've seen or heard of no indication that Moody plans to drop. He's gone this far-- there are only five weeks or so to go-- why not see it through to the finish? And don't forget, even if he doesn't finish above fourth in this election, this is proving to be a pretty good marketing campaign for his "Moody Collision Centers" if nothing else! (Obviously, you've noticed that all of his campaign material has the same font, format and light blue coloring as his businesses!)
Here's another thought... Could Mitchell be ready to offer Moody something to drop and throw in his support? Who knows. And again, that's WILDLY speculative.
However, I'm merely reacting to the clear signs that Mitchell and Moody don't appear to be political rivals at all when they appear together, but rather people who share mutual respect and even camaraderie. Almost BFFs.
In a plurality election, where even a five point swing involving one campaign could lead to big shifts in everyone's numbers, it's worth wondering where all of this will lead. If anywhere.
Or maybe, it's as simple as this-- in what has all the makings of a particularly rough and tumble election, Libby Mitchell just appreciates there's at least one direction from which the swings and mud won't fly. Something any candidate would appreciate.
Two Things I've Learned About Paul LePage
I've come to two conclusions over the past 24 hours about Paul LePage... he would jump in traffic to save a member of his family... and he doesn't trust journalists.
No, I mean... he REALLY doesn't trust journalists. Not a one.
That's the best I can come up with to explain how he helped turn a relatively innocuous story about a tax problem he and his wife are dealing with into a multi-day explosion of news coverage. And make no mistake. The person most responsible for giving this story extra "oomph" appears to be Paul LePage, himself.
So, what's the deal here when it comes to all of this tax stuff, residency status and in-state tuition to Florida State for their kids? After multiple emails, phone calls and conversations today, here's what I've been able to piece together.
His wife wanted to move to Florida.
That's it. That's the heart of this big story. Of course, some of the details-- and more importantly as it turns out, LePage's efforts to explain or NOT explain those details-- are relevant. But everything makes sense when you understand Ann LePage, like many people in New England, likes the weather in Florida, got a home down there, and was beginning the process of moving there permanently.
Then something happened... her husband won the primary.
That's why we learned that the LePage's (and Mrs. LePage specifically) got in a little bit of tax trouble declaring primary residency in two states-- Maine and Florida. The truth is that Mrs. LePage didn't really err in declaring Florida as her primary residence. It appears the mistake happened when she forgot to cancel the homestead exemption on the home she owns (and shares with Paul) in Waterville, Maine.
Her aging and ailing mother is down in Florida and her kids were going to college there, so she got a home, got a Florida drivers license, declared primary residency and apparently tried to convince Paul to move there, too, in a year or two.
Then, like I said, LePage won the primary, so she essentially reversed course and moved back to Maine this summer, and re-established residency here. Does this mean the possible (likely?) future First Lady of Maine likes Florida better? Maybe. Maybe not. But who cares. She loves her husband and her family and supports his campaign.
But while all of that was happening, LePage's opponents were looking for dirt. (Before you get in a tizzy over that, it's called "opposition research" and pretty much every candidate and campaign of every party does it.) Then, apparently, one of LePage's opponents found out about the double-homestead exemption problem, and leaked it. This, also, happens all the time. A journalist with MaineTodayMedia confirmed the story and went with the story... and it took off from there.
Regardless of who leaked what, is the tax problem news? In a word, yes. Is it a huge deal, especially since there's no evidence Paul LePage, himself, was directly involved? Unless there's something we're missing, in a word, no.
And you can see now why Paul LePage got defensive. His wife made a mistake. From what I hear, she feels absolutely horrible about it. And the fact that she feels terrible, has him feeling terrible for her-- and that has him feeling (and acting) really, really, REALLY protective of her.
Ok, I get that. I think we all do.
But why the profanity, gruff dismissals, and evasive and sometimes contradictory answers when people legitimately ask for some clarity and try to tie up seemingly loose ends on all of this? I'm sorry-- this isn't Marden's where everyone does as you say and no one questions your words and commands. YOU'RE RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR! (By the way, my daughter and I shopped at the Scarborough Mardens the other day-- great deals on school supplies, cereal, an Ariel the Mermaid pillow and Gatorade.)
Here's my own personal example. I made it clear in my previous blog that I'm not among those who thinks there's some deep, dark secret behind this tax problem. However, I did attempt yesterday (like other journalists) to try to get clarification as to whether or not his kids had received in-state tuition rates in Florida, whether his wife's residency status was a factor, and whether that was now creating any problems that also might need to be addressed?
I got a scathing email in return. And no answers.
Now, in fairness, the person who sent that email later called me after I sent a scathing email in return. (I'm not sure email is such a good thing-- too easy to be discourteous.) And the conversation very quickly became friendly, lengthy and productive. I learned that at least one of their children did get in-state tuition for a time, but as far as I can piece together, it was not unfairly received. In fact, it appears the LePages very easily could have taken steps to get much more of a break for their kids at Florida State, and did not.
And now, I get to write these words-- barring something more, major and unforeseen in this story, I think we've heard just about enough.
But one question lingers on. What do we make of Paul LePage? He's appeared evasive at times, bullying at others in recent days. Even granting wide latitude to someone who appeared motivated by a desire to protect his wife, some elements of his conduct just don't seem okay.
Granted, for those who think the state needs someone who will almost literally-- let's be blunt-- kick ass and take names-- for them, he may appear even more heroic in all of this. But those people are going to vote for him anyway.
What about those who are undecided? Who could decide this election? Are they convinced by his conduct over the past couple of days that he's a cool hand at the tiller to steer the ship of state in a crisis? Maybe they are. Maybe they aren't.
I want to say at this point, I've met Paul LePage and have spoken with him at length. I think I'd be remiss in not mentioning that I found him candid and sharp, literally "a man with a plan" to fix what he believes is wrong with this state. Voters can decide if they like the man and the plan for themselves.
But here's my own unsolicited advice to any candidate... Answer questions. Politely, candidly and completely. Whether it's a journalist at a news conference or a Rotarian at a luncheon or even a heckler on the street.
Given the polls, and his big lead, LePage should expect his opponents to throw even more mud at him in coming weeks. Frankly, history shows it's likely their best and maybe only chance to catch him. This doesn't mean journalists need to be complicit in that. In fact, far from it! They need to check details, question the source and always offer the candidate attacked a full chance to respond. That's basic and essential stuff.
But when legitimate questions arise, those questions MUST BE ASKED. And remember, when the candidates answer, they're not just speaking to that one person with the notepad or microphone. He or she, in a very real way, is speaking to thousands at that moment.
They should behave accordingly... and answer the question.
LePage Leads in Polls... And in S*$* Bombs
Two things are very clear right now... 1) Paul LePage is tapping into a deep well of frustration in the status quo here in Maine in his bid to become governor-- a bid that could well propel him into the Blaine House... 2) Paul LePage is not used to being questioned-- period.
In case you haven't heard, LePage (R) holds a double-digit lead in the latest poll over his next closest rival, Libby Mitchell (D). The Public Policy Polling numbers have him up 43% to 29% with the three independents appearing to be far back. To state the obvious, that's a big lead with less than two months to go.
This means LePage's momentum from the Republican primary is picking up steam. He won that crowded primary impressively, even though he spent no money on TV ads and had only one staffer. It was the very definition of a grassroots campaign. A very unusual and impressive accomplishment.
But now, we're seeing more and more that one of LePage's greatest assets in the minds of many voters-- his ability to speak in a blunt, common sense, no-guff style-- can cut both ways. And sometimes, the wounds appear self-inflicted. In short, he appears to have a temper and doesn't appear to like answering questions that he doesn't like. I mean, who does. But you should sort of expect them when you're running for governor.
Case in point, the current flap over his wife's homestead tax exemption "error" in Florida. (I put "error" in quotes because that was the word he used to describe it.) To summarize-- his wife owns homes in both Maine and Florida. Mrs. LePage claimed BOTH homes as her primary residences to get a resident tax deduction in both states. That's a problem. It's common sense (and the law) that you can't live in two states as your primary residence
at once. LePage says his name is not on either property, and that his wife has already taken steps to correct the error by removing that "primary residence" status in Florida and paying back taxes, including in Maine-- which LePage says is less than $200.
End of story...
LePage insists he's answered this issue. That his wife is not running for governor, he is. That he's not going to talk about this anymore. And that reporters are taking cheap shots if they keep asking about it. And he got decidedly testy today when reporters DID ask him about it at news events he held today to unveil his jobs plan.
So is LePage right to ask reporters to just back off? Before you decide, keep reading...
At one of the events, a reporter asked what seems to be a very good question about all of this. She asked if LePage's daughters, who attended Florida State, qualified for in-state tuition because their mother had claimed Florida primary residency status? You see why this is a very fair question? If they qualified for (much cheaper!) in-state tuition because of an "error" in residency status, that could conceivably add up to a lot more than a couple of hundred bucks the LePages should pay back!
In the video
, you can see the reporter respectfully asking what appears to be the pertinent follow-up question, and you can see LePage essentially calling the question "bulls---" and then, in the video at least, he doesn't appear to answer it. Now, maybe he did answer it at some point. And maybe this is a total non-issue. But until we do get an answer, the question is not only fair, but important. (I'm emailing the campaign tonight to ask it again. I'll let you know what I hear.)
As for using an expletive, fine. Who among us doesn't swear on occasion, especially when exasperated? The only problem is-- he's at his own news conference with a podium, a room full of reporters and some supporters, and a ring of microphones around him. Candor is one thing. Self-control is another.
And by the way, I agree with those (including LePage) who say that this tax exemption thing is NOT the most important issue in this campaign. The candidates' ideas and plans for leading our state forward-- that's what voters/families/employers/employees/people care about most!
But we have to know if those who want to lead us are people of sound character, intellect and integrity. We have to know they follow the letter and, preferably, the spirit of the law. After all, how can they ask each and every one of us to pay our fair share of taxes if they have trouble doing just that?!?
(Timely Note: News 13 was the first to report in February that Libby Mitchell had a tax lien on property she and her husband owned in 1996 -- meaning they failed to pay property taxes on it in a timely way. We also reported that the issue was resolved and the taxes were paid that same year.)
So, here's the point. Paul LePage decided to run for governor. He's going to get a lot of questions-- some of them pointed, some of them not. If he thinks a question is unfair, he can say so. He can choose not to answer it-- (even though that likely means people will keep asking!)-- and people can make up their own minds about whether he's right to do so or not. He can explain why he's not answering it. He can choose to say it's not a fair question, but answer it anyway. He can claim or think it's an unfair question, when it's really not, but still answer it.
But HOW he answers questions also speaks volumes about his personality and character. He's got to realize that, right?
And it's not disrespectful or inappropriate to continue asking about this tax issue-- or any other legitimate issue that arises-- until all issues are resolved and all answers are given. That goes for every candidate.
And that's no bull.
LePage vs. Democrats: Schisms and "isms"
You've probably heard about the on-going flap between GOP gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage and the Maine Democratic Party-- in particular, Coordinated Campaign Director, Arden Manning. (For those unfamiliar, Manning is essentially the second-ranking member of the Maine Democratic Party staff, behind Executive Director, Mary Erin Casale.)
LePage accuses democrats, and Manning in particular, of making bones over his Franco-American heritage. Manning calls that "a lie", points out LePage can't provide proof, and is demanding an apology. LePage is ignoring him.
LePage also recently made reference to the fact that his democratic opponent, Libby Mitchell, celebrated her 70th birthday last month-- essentially saying that she's at an age where she's earned the right to put her feet up and relax, and he's hoping to help her do just that in November-- by defeating her.
So-- the campaign is now a-twitter (internet pun intended) over allegations of ethnic slurs and ageism.
As for the ageism slant, Mitchell took a page from Ronald Reagan and said she won't hold "LePage's youth (he's 61) and inexperience against him." She also said that "Paul can't open his mouth without putting his foot in it." LePage since has offered an apology during a radio interview. In short, this "ageism" thing appears to be a pretty minor flap that doesn't seem to have a lot of legs in this campaign. (Although, if it comes up again... we'll see...)
However, the second issue here DOES have legs-- because it involves a bunch of other issues rolled into one-- LePage's Franco-American heritage, his social views, democratic and GOP campaign strategies, etc.
So, did Manning and the democrats attack LePage's heritage?
In short, there is no evidence that Manning, or any other democrat, claimed that LePage would be an unfit governor because of his Franco-American, Catholic heritage. That would be reprehensible and politically stupid. While reprehensible and stupid things seem to happen frequently in politics, I just don't think Manning and the democrats are 1) that dumb and 2) really believe that. After all, 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud-- arguably the second ranking democrat in the state behind the governor-- is Franco-American and Catholic.
So, where does this come from? As best as I can tell, here's where. Democrats are actively trying to paint LePage as extremist. In particular, they want him talking about social value issues that they believe will show him to be out of step with the average, socially moderate Maine voter. For example, they badly want to paint him as a "creationist"-- someone who believes in the literal word of the Bible-- that God created Adam and Eve-- and that, therefore, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution that we are descended from ape-like primates and shrew-like mammals before that, is bunk.
LePage hasn't said much about all of this in the days and hours since this flap began, but it appears from some recent statements that he's made that LePage believes democrats are slighting his Catholicism when they question his conservative beliefs. And when they attack his religious views, he seems to believe, by extension, they're attacking his Franco-American heritage. I could be wrong, but that appears to be the source of LePage's allegations, and the source of this flap.
So, where does LePage stand on "creationism"?
LePage now says he'd never heard of the word before he started getting asked about it in the primaries. That sounds a little disingenuous, since he answered with a clear "yes" on at least two occasions in the primaries when asked if he believed creationism should be included in classrooms. Is he now saying he didn't understand the question?
At any rate, he's now attempting to clarify his views. He recently said in an MBPN radio interview that he isn't pushing for "creationism in classrooms", that he believes in God, but also believes that man was descended "from monkeys". In other words, he now says he accepts evolution and rejects efforts to try to marginalize his social views. If that's his message, and he succeeds at getting it out, he could blunt a key democratic strategy this fall.
Because democrats will continue to try to get him talking about social issues, believing the more he talks, the more likely he'll say something that will offend someone or appear "out of step." For his part, he and his team believe his "plain talk" is part of his charm and a key difference he brings to the governor's race, and his supporters whole-heartedly agree.
Is he more conservative than the average Maine voter? Based on a large sampling of public opinion research in recent years in Maine, and LePage's own views, the answer appears to be a pretty clear "yes". But is he "out of step"? He doesn't think so. Democrats do. They'll continue to attack him on social issues and try to get him talking about them. He'll continue to try to resist talking about social issues, and stick to fiscal ones-- counter-claiming that it's the democrats who are out of touch on things like jobs, the economy and spending priorities.
And THAT is the key battleground of this campaign.... which is why this flap is getting so heated right now. Will Mitchell and the democrats win the "war of words" and make this about social issues, or will LePage and the GOP win the "war of words" and make this about fiscal ones?
Don't expect this "war" to die out. Only intensify between now and November.
PS: So where do the independents in this race fit in all of this? Well, Shawn Moody is new to politics and it's not clear if he will get involved in this in any way at all-- and just stick to his own message that it's time for "a regular guy to run things in Augusta." As for Eliot Cutler, he's much more politically savvy, and so is his team. Expect them to nudge this flap along if given the chance. They'll agree with the democrats when they call LePage out of step on social issues, and agree with LePage when he calls democrats out of step on fiscal issues! He's betting his entire candidacy on the idea that BOTH of those themes will stick.
Paul LePage is the republican nominee.
Libby Mitchell is the democratic nominee.
And independents like Eliot Cutler and Shawn Moody (who surprised people today with a new ad featuring "Survivor Bob" Crowley) feel they've also won.
First off, LePage and Mitchell are far apart on the political spectrum. It's in that gaping divide that our independent candidates will try to stake their claim. And that would seem to be wide and fertile ground.
But already, LePage is pushing back, saying he's not some "right wing wacko", but a fiscal conservative running on a simple and seemingly very powerful message of "get our house in order." And Mitchell is pushing back, too-- telling supporters and reporters that she won't be painted into a far left corner-- that she'll talk about job creation and "getting people back to work" with equal gusto as the other candidates.
Bottom line-- both of last night's victorious primary candidates have an important task in their immediate future. They must keep their bases happy-- the ones who propelled them to victories last night-- while also fighting hard to not be painted as extremists. If they fail at that task, we could have another one of those years where someone like Eliot Cutler plays the role of Angus King or Jim Longley.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves...
Paul LePage pulled off the virtually unthinkable last night. He won with almost no traditional campaign organization, almost no money and no TV advertising until the final two weeks. That's shocking. I think a lot of people will see it as a potential "game changer." I don't know about you, but I think it's more likely a solitary phenomenon, rather than a sudden trend. The question is-- how did he do it? It seems clear from talking to a number of people today, that it was less about him finding the GOP primary voters-- and much more about those voters finding him.
LePage has a hugely compelling life story-- raised in poverty, running away at age 11, homeless, getting through school, going on to college, and rising to be a mayor and a leader of one of Maine's best known companies, Marden's. That life story is an important factor in his primary victory. Primary voters felt that he "walked the walk", and not just "talked the talk." But LePage also had a message that resonated with those voters. A message a sizable number of GOP primary voters went looking to find. Thus, LePage answered a key question-- how angry are voters (or at least a sizable and growing core of voters) about the direction of their government? Answer: Very! LePage was the primary candidate who best speaks to that ire, and holds out the promise of a no-nonsense, get-tough solution. That resonated. GOP primary voters found him, liked him and voted for him.
But we shouldn't overstate this. The primary election is not the general election. Many more voters, representing the "great middle of Maine", have yet to weigh in. It's likely those voters, and not the core GOP or democratic base, who will decide the fall election. LePage could very well prove any pundits wrong again and have much broader support than any imagine. But if he is portrayed as a far-right social conservative in November-- history says that won't play well in Maine. Expect democrats and independents like Eliot Cutler to spare no effort to try to place him in that corner. He must fight that, without offending his base, if he wants to win.
Now, on to Libby Mitchell. If LePage's win was about a strong "throw the bums out" vein of thought in the GOP electorate, then what do we make of Libby Mitchell's win? Well, it's clear the same mentality is not in play to anywhere near the same extent amongst democrats. Mitchell's a long-time public servant, serving in state politics since the mid-1970s. Democratic voters clearly valued-- and not disparaged-- that experience. She's already made history once-- the first woman in US history to serve as both a state's House Speaker and Senate President. She'd make Maine history as our first woman governor, if elected.
But she has some delicate political calculus to make. Does she appease the progressive and union base and keep them energized by talking about expanding health care, about compassionate social services and about workers rights-- and risk being labeled (fairly or unfairly) by her opponents as a "job killer"? Or does she run toward the middle and talk jobs, jobs, jobs and back it up with business-friendly initiatives in her stump speeches-- and risk alienating those who helped her to victory last night? One thing's clear, Libby Mitchell is an able and astute politician who believes she can effectively articulate both messages. However, in the current climate, that would be a neat trick indeed.
The winner this fall, it appears at this moment, could emerge with less than 40 percent of the vote. If that's the case, LePage or Mitchell potentially could win with just their base. But if they give up too much ground to Cutler or the newcomer Moody (he of the Moody's Collision Repair chain) then that could be a recipe for another independent governor. (And there is a lesser known third independent in the race-- Kevin Scott.)
Last thought on the primary as we look to the fall-- it should be a very compelling race.
Dr. Do-It-All... Pickus Runs for Senate
Owen Pickus must have a deep fear of boredom.
Pickus first made a name for himself in Maine over the past couple of decades building a very successful medical practice. He also proved adept at real estate investing. His success and self-made wealth meant he could easily decide to never work another day in his life and enjoy some time on the golf course or by the pool and just enjoy the good life.
Instead, he decided to continue his medical practice... and get a law degree.
Now he's Dr. Owen Pickus, Esq, And it's not just a passing interest. He's already been involved in at least one high profile legal case in Maine, representing the family of a man shot by police.
So, it should not come as a shock that Pickus has now decided that his calendar is not full enough. If all goes well for him, he will be known as Sen. Dr. Owen Pickus, Esq.
This week, Pickus officially qualified as a Republican candidate for Maine Senate District 4, which includes his home area of coastal Biddeford, along with Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. He will take on Sen. Nancy Sullivan, a well-known and seemingly popular and plugged-in three-term Democrat also from Biddeford.
I talked to Pickus earlier today, and he admits that if all goes according to his plan, he's going to bring new meaning to the word "busy". When I asked if voters should rightly worry that, if elected, he's going to be TOO busy to be effective or dedicate the necessary time to the people's business, he had an answer.
"When you need something done, you should turn to the busy person-- the person who's already proven he can get things done," Pickus said, "not someone who's not busy!"
Pickus has been involved in Republican politics in Maine for decades. In fact, he was a close supporter and friend of former Gov. Jock McKernan. And Pickus tells me that it was a personal call from McKernan himself recently, urging him to run for State Senate, that convinced him to run.
It should be noted that Pickus has a high hill to climb. Sullivan is not only a popular local pol in Biddeford-- Biddeford is also almost (but not quite) as reliably Democratic as Portland. And the rest of the district is by no means clear Republican turf, even Kennebunkport (home to Walker's Point). But there is a recent precedent for a Republican from Biddeford Pool winning over Biddeford voters. Retired four-star Gen. Wally Nutting was elected mayor a few years back, so it can happen.
Regardless of whether he wins or not, I think Pickus's candidacy-- and the fact that Jock McKernan personally called to help get him into the race-- speaks to how much Republicans are targeting this year as their best chance in awhile to take at least one chamber of the state legislature. Will that happen?... Who knows? Let's just say they say things like that EVERY YEAR, with decidedly limited results. But this year, some Republican leaders even talk about taking BOTH chambers. That seems optimistic, but clearly THEY think it's possible and are acting accordingly. And with candidates like Pickus, they say they feel good about their chances.
And one thing's for sure... there's little risk this election cycle will be boring.
And a state senate side-note... Well-known rocker and Grammy-award nominee Cindy Bullens ALMOST became a Democratic senate candidate from Cumberland. Actually, for a short time, she WAS a candidate. She sent a letter recently to her many friends and supporters saying she had given it a lot of thought and was jumping into the race. But only about a week later, she sent another letter around saying she'd given it a lot more thought and decided it just wasn't the best thing for her to do at this time for herself or the party, and called it a "gut decision." She offered to return the money, or void the check, to anyone who donated to the short-lived "Cindy Bullens for State Senate" campaign.
No Green?... No Problem
The deadline has now come and gone for gubernatorial hopefuls in Maine to gather up their 2,000 signatures and make the June 8th primary.
Seven Republicans made it (Steve Abbott, Bill Beardley, Matt Jacobson, Paul LePage, Peter Mills, Les Otten and Bruce Poliquin) and five Democrats (Pat McGowan, Libby Mitchell, John Richardson, Steve Rowe and Rosa Scarcelli) No surprises here.
The only minor surprise of the day was Lynne Williams, the Bar Harbor Green-Independent candidate didn't make it.
And that's news.
Not because Williams had much of a shot. History says she would have drawn between 6 to 10 percent of the vote in the fall. That's what Jonathan Carter and Pat LaMarche got every election cycle over the past two decades as they alternated their candidacies.
But therein lies the news.
This is the first Maine gubernatorial election since 1990 without someone calling themselves a Green Party candidate on the ballot. (Technically, Pat LaMarche was "unenrolled" and not an official Green candidate in 1998, since the party had lost its official status in 1996. But she called herself the Green candidate that year. And when she got 6.8% of the vote, the Greens regained official party status.)
The other news is that the Greens likely will NOT lose their official status this time even though they failed to field an official candidate. Up until now, failing to get a candidate would have meant failing to get the 5% of the statewide vote needed to secure official party status until the next time around.
But in 2009, the law quietly changed. Now, all the Greens need to do to maintain their official "third party" status in Maine, is to get 10,000 registered Greens to vote in November. It doesn't matter who they vote for-- as long as they vote. And since there are roughly 34,000 enrolled Green-Independents in Maine and traditionally about three-quarters of them vote (the highest of any official party), that won't be a problem.
As a Green party activist told me tonight: "If we still needed to get to 5% to keep our status, we would have made sure we had a candidate!"
So why did the democratically-controlled Maine state legislature finally make it easier for the Greens to stay a party after previous efforts to change this law failed?
Well, a couple of reasons come to mind. First and foremost, after years of essentially trying to marginalize (i.e., "crush") the Greens in Maine, the Greens simply proved they weren't going to go away. Democrats then realized that this meant the Greens were going to field a gubernatorial candidate every time to get their 5% and maintain their status. And connecting the next dot, Democrats realized that having a Green on the gubernatorial ballot year after year probably doesn't help them at all! Think about it. Someone voting Green is someone much more likely to vote Democratic than Republican in the absence of a Green Party candidate. Therefore, having a Green on the ballot hurts the Democrat! So the Democrats removed the pressure from Greens to feel they had to field a candidate-- and it seems to have worked.
Another factor-- Green candidates historically run as "Clean Election" publicly-funded candidates. In a year when money is tight in the state budget, having one less candidate on the public dime is likely not a bad thing-- not in terms of the democratic process, of course, but in terms of money.
So again, there's no Green gubernatorial candidate this year and that will change the dynamics come November.
Let's go down that road a bit, shall we? If Green gubernatorial candidates historically get 6-10%, let's simply take the median and assume Lynne Williams would have fielded 8% of the vote this fall if she had qualified for the ballot.
Who will those 8% vote for now?
Well, some of them likely won't vote for anyone! They're true-blue... err... true-green Green Party voters and they'll decide to sit it out. Let's theorize that's 2%. Next, let's say of the remaining 6%, half decide to go with a different, left-leaning, viable independent. Eliot Cutler seems to fit that bill. So, in my thought exercise, Eliot Cutler just got a 3% boost this fall due to the absence of a Green candidate. That leaves 3% that I'm going to theorize will go to the Democratic nominee, with only a negligible number going to the Republican nominee. So, the absence of a Green candidate also just helped the Democrat either close or widen the gap against the Republican by 3%.
Obviously, this is one person (me) with a (historically-based and well thought out but still wildly conjectural) theory on what today's developments will mean for the general election. But the basic premise stands, no Green candidate this fall will change the dynamics-- and will break the Greens streak of candidates.
As for the Greens, they believe NOT having a gubernatorial candidate will allow them to focus time, money, energy and other resources on smaller state, county and local races that they believe they can win. The Greens officially qualified 18 legislative candidates, 15 for the House and 3 for the Senate-- with 4 of those House candidates squaring off in two Green Party primaries.
As Kermit the Frog once famously said: "It's not easy being green", but without having to get 5% in every statewide election, it just got a little easier.
LePage, Scarcelli Turn in Signatures
The field of gubernatorial candidates is really starting to take shape. I know, we've all heard about the legion of candidates-- a couple of dozen or so-- who have declared themselves as candidates. But we're already starting to see clear signs that at least a few of them are going to drop by the wayside well short of the June 8th primary.The key date is March 15th. That's the day that candidates must turn in 2000 certified signatures to legally qualify as a candidate.
A couple of candidates have already made a point of turning in their signatures well in advance of that deadline. Republican Paul LePage, the Mayor of Waterville and GM of Marden's, turned his in late last month-- the first candidate to do so. And today, businesswoman Rosa Scarcelli became the first Democrat to do so.
Both campaigns made a point of saying how quickly and efficiently they gathered signatures from all corners of Maine. And you know what? It actually is an achievement when you think about it. It shows a pretty high level of organizational effort and it's a good way to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
I'm not sure who will fall into that latter category as yet... But I think we should expect to see at least five candidates clear that hurdle on the Democratic side... (alphabetically) Pat McGowan, Libby Mitchell, John Richardson, Steve Rowe and Rosa Scarcelli. The only question mark appears to be former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion. Last I heard, she's still in it and trying. She has only 10 more days.
On the Republican side, Les Otten wrote on his campaign website blog
that he hoped to get there by yesterday, March 4. We didn't get an announcement today that he'd made it, but there's no doubt really that he will before the deadline. In fact, other than J. Martin Vachon, from Mariaville, the declared Republicans are expected to make it. That would leave a field of seven for the primary... (alphabetically) Steve Abbott, Bill Beardsley, Matt Jacobson, Paul LePage, Peter Mills, Les Otten and Bruce Poliquin.
Makes for a wide open primary in both campaigns. Think about it. On the Republican side, there are plausible scenarios where the nominee wins with 20 %, or perhaps even less, of the vote! I personally don't think it will dip that low. But I also believe it mathematically would be an achievement for the eventual nominee to clear 30 %, especially given the lack of a clear front-runner.
The Democratic campaign could be almost as wide open. I do think the winner in that primary will have a higher percentage than the corresponding Republican, but that's simply a numbers game-- fewer candidates competing. I see the Dem. winner getting to 30-35 %... but a majority vote (50 %) is out of the question... and 40 % appears to be a real stretch.
So mark your calendars for 5pm, Monday, March 15th, and let the dust settle a bit... but not for long. It's a fast sprint to June 8th from there.
(By the way-- gubernatorial candidates aren't the only ones legally obligated to gather petition signatures. It applies to all candidates in Maine for county, state or federal office.)
Cutler Next to Launch TV Ads
While most of the political world is watching Massachusetts tonight and tomorrow-- with the incredibly tight US Senate Race for the seat held by Ted Kennedy for half a century-- anyone watching TV today also may have noticed something else-- a new TV ad for another Maine gubernatorial candidate.
That ad is from Eliot Cutler.
Interestingly, Cutler is a rarity among the 20 or so candidates in the race... He doesn't have a primary opponent. He's running as an independent.
But he does have something in common with the only other candidate to run a TV ad so far-- Les Otten. They're both very wealthy and can afford TV ads even if they're not raising a lot of money. I'm not saying they're NOT raising money from other people. I'm saying they appear able to afford to run an entire campaign from their own bank accounts if they so choose.
For those of you who don't know, Cutler is one of those incredibly successful people who, nonetheless, has not really made much of a splash on the public consciousness-- even though he's been doing some very interesting and important things.
As a young man, he served Sen. Edmund Muskie, and then was a high-ranking energy official in the Carter White House. But then he left public service and went into private law practice and business. To say he was successful would be a gross understatement. His law firm became one of the largest environmental law firms in the country and he seemed to have a Midas touch when it came to business investment.
Of course, what does this have to do with serving as governor, or winning an election to be governor (two very different things)? Well, that depends on what voters think. Do they think a guy who did pretty big things in government AND in business, on a national scale, could be a potentially effective chief executive for Maine? Maybe. Maybe not. Still, you can't blame voters for being curious.
But first, will those voters even know who the heck he is? Well, he's already taken two steps to make sure he'll be around for this entire campaign. First, he's running as an independent. To use a football analogy since it is playoff time, he essentially gets a first round 'bye'. In other words, he'll skip the bruising primary (where he likely would have been a Democrat in a crowded field) and he guarantees that he'll still be running this November when it really counts. And two, he's going up pretty early with TV ads, especially early for a candidate without a primary to worry about, to make sure as many people as possible start to figure out who he is.
I've also had conversations already with many people in many campaigns. And it's interesting how Cutler is someone all of them seem to talk about, ask about and wonder about-- seemingly concerned (possibly) and curious (definitely) about what role and impact Cutler's candidacy will have on the campaign as a whole. In short, they see him as a wild card. Clearly, Cutler sees himself differently. As someone who plans to win.
In the meantime, tomorrow (Tuesday) is a huge day for this campaign. It's the day candidates report their latest campaign finance numbers. Should be very interesting....
Abbott Resigns... Runs
Steve Abbott is one of the most influential political people in Maine that most Mainers have never heard of. And that's where things are getting interesting.
Abbott just resigned as Sen. Collins Chief of Staff after 12 years. He also managed her successful (one could almost say wildly successful) re-election campaigns. Given that, he's had enormous influence and clout in Maine politics for a dozen years, and was respected in political circles even before that.
But here's why I say it's going to get interesting... He's resigning to run for governor with an announcement expected next Tuesday. I don't know that personally from him. But it's not a secret. In fact, if you're reading this blog, it's because you're interested in Maine politics, so it's a good bet that none of this is news to you!
(Ok, I'm going to keep writing anyway.)
But here's the interesting part? Abbott obviously has enormous clout in the Republican party, not just in Maine, but nationally. That's right. Nationally. When Collins won re-election in 2008 in the midst of the anti-Bush, anti-Wall Street Democratic uprising-- when Republicans were losing almost everywhere-- Abbott, along with Collins of course, was the star of the show on Capitol Hill for weeks after.
But say the name "Steve Abbott" to 100 people at the Maine Mall or Kittery Trading Post or Oxford Plains Speedway or even the Cross Office Building at the State House complex, and see how many people give you a blank stare in return. The point is, being a key guy behind the scenes, by definition, means you're behind the scenes.
Why will voters vote for him if they don't know him?
Ok, let me take a stab at answering that. Because it seems a sure bet he's going to assemble (already has started assembling) a potent team of organizers and fund-raisers who will get a campaign organization up and running in every county quickly, efficiently and effectively. That campaign organization will then translate into an apparatus to get his image and message out to likely Republican voters in every county. (Update: I'm hearing people like Peter Vigue and Peter Cianchette, of Cianbro fame, are both on board.)
Will he win? Don't know. But he instantly has to be viewed as a major player in the Republican primary, even with an almost complete lack of name recognition.
Here's my early word to the wise. And please, this is no slight to any of the other candidates in the Republican primary, but I'm fascinated by the match-up of Steve Abbott and Les Otten. Abbott is the ultimate party strategist now putting his years of experience to work on his own campaign, but with virtually no public face to build on. Otten is the millionaire businessman with decent name recognition who's dreamed of political office for years, but has never been involved beyond the occasional political function and task force membership. Abbott basically can put a world-class political campaign together in his sleep. Otten is trying hard to build one, but has no experience doing it and from what I've heard, has not sought advice from key strategists who've run other Republican campaigns in recent years. What he has done is hire the very experienced Christian Potholm of Bowdoin College, and already proven his willingness to spend big to cover up for any potential grass-roots organizational deficiencies. His decision to go up with television ads the week after Thanksgiving has been the talk-about decision of the early campaign so far. Some think it potentially brilliant, others pure vanity and foolishness-- all agree, it's bold.
In other words, the two candidates could not be more different in terms of style, background and approach. Neither one may win the primary, but none of the other candidates appear able to match Abbott's party and organizational clout, and none of the other candidates appear able to match Otten's war chest and early name recognition-- both of which he's trying to leverage to smash his opponents early and often.
One other note, I'm interested to see if Susan Collins endorses Abbott in the primary. To date, she has remained conspicuously neutral in state political primaries and issues. But I wouldn't be surprised if she breaks that self-imposed rule in this case.
McGOWAN ENTERS RACE
Pat McGowan is no longer Maine's Conservation Commissioner. Instead, he's a candidate for governor.
McGowan resigned over the weekend-- a decision to run that's by no means a surprise. The Hallowell democrat has been talking about running, and has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes, for months.
His formal entry in the race, though, does make a crowded field even more so. More than 20 candidates are likely in the race. It's the sort of free-for-all we usually get every eight years when the incumbent has to hit the road due to term limits. (We haven't had a one-term governor since Jim Longley in the '70s... and he was the rare politician who said when he was first running that he wouldn't run again... and stuck to his promise.)
McGowan is a very well-liked and able politician. He served for a decade in the Maine Legislature from 1980 to 1990, before making an unsuccessful run for Maine's 2nd District seat in Congress in 1990-- and ran and lost again in 1992.
The question is, can he emerge as a front-runner against other candidates with very similar positions in the Democratic Primary, and very similar backgrounds? For example, he's been a member of the Baldacci administration. So has John Richardson. He's been a long-time legislative leader. So has Richardson, Libby Mitchell and Steve Rowe.
On the other hand, every other candidate in the race, Democrat, Republican and Independent, has similar problems-- how to break through and stand out?-- and many of them are less well known and less connected than McGowan.
McGowan plans to make his formal announcement at a series of campaign kick-off events tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 5) from Fort Kent to Portland.
As for his job as Conservation Commissioner, Elizabeth "Eliza" Townsend of Portland-- McGowan's former deputy-- was just sworn in as Interim Commissioner.
9/11... on 12/25? Lessons From A Near Miss
The president just released a statement today from Hawaii where he's spending time over the holidays with his family on the attempted terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas day. As you've likely heard, the suspect tried to light some sort of explosive material on his body as the Amsterdam to Detroit flight started to land. The passengers and crew took him down.
Crisis averted, thank God.
Only what have we learned? That those who hate us won't stop? Yes. That our systems are still vulnerable to some degree-- and likely will be unless we want to live in an almost police-state level of security? Yes and yes.
But can we fix some of those vulnerabilities? Let's hope so!
Even though this guy's own father warned authorities he may be a threat and he bought a ticket in cash with no luggage (an international flight, mind you!), he still wasn't on a watch list. And, apparently, he had some type of explosives and a way to try to light them on his person!!!!
Here are some of the highlights from the president's new statement:
1) Ordering a "thorough review not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system";
2) Reviewing "screening policies, technologies and procedures";
3) Directing his "national security team to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country... We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle, and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us."
All of this sounds like people responsible for these sorts of things are on the hot seat today. But honestly, when are they not on the hot seat? Their job is to get it right EVERY TIME. Because even one failure likely will mean innocent people die.
In this case, we don't know enough to know if someone messed up and missed putting someone on a watch list and if people at the airport in Amsterdam missed someone with explosives! Maybe... Or maybe it was the process, the system, the technology?
Let's hope, whatever went wrong... this is a chance to get it right. With no one dying.
A splendid Christmas gift indeed.
simply strengthenour defenses -- we will continue to use every element of our national power todisrupt, to dismantle, and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us --whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywherewhere they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.
Breaking News: 1st Ad of 2010 Governors Race
I just confirmed it. In fact, I just saw the ad! The first political ad of the 2010 Gubernatorial Race will hit the airwaves tomorrow. That's right, a 2010 political ad... in 2009! As far as we can tell, this is the earliest political ad in a governor's race in Maine in living memory-- perhaps the earliest ever.
The ad comes from Republican Les Otten, the well-known and wealthy businessman who is largely (at least at this point) self-financing his campaign.
It's a 30 second ad. It's theme is "jobs." In fact, as I said, I just watched it. The word "jobs" or "job" is said no less than 7 times in that 30 seconds. That's once every 4.3 seconds.
Will it work??? Well, my opinion is, it's risky. We just started the holiday season and it could be 1) lost in the retail shuffle, 2) fail to stick in the memory banks of people more focused on digesting turkey and buying gift cards and 3) create a backlash from people just not ready for political ads for next year after we just ended a hugely active "off-year" election cycle highlighted by Question 1: Same-Sex Marriage.
On the other hand, it could help him stand out in a race that has about two dozen people in it to date (including D's, R's, Greens and Independents), with more sure to join before all is said and done! If he can tilt up his name recognition in a lasting way even just a little, without creating any lasting backlash, it could well be worth it.
I'll have a full report on this development tomorrow. But wanted you to know tonight.
Obama and Afghanistan
The President just finished his 35 minute speech from West Point entitled "The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan" about his plans to send another 30,000 or so troops to Afghanistan.
One thing is certain... This is now his war. To win, lose or draw. (And, as we've learned too many times, a "draw" in this context is only a lesser defeat.) I'm not saying the decision is right or wrong, or destined to succeed or doomed to fail. It's just a fact... Tonight, Pres. Obama fully took the title "Commander in Chief" and forever entwined the destiny of his administration with the destiny of this war.
I received a copy of the speech-- as did every media member on the White House list, must be thousands of us-- at 7:46 tonight. It's nine pages long.
On page six, he addressed the historical white elephant in the room: "There are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam." There, he said it. Vietnam. And the "those" he's talking about, namely, the critics who compare all of this to Vietnam, are largely members of his own party. Especially the young people, who came out in droves for him on election day and before as volunteers, who believed he would get America OUT of the wars in Iraq AND Afghanistan. As a group, they are not happy with this.
So, he's taking that head on... arguing that "unlike Vietnam" America has a "broad coalition of 43 nations" recognizing the conflict (although mostly NOT sending troops). And his biggest argument for why this is not Vietnam, unlike in that conflict that we jumped into, "the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border."
And in fairness, then-candidate Barack Obama made it clear that he viewed the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan differently. The former he opposed. The latter he supported-- and now owns.
As the president also said tonight, "none of this will be easy."
Scontras Explores Congressional Run
Dean Scontras is officially entering the race for Maine's 1st District Congressional seat-- or at least, he's officially launching an exploratory committee.
In an email to friends and supporters today, Scontras said that he's ready to lead a fight to take the seat currently held by Rep. Chellie Pingress (D), a candidate that he labels a "career politician."
You'll likely recall that Scontras finished second in the Republican primary in 2008, to Charlie Summers, who went on to lose to Pingree. Summers is now the Vice Chair of the state Republican Party and is not expected to run again.
Scontras is a conservative businessman from York County who was new to politics when he ran in 2008. Since then, he has stayed active and kept his name out there, serving as occasional fill-in radio host on 560 WGAN and by starting "The Republican Project" website.
Scontras is currently asking supporters for "pledges of financial support to measure the strength of a potential Scontras 2010 congressional campaign." He's seeking pledges from $10 to $2400 (the federal individual limit).
Scontras's candidacy could be viewed as a barometer of whether Maine Republicans will swing to the right, or stay in the center, in 2010. Generally, Republicans in Maine run "to the center" in order to get elected or are viewed as moderates in the first place, like Sens. Snowe and Collins. The only conservative to win in recent memory is Jim Longley, Jr. in the 1st District race in 1994, as part of Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" GOP landslide that was as much a midterm backlash to Bill Clinton's first term as anything. (And remember one of the big issues that led to that backlash? Health care reform!). And Longley lost his first re-election bid to Tom Allen in 1996.
Basically, conservative candidates don't tend to do well in the Blue State of Maine. For example, Chandler Woodcock won the GOP nomination for governor in 2006 with the help of a ground-swell of support from the state's conservatives. And yet, in a year in which incumbent John Baldacci had low approval ratings and was viewed as potentially vulnerable, Woodcock did poorly.
Scontras has absolutely no intention of "running to the center." That's not who he is, and that's a big part of what he's staking his candidacy on. For example, in his Exploratory Committee email, he declares: "Under a new president, our country is rapidly moving on a path towards socialism.... For the sake of our family and the millions of families concerned about the future of our country, conservative Americans cannot sit by and allow our future to disappear without a fight."
In fact, Scontras's "no apologies" brand of conservativism and anti-establishment message rubbed some the wrong way in the primary in 2008... in his own party! Among the people he blasted as a career politician who wasn't conservative enough, was his fellow GOP hopeful, Summers!
But in that sense, he presents a clear choice. We don't know yet who his primary opponents will be, but if he wins, it will be a sure sign that conservatives in Maine are fired up, engaged and gaining some support from disaffected moderates. Many conservatives already see 2010 shaping up as a repeat of 1994 (see above) where we see a seismic shift in the political landscape.
If that's the case, Scontras is the candidate who's ready to do some shaking.
Drawing a Crowd
Talking too early and too often about the 2010 race for governor has two big drawbacks... it feels "too early" and people will think it's "too often."
And yet, here we go. Today, another candidate officially entered the race. He is current Economic and Community Development Commissioner (and former House Speaker) John Richardson of Brunswick. (By the way, now that he's officially a democratic candidate, he is resigning from his cabinet-level post in the Baldacci administration.)
First, one thing you didn't know about John Richardson. If I remember right, he was a member of the powerful DeMatha High School (DC area) basketball team of the early '70s that featured future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley. John was a heck of an athlete in his younger years. (Then again, weren't we all!)
I said my peace last week about my take on his chances in 2010... noting his low name recognition, but high level of connection to several influential unions. Given that, I think he has as good a chance as anyone in the primary at this point. Which is to say, it's WAY too early to predict. (See paragraph one.)
I will comment on one thing, however. One of the main slogans he rolled out today on the banner behind him is this: "Let's get the job done." The key word, of course, in this is "job". It doesn't take a genius or a political focus group to tell you that "jobs", "creating jobs", "saving jobs", "finding jobs" and "jobs, jobs, jobs" will be a major focus of this campaign. Clever (or at least not ignoring the obvious) to just put the word right in his slogan.
As part of his announcement today in Brunswick he said: "I have created jobs in this state and know how to do it... " Clearly, he is ready to single out his role as head of the state's top "job creating" department over the past couple of years as a key part of his resume. I will point out, however, that this can be a double-edged sword. Voters could perceive this as a negative if they blame him-- to whatever degree-- for the net loss of jobs over the past couple of years.
The bottom line here is that John Richardson-- and other leading candidates who come with recent, high-ranking government posts on their resumes (Libby Mitchell as current Senate President and Steve Rowe as the last Attorney General to name two)-- will rise or fall on how much people buy into the idea that "experience matters." If, on the contrary, voters are in a "throw the bums out" sort of mood-- that experience could prove to be dead weight. Personally, I'm never one to discount experience. After all, the more you do something-- from paleontology to parallel parking-- the better you get at it.
But if things go well under your watch, you get credit. If things go poorly, you get blame. That's life.
As for Richardson, he seems ready to take this head on, stating today that "this is no time for amateurs." That's smart on his part. Try to put the burnish on his "experience" label. Many of his opponents will be trying to do the opposite.
Case in point, another candidate, Matt Jacobson, a republican, decided to comment on Richardson's announcement. Usually, opponents ignore their competitors at this stage in the game-- especially from opposing parties. But Jacobson is trying to own the "job creation" title himself, as CEO of Maine & Company, a public-private business attraction venture. (Of course, the same arguments that apply to Richardson could apply to Jacobson... He's been in charge of a "job creation" entity at a time of job *losses*... As I said, could be a double-edged sword, just too early to say...)
Jacobson's quote today about Richardson: "They got us in to this economic mess- why would anyone think that more of the same will make it better?"
Again, the "jobs" message matters in this campaign. The "experience" message could prove to be a mixed bag.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. After all, it's too early to be talking about stuff like this too often...
Now on to 2010
I spent some time this past week blowing out a lot of the emails I'd saved over the past few months from the 2009 election season. Goodbye dueling news releases from "Yes on 1" and "No on 1". So long TABOR and anti-TABOR emails each proclaiming "Get the Facts Straight About Colorado Under TABOR."
I blew them all out this past week. And something interesting happened.
My email box has been filling up quickly again... with a whole new set of political emails... this time, for Maine's 2010 race for governor. I received at least one email over the past week from the Matt Jacobson for Governor campaign (Republican)-- the Rosa Scarcelli for Governor campaign (Democrat)-- the Steve Rowe for Governor campaign (Democrat)-- and the Lynne Williams for Governor campaign (Green Party).
The campaigns didn't bother to send much for the past couple of months. The attention was elsewhere and they knew it. But it's clear that as of right now, it's "game on" for the 2010 race for governor. I'm only surprised that all of the other candidates didn't start hitting the "send" button as well the moment the 2009 voting ended.
(WARNING: If you've had enough politics for the moment... STOP READING AND COME BACK LATER! If you want to read some very early analysis of the 2010 gubernatorial race... read on.)
It's clear that this race is wide open. Maine is a left-leaning state, but the economy likely will continue to be bad well into 2010 with high unemployment and many voters are likely to lay this at the feet of the party currently in charge in Augusta-- the democrats-- leveling that playing field.
On the democratic side, Elizabeth "Libby" Mitchell-- current Senate President-- and Steve Rowe-- the former House Speaker and Maine Attorney General-- have two built-in advantages. They're better known than their competitors and they've been running for awhile already. Especially Rowe, who's been running for almost a year now already. However, I don't think we should overstate that "name recognition" advantage. Neither one is THAT well known.
Other candidates on the democratic side include another former House Speaker John Richardson, Rosa Scarcelli (a political newcomer with very low name recognition but with some well-known people on her team already in Dennis Bailey and Patsy Wiggins), and a small host of others either in the race or considering it, including former Biddeford mayor Donna Dion, state rep. Dawn Hill and conservation commissioner Pat McGowan.
In such a wide open race, the person who wins in the June primary could well be the one who has the advantage among traditional democratic constituencies, such as the unions. With that in mind, John Richardson-- a lawyer who's worked with many unions, including the police union-- emerges as an intriguing candidate-- but with low name recognition. For someone like Rosa Scarcelli to overcome Mitchell, Rowe and Richardson-- people with substantial political contacts in the party-- she must emerge as the "exciting, fresh voice" candidate. It's possible-- but difficult. Without a built-in constituency or "power base" to draw on, it's a very long climb.
On the republican side, it's also wide open... None of the candidates has huge name recognition. Among the early leaders in that category are Les Otten, the businessman, and Peter Mills, state senator and former gubernatorial candidate. But neither one has name recognition numbers that knock your socks off, or scare the competition. And Otten has the disadvantage in the primary of NOT being someone with deep party connections-- although, that seems to be less important in the republican primary, because republicans don't really have the equivalent to the influence of the unions.
One interesting name on the republican side to watch for is Steve Abbott. Abbott is the Chief of Staff for Sen. Susan Collins who also ran her 2008 campaign. That campaign got national attention as the one best example of a republican keeping his/her head above water, and even swimming beautifully, in the face of the Obama Tidal Wave. Abbott does not have high name recognition among regular voters at all, but he is very well known and respected among party leaders and organizers, and that counts for something in a wide open primary.
I'm hearing that Abbott may announce his candidacy early next year.
That doesn't mean that someone like Matt Jacobson or Bruce Poliquin couldn't catch fire and win the republican primary. Like I said, it's wide open-- and anything can happen. And there are A LOT of candidates. The winner could end up having 30 percent (or less?!?) of the primary vote.
All of which leads me back to my central point...
I'm keeping my in-box as empty as possible for the onslaught that's already begun.
Gay Marriage: A Message to the "Third Camp"
Many of you are in what I'll call the "third camp."
You likely have opinions, but not passionate feelings about gay marriage. It doesn't much affect you (and you want to keep it that way). Some of you in this camp voted "No on 1"-- more of you likely voted "Yes on 1". For you, you just want this unusually intense "off-year" election to politely end. Election day is over after all. Time to move on.
But those in the "other camps" aren't going to let that happen. In the camp of same-sex marriage supporters, there's a flood of what can best be described as a boiling and roiling combination of outrage and grief. That flood, pouring in from all corners of the country, shows no signs of subsiding.
Their message... This fight isn't over yet. Not in Maine. Not anywhere. "And one day, very soon, we win will."
And make no mistake, those in the "Stand for Marriage camp", fighting to uphold the traditional image and role of marriage are not about to walk away from the results of Maine's vote either. They hail it as a bellwether-- a sign that all of this talk about America moving in fits and starts ever-closer toward broader acceptance of gays and lesbians, in general, and same-sex marriage, specifically-- is premature, and maybe flat out wrong.
Brian Brown, Executive Director of the National Organization for Marriage, points out that the Yes on 1 side was outspent 2-to-1, but still won in a "deep New England state."His exact quote: "If we can win in Maine, we can win anywhere."
Already, this fight is shifting back out to places like California (where the issue is far from dead despite the results of Prop. 8 last year) and in Iowa, where the courts recently legalized gay marriage and where residents already see signs
that Maine's vote is helping to spur a fight over whether to change that state's constitution to block gay marriage.
In short, traditional marriage supporters see hard won momentum in Maine that they plan to take elsewhere. Gay marriage supporters know that-- only intensifying their outrage and grief-- and resolve to fight.
And all the while, as this pitched war rolls on to other battlefields, Maine is left to wonder "what next here?" It's almost certain that the strongly democratic Maine legislature will push for some sort of change to Maine's domestic partnership law (which offers limited rights to unmarried couples, including gay couples) or may even begin work on some sort of "civil union" legislation.
So no, the fight isn't over here yet either.
Bad news for the tens of thousands of you in Maine who voted on
Question 1, but still consider yourself an outsider to this fight.
The "third camp" is no longer a refuge for people who don't want to have to deal with this issue. This is one issue that's not going away.
Election Day... 1 am (aka Wednesday)
It's now very early Wednesday morning, and predictions of a long night on Question 1 were spot on. Around 30 minutes ago, Yes on 1 declared victory. No on 1 isn't ready to give up. Neither position is a surprise. Yes is up by a seemingly insurmountable 20,000+ votes. It's late. They think the key precincts are in. Game over. In fact, just in the last few minutes, News 13 and the AP called the race for Yes on 1.
No on 1 is staring at a big hole, but after so many weeks of fighting for this, why give up until every vote has been counted? They're going to comb through the results making sure every absentee ballot is in the mix (and there were close to 120,000 of them) and they'll check to make sure there are no irregularities. In short, when 100 % of precincts are in, they'll still pour over all of its before giving up. From both sides, this fight is too big to give up without triple-checking everything.
Thoughts... This is a huge blow to same-sex marriage supporters around the country. Not just in Maine. Around the country. They thought (or at least were hopeful) they'd have their first victory at the ballot box. At this point, it doesn't look that way. We saw video from the No on 1 campaign HQ early this morning as the news sank in, of people hugging each other and crying. For them, this is the bitterest of pills to swallow.
For Yes on 1, this is equally huge. They were fearful that traditional marriage would take a hit here in Maine. For them, this is nothing less than upholding centuries of accepted views on what it means to be married... i.e. one man, one woman.
It will be interesting to see where the debate goes from here. Clearly, we have not heard the last of this issue. At the state level, the federal level and, perhaps, at the ballot box.
We're expecting an 11 am news conference on the steps of Portland's City Hall later today from No on 1. We'll see what they say then.
Election Day... 4 pm
Election turnout is reported as "very steady" throughout southern and central Maine. In fact, we have some breaking news of sorts on the election front.
The Secretary of State yesterday estimated voter turnout at around 35 %. Today, he's upping that estimate-- by a lot! He now says turnout could hit 50 %, pushing us closer to the all-time turnout record for an off-year election of 51 % set in 2003 (the year of the casino vote). I can't recall ever hearing the Secretary of State up the turnout prediction that dramatically from election eve to election day. I know that one factor is the weather-- it's perfect for turnout. But it seems he underestimated how much people are energized by this vote, largely by Question 1: Same-sex marriage.
Since there are something like one million registered voters in Maine, the math is pretty easy. If turnout is around 50 %, you can assume about half a million people are voting. Now here's the really interesting part. The state sent out about 120,000 absentee ballots-- a record-- and most of them have already been returned. That means up to 1/4th of the people voting in this election, may have voted BEFORE TODAY! That's an amazing figure.
Now-- a word about turnout. We've talked to organizers in both the Yes on 1 and No on 1 campaigns, and both agree on one thing-- high turnout could tend to favor a no vote. The theory is that Maine is a left-leaning state and high turnout means more people who aren't really super-engaged on this issue will vote, and could tend to vote no more often than yes. We'll see if that proves to be a factor. Another theory, though, is that many blue-collar workers in Maine are liberal on fiscal issues-- but more conservative on social issues, especially in the northern half of the state. In other words, many factors are in play.
But if the theory is that high voter turnout favors a No on 1 vote, it could tend to favor a no vote on Q2 and Q4 as well. This one sort of reminds me of that 2003 vote. Remember people rejected the casino, but approved the racino that year. Sort of the "casino light" idea that was a little under the radar. This time, there's a lot of focus on Q4: TABOR. Maybe if people say no to that (and I'm not sure they will), then Q2 could be viewed as the "TABOR light" vote? Just throwing it out there. But based on the fact that the Yes on 2 campaign had virtually no money to run a campaign, and the Yes on 4 campaign is working against a strong "no" vote from just a few years ago, history would appear to be against them.
Ok-- more updates throughout the day... Should be a fascinating and potentially long night.
Oh... One more note. Apparently Maine's vote on Q1 is among the top three things being "twittered" nationally today! The nation is watching.
Years that end in odd numbers aren't supposed to be a big deal when it comes to elections.
Maine forgot-- once again-- to get that memo.
We have seven statewide referendum questions to decide, and even the least talked-about and least controversial ones can have a substantial impact.
And so, there's a chance we could challenge the state record for off-year election turnout. That record, by the way, was set in 2003 when 51.3 % of eligible voters turned out
-- more than half a million people. That was the year we voted on that whole tax reform plan that required the state to pay 55 % of education funding.... Of course, that wasn't the big draw. Question 3 that year was the tribal casino plan for Sanford. Question 2 was the racino bill. Millions of dollars were spent that year-- voters turned out in huge numbers.
And that brings us to 2009. Millions of dollars have been spent once again. Interest is very high. Even the weather is (mostly) cooperating for good turnout.
Obviously, one question is getting the most attention nationally, and here in Maine.
Question 1: Do you want to repeal same-sex marriage?
Polls indicate this one is very close. VERY
close... The latest poll gives the Yes on 1 side a slight edge. But political analysts (me among them) believe that No on 1 may have a slight GOTV (get out the vote) edge. If that's the case, this could REALLY come down to the wire. Let's say the most recent poll is accurate and Yes on 1 has a 3-4 point edge. And now, let's say that No on 1 has a slight "ground game" edge, to the tune of 3-4 points.
You see where I'm going with this... It could be a very long night.
The other ones also look close. Questions 2 and 4 appear to be closely linked-- those are the efforts to cut Maine's excise tax and create a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, respectively. Interestingly, the "yes" votes in both of these campaigns got the issues on the ballot, but failed to raise a lot of cash to run strong, high-profile campaigns complete with heavy ad buys. Even still, those two votes could be close-- although, maybe not as close as Q1.
The only questions that appear to be slam dunks (based on past history on the issues and recent polls) appear to be Q6-- the transportation bond question-- and Q5-- medical marijuana. They should pass by substantial margins, especially Q6.
That leaves Q3 and Q7. Q7 is anybody's guess (which is my way of saying, I haven't got a clue). It is the constitutional amendment that would give local town clerks more time to certify petitions for future referendum campaigns. It's going to come down to whether people are in a "Sure. Why not?"
frame of mind by the time they get to the bottom of the ballot. Or in a "I'm not sure what this does, but changing the state constitution sounds like a big deal so I better vote no"
frame of mind.
Q3 is the school district consolidation question-- asking if you want to repeal the state's two-year old law that forces many (especially smaller) communities across Maine to merge school districts with their neighbors as a way to try to save some cash (estimated at more than $30M. statewide per year). A lot of people really don't like this law. There have been some very awkward moments on the road to stream-lined local government... such as Freeport, Pownal and Durham's so-far failed efforts to find a plan everyone likes. But the other side (those urging a No vote) say the law is (mostly) working and answer criticism with a "Hey, give it a chance" response.
The only thing I'll add on Q3 is to say that there's one big part of this whole law and referendum question that I think people are still getting a little mixed up. It's not a school consolidation law-- it's a school district
consolidation law. In other words, the law doesn't ask towns to merge any schools, just the central district offices as a way to cut out layers of bureaucracy. Again, I'm not saying it's working flawlessly-- it's not. I'm just saying that's something people are misinterpreting.
Well-- all that's left now is to vote. Keep it right here-- at wgme.com and on News 13 throughout election evening. I'll be updating my blog during the night and communicating with anyone who wants to log in on our page on Facebook periodically throughout the evening as well.
And, of course, we'll be running updates-- whether as scrolling lines at the bottom of the screen or live cut-ins-- throughout the evening on Ch. 13, with live coverage on News 13 on Fox at 10pm and News 13 at 11.
Swastikas, Signs and Politics
I had a conversation about six weeks ago with someone in the newsroom. We were talking about the referendum elections and I made what I thought was a pretty easy prediction.
I said that at some point close to November 3rd, someone would vandalize signs from one side or the other in the Question 1 campaign, and the other side would quickly call a news conference to say that this was an example of the hatred and mean-spirited antics coming from the other side. I predicted the other side then would say it had nothing to do with it, and call for all parties to denounce such activities in any form.
Know why that was an easy prediction? It seems to happen almost every election cycle!
Well, I was close on my prediction... There was no news conference called, but all the other elements have happened.
Someone drew a series of crosses, equal signs and swastikas on some Vote Yes on 1 signs this week-- and an impressive number of signs-- dozens across several communities. Stupid, mean stuff. In fact, it's a hate crime, in my opinion. The Yes on 1 campaign quickly put out a statement decrying the hatred and mean-spirited antics from the Vote No on 1 campaign. The Vote No on 1 campaign issued a statement saying some of its signs had been vandalized in foul ways as well, that it had nothing to do with any of it, and they called on all parties to denounce such activities in all forms.
Here's my point... To those who vandalized these signs, let me be plain. You're an idiot. In fact, you're a group of idiots, because given the fact that this happened in a number of places around the area at roughly the same time, it had to be a small group effort.
To everyone else, take a step back and think for a moment and ask yourself a question... Do you really think this was an orchestrated campaign tactic from someone high up in the No on 1 campaign?
My opinion? It's absurd.
I'll put it to you this way... And please read this through to the end before you react. If you were to say to me that you had concrete evidence that one of the campaigns had done this on purpose as a campaign tactic, and you put a gun to my head (please don't) and forced me to guess which side did it-- it's more logical to guess it was the Yes on 1 campaign vandalizing their own signs from a pure political strategy standpoint. Now, I'm not saying I really think that happened!!! As I said, I blame a group of likely young, likely male idiots having a go at messing with people in a vile way. And this is important-- it's even likely this could prove to be low-level volunteers for the No on 1 campaign (clearly they're passionate and committed to the cause-- in a twisted, hateful way), but it stretches credulity to the breaking point to believe these people have actual decision-making power in the No on 1 campaign. They're political vigilantes who should be prosecuted.
Again, try to assess this situation in terms of pure political strategy in a hyper-tense and likely hyper-close election in its final days. From that vantage point, there's no credible way to believe the organizers of the No on 1 campaign would orchestrate something so dumb. It doesn't take a masters degree in Political Science to realize such vandalism would backfire and prove counterproductive. They would have to be stupid to think otherwise, and no one managing either campaign is stupid.
In fact, I even see the statement made by the Yes on 1 campaign blaming their opposition after the vandalism happened in strategic terms. I don't believe for a second that Scott Fish, Marc Mutty and the other leaders in the Yes on 1 campaign really believe that Jesse Connolly and the other leaders in the No on 1 campaign had anything to do with this. They're smart and know that their counterparts are smart as well.
So why put out a statement fanning the flames? Because, in my opinion, they believe it serves a political purpose. The statement doesn't speak to people "in the middle." I highly doubt undecided voters (the few left at this point) will be swayed by any of this vandalism tripe. Instead, the Yes on 1 statement, I believe, is designed to speak to their base. It's a way to rally their core of support in the waning days of the election as a building block to their GOTV (get out the vote) effort for election day. Fire up your base! That's an incredibly important tactic at this stage in the game. I firmly believe that is the real purpose behind Yes on 1's statement on the swastikas-- not an actual belief that No on 1 strategists were really behind it.
Because, you know what-- they weren't. As I said, look for the small group of young idiots with Sharpie and/or paint stains on their fingers and stupid, fixed grins on their faces.
That's my take. I dare you to prove me wrong. And I dare you to see through this garbage and focus on the real question at stake in this particular campaign. Should gay people be allowed to get married in Maine?
Block out all the other nonsense in these final days before the election, answer that question for yourself, then vote your conscience on November 3rd.
Olympia Snowe... Democrat?
Ok, I don't really think Sen. Snowe is going to become a democrat, nor am I implying that she should. But check out the latest poll numbers
on her job approval rating in Maine. First of all, it shows she's still popular. This latest poll asked people to identify if they think she's doing a good job or not.
56 % Approve
31 % Disapprove
13 % Not sure (Which seems like a very high number for someone who's so well known and been in office for this long. Hard to believe there are that many people without a clearly formed opinion. But, there you go...)
The poll was conducted by "Public Policy Polling" out of North Carolina. It sampled more than 1100 Mainers identifying themselves as "likely voters" and it has a 2.9 % margin of error. It's relevant to note this pollster tends to work with democrats. I'm not sure that affects these results, but it's good to know when assessing.
The numbers show that Olympia Snowe remains among the most popular senators in America. But here's the real twist in this poll. The pollsters asked participants to identify if they're democrat or republican. And here's where things get very interesting... Check this out...Democrats70 % Approve
17 % Disapprove
13 % Not SureRepublicans45 % Approve
45 % Disapprove
10 % Not SureIn other words, Senator Snowe could very well be the only major elected leader in America, maybe the only elected leader period, who is much more popular with the opposition party, than her own party!
Think about that... That's stunning.
The poll also asked if people felt she should switch parties. Interestingly, only about one third of Maine democrats and one third of republicans thought she should. The pollster, Dean Debnam
at Public Policy Polling went on to raise the rhetorical question about whether or not she will face a conservative primary challenger in 2012 (assuming she's running again-- no reason to think she's not-- but still it's an assumption), and whether or not she could face the same sort of dynamic that led Arlen Specter to switch parties in PA.
I think I can answer both questions... Yes, she probably will face a primary challenger. She has almost every time in the past, although they've tended to be very minor candidates with no name recognition who mounted no real challenge. This time, it could be a more serious challenger, although it's still hard to imagine that she'll face a serious primary threat . (Although, her party popularity in this latest poll does give one pause.)
As for switching parties, no way. Ridiculous thought. First of all, I don't think she'd do it with the primary motivator being political survival, which is what Specter did. If she were to switch, it would be more along the lines of what Jim Jeffords did in Vermont, for ideological reasons. But even then, no way.
The most likely scenario is that she will face a stronger-than-usual primary challenger in 2012 but she will still prevail. And then she will be re-elected. Again, democrats and independents seem to love her, even if her own partisans are suddenly torn.
When History Calls... Part 2
I now have an answer to a question I raised near the end of yesterday's blog. (If you haven't read that yet-- I suggest scrolling down and reading through that first... Don't worry-- I'll wait...)
Yesterday, Olympia Snowe dominated national and local news with her lone GOP vote for Health Care Reform out of the Senate Finance Committee. And I briefly mused over whether Susan Collins-- also a moderate, independent Senator by any fair measure against her colleagues-- would have negotiated and voted exactly the same way if she was the one on that committee instead of Olympia.
Well, like I said, we have our answer now... "No. She would not have." (More on that in a moment.)
But I also speculated over whether she would have played a similar role... i.e. the moderate power broker wielding disproportionate influence over the process and the end product as Democrats fight desperately for even a flicker of the word "bipartisanship". We also have an answer to that today. "Yes. She would have."
OK. To put all of that together, here's what she says in a nutshell. She praises Sen. Snowe for her work and calls the bill Snowe voted for yesterday the best one yet (of the 5 now that have come out of committees in the Senate and the House). But still, she doesn't like it, indicating strongly (without coming right out and saying it) that she wouldn't have voted for it in committee and won't vote for it in its present form on the Senate floor in the weeks ahead. But she also makes an important pronouncement. She does favor health care reform-- calls the status quo "unacceptable"-- and says she has high hopes Congress will get there, but just doesn't believe they've gotten there yet.
That's (potentially) pretty big news on the health care reform front.
Alright, let me get out of the way now. I just gave you the CliffsNotes version of what she said, and as I learned in high school, relying on those will only get you a B, maybe a B+.
To give you a shot at getting an A, here is the statement she put out today in its entirety:
SENATOR COLLINS RELEASES STATEMENT ON
SENATE HEALTH CARE REFORM DEBATE
Washington, D.C. - As the U.S. Senate moves forward in the health care reform debate, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) today released this statement:
"There simply is no question that our nation's health care system requires substantial reform. The status quo of soaring health care costs, families struggling, millions uninsured, and health care provider shortages is unacceptable. Maine families and small businesses are paying ever higher premiums, increased deductibles and greater co-pays.
"Due, in large measure, to the efforts of Senator Olympia Snowe, who has worked tirelessly, the legislation passed by the Senate Finance Committee represents a substantial improvement over the costly and flawed alternative approved by the Senate Health Committee as well as the House bills.
"Nevertheless, the Senate Finance Committee's bill falls short of the goal of providing access to more affordable health care for all Americans. The goal of health care reform must be to rein in costs and provide consumers with more affordable choices. Yet, many individuals and families would be forced to pay more for their health care under the Finance Committee bill, and they would have fewer choices. Our health care reform efforts should give Americans more, not fewer, choices of affordable coverage options.
"This bill also could lead to onerous financial penalties for small businesses that are already struggling to provide affordable health insurance to their employees. As structured, the bill actually could discourage small businesses from adding more jobs.
"I am troubled that the legislation would cut nearly $500 billion from Medicare, which provides care for our oldest Americans and our most vulnerable citizens. These cuts would adversely affect the ability of Maine's hospitals and other health care providers to provide essential services to Medicare patients. Medicare, which is so critically important to our nation's seniors, is already in financial trouble. It should not be the piggy bank for new spending programs when revenues are needed to shore up the current program.
"Finally, I am disappointed that the Finance Committee did not focus more on cost containment, which should have been one of the most important goals of this bill. For example, the legislation contains no meaningful medical liability reforms to reduce frivolous lawsuits and reduce the costly practice of defensive medicine. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that medical liability reform could save $54 billion in health care costs over the next decade. And the bill should do more to reform the health care delivery system in ways that would curb costs and improve the quality of care.
"I share the goal of passing responsible health care reform and, working with members on both sides of the aisle who share these concerns, I am hopeful that many improvements will continue to be made to produce a bill that can achieve bipartisan support. Our goal should be legislation that protects affordable health care choices, safeguards Medicare, and reduces costs to the consumer and the taxpayer especially at a time when we simply cannot afford to pay more."
When History Calls...
Well, one thing you cannot deny no matter what side of the aisle you are on... Senator Olympia Snowe is the nation's most independent Senator. (With Maine's own Susan Collins likely second.... but that's a story for another day.)
Today, Snowe ended the speculation. After declining to give hints even to her own party leaders and the White House about how she'd vote before today, she voted "Aye" on the Senate Finance Committee's health reform plan.
The vote: 14 to 9 in favor.
Democrats: 13 to 0
Republicans: 1 to 9
And when she took the mic today during her turn to speak, Washington listened. "Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. But when history calls, history calls." She said that the status quo has failed, bringing us to this crossroads, with the situation "growing worse, not better."
Is she doing the right thing? Is she making the situation better and not worse? That's for lobbyists to argue, pundits to debate, and history to decide. But one thing is clear-- she strongly believes she's doing the right thing, even in the face of withering pressure and criticism.
That criticism is certainly not coming from Senate Democratic leaders, nor from the White House. They're heaping praise on her even as they breathe sighs of relief. But on the left, liberals berate her for, in their view, watering down their health care reform. Remember, so far, five committee reports have been approved-- two in the Senate and three in the House-- and soon, all must be reconciled and blended together. And only one does not have the so-called "public option" government-run health insurance plan: The Senate Finance version. And one senator more than any made that happen... Senator Snowe. The left is miffed.
She's also drawing fire from the right. Conservatives are calling her a sell-out for siding with the Democrats at all, especially on an issue of such magnitude. There has been talk for weeks about possible party retribution for a "yes" vote, such as denying her the important Senior GOP seat on the Senate Commerce Committee.
But GOP leaders are still reaching out to her. Already, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is indicating Sen. Snowe may be the only Republican at the negotiating table when the two Senate reform bills are reconciled. Republicans either walk away completely and just throw stones, or they try to still have a voice in this debate. That voice, for better or worse from their perspective, is Olympia Snowe.
And I've raised this issue before-- but I'll touch on it again. Will this hurt Senator Snowe here in Maine? Quick answer-- not a chance. The Democrats who vote for her in this state (and there are many) will have no reason to change after this vote. And the critical independent masses who make up the middle, ditto. And I'd be shocked if we hear one word of real criticism from a prominent GOP leader here in Maine. She and Senator Collins are so far above any other GOP luminaries in Maine in terms of political clout and electoral power, the idea is laughable. And Senator Collins has praised her for her independent stance on this issue, even if it's still unclear if they fully agree on this issue. (I suspect Sen. Collins would have played a similar role if she was the one on the Senate Finance Committee, although it makes for interesting speculation to wonder if she would have negotiated and voted in exactly the same way...)
So, history has called, although the bell has far from sounded its final note on this one...
TED SORENSEN: The Interview
"Ask not what your country can do for you-- ask what you can do for your country..."
It ranks as one of the most recognizable speeches-- or at least a line from a speech-- in our nation's history. We all know John Kennedy said those words on January 20, 1961 at his inaugural address. But who wrote those words?
Perhaps only Ted Sorensen knows. Sorensen, now 81, has said that those exact words were Kennedy's own, and not written by him. But in recent interviews, including with me this week, he's had a coy, two word answer to the question: "Which lines were yours and which ones were Kennedy's?" His answer: "Ask not!"
Sorensen was a few months shy of his 32nd birthday on that January day. As most of you know, Sorensen was the son of a Nebraska Attorney General who became JFK's personal confidante, advisor and ghostwriter while Kennedy was still a senator. In the White House, some considered Sorensen almost the "Deputy President" during those Camelot years. (By the way, Sorensen told me he hates the "Camelot" reference.... The inference being that somehow who they were and what they were doing was mythical. He considers things like the Bay of Pigs all too real for that kind of talk. He has a point...)
Sorensen was in town for the past couple of days, speaking at an event in Freeport organized by the Maine Credit Union League. I sat down with him for about 45 minutes to talk to him about the JFK years, his early support of Obama and the passing of Ted Kennedy. Fascinating stuff. The guy sat "On the Edge of History"-- a phrase he recently used as the subtitle to his memoirs. As I'm sure you know, he's an unabashed liberal-- sharply derided by the right, but lionized by the left. Much like the Kennedy's themselves.
Sorensen had some political ambitions of his own. He tried to run for U.S. Senator from New York in 1970, after Bobby Kennedy's assassination-- and lost badly in the Democratic primary. He was appointed by President Carter to be CIA director, but the nomination was withdrawn amid what he admits was painful controversy thanks to what proved to be unfounded rumors about him being a draft dodger and the like... He told me, as it turned out, he was just as happy he didn't get the job considering the turmoil the CIA was in during the Carter presidency.
Talking to Sorensen, it's clear his speech is slowed and more deliberate since his stroke. But he remains sharp, and a fascinating person to interview. I asked him about the death of Ted Kennedy. I didn't have a chance to include this in the story that aired at 5:30-- so I'll share it now. He said that Teddy wasn't as intellectual as JFK; he wasn't as passionate as RFK; but he was more patient with the give and take of senate negotiations, and therefore, much more effective as a senator. He also said he believes the "Kennedy Legacy" will live on, although he believes it's unfair (and unlikely) to expect another Kennedy to fill the void. He believes the legacy will live because a lot of like-minded people share those ideals. Of course, a lot of people DON'T share those ideals. But the point is made that for those who DO share those ideals, the Kennedy's remain a potent symbol not yet relegated purely to history.
At any rate, I did my best to do what countless interviewers tried to do before me-- get Sorensen to admit how much of JFK's famous words, and even ideas, (even including those in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Profiles of Courage") were largely the product of Sorensen, not Kennedy. He wouldn't go there.
And after all, why would he. His ties to Kennedy remain the one thing that defined most of his life-- to his great benefit. And he admits, while he had a long and varied career after 1963, including having a successful international law practice, that one set of words will be uttered over and over again upon his death: "Ted Sorensen was John F. Kennedy's chief speechwriter". He adds, given how highly history ranks many of JFK's speeches, he says that's not a bad way to be remembered.
"Pressure and Political Pain"
Well, it's happened. Olympia Snowe did exactly what she said she would do, and voted against a public option in today's important vote in the Senate Finance Committee. Also as she predicted, not a single republican voted for it. In fact, 5 democrats voted no as well, and the measure went down to defeat 15-8.
So is the public option going from the emergency room to the morgue? Well, unless something dramatically changes in the Senate, and soon, it sure looks that way.
In the immediate aftermath of that vote, I received two very different reactions in two very different emails from two very different groups. First, you may have heard of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. They're the Washington based progressive group that's been behind those political ads running lately, featuring the Brunswick woman urging Sen. Snowe to "stand with us and not insurance companies" and support a public option... Well, they put out a statement targeting Olympia Snowe and Montana moderate democrat, Max Baucus: "These senators just voted against what their own constituents want -- and voted with corporate interests that have given them millions. Enough! Baucus and Snowe need to feel political pain right now -- and be forced to answer to their constituents in advance of future votes.... These two senators are out of step with their constituents and deserve pressure and political pain right now. This is the time to fight." (Emphasis theirs.)
Now, the group sent this statement in an email blast that hit (according to them) about 200,000 people tonight. They're asking for donations to put what they call "accountability ads" on the air. They say they'll split whatever donations they receive between Montana and Maine.
Now, on the other hand, I also received an email about an hour later from a group on the opposite end of the political spectrum called the "Campaign for Responsible Health Reform." This Maine group had a couple of quotes in it, including this one from Doug Newman, identified as the owner of Newman Concrete Services in Richmond: "By opposing a public option in today's Senate Finance
Committee votes, Senator Snowe showed she has the strength and courage to do
what is right for the people
of Maine and all Americans. While some believe
government-run health care is the solution
to our nation's health care problems, Senator Snowe should be applauded for
opposing the public option, which would destroy employer-sponsored health
coverage and eventually lead to a total government takeover of our health
OK... Obviously, this is a deeply politicized and polarizing issue, and these two completely different reactions offer more proof to that point. What will happen next? What sort of reform will emerge in the weeks ahead? Is the public option truly dead? Will Sen. Snowe really feel "political pain" because of all of this?
Well, I don't have the answers to any of those things. But I'll venture a guess on two of them. The public option, at least in its present form, looks dead. Perhaps Sen. Snowe's plan to create a "triggered" public option will pop back up, whereby the public option would only kick in if the private sector insurance companies fail to meet certain new benchmarks for cost, quality and access. But there's been a decidedly tepid response to that, especially from House democrats.
I also have no doubt that Sen. Snowe is already feeling some political pain on this. I did a satellite interview with her at the end of last week, and I think it's only fair to mention that myself and several of my colleagues, including technical people behind the scenes here at the station who facilitated the interview, all believed that she looked worn and tired-- unusually so. It could have been just a bad day, but I suspect strongly this has been a source of incredible pressure for her. But as for feeling "political pain" in the sense that her constituents will turn on her-- history has shown that she is among the most popular senators in America, and that likely will remain the case. After the Iraq War votes, there was a real effort to tag her with some of the national negativity swirling around the war back in her last reelection in 2006. It didn't work.
It would be surprising if any outside group can put any real pain of that sort on her. But, one side is making this promise-- they're going to try.
The Resignation of Michael Heath
Two of my enduring images of Michael Heath go back more than a decade.
Michael Heath stands on a stage before a podium... microphones and lights and the eyes of the state all focused on him. Maine has just rejected so-called "gay rights" with 52 percent of the vote. Michael Heath is triumphant. He, more than anyone, was the face and voice of the victorious opposition. Within weeks, he's offered a high-profile job in Washington DC with a national family-focused political action group. His star is never brighter.
Just months later, Heath, once again, is in the spotlight... This time, denying charges that he misused Maine Christian Civic League funds, the group he served as its high-profile Executive Director. His accusers?... Three of his own board members, including the Finance Committee chairwoman. Gone is the job offer in DC. Gone is the sense that Heath is a man on the rise. Gone is at least some (possibly much) of his credibility, even though he ends up winning this bruising internal battle. The three board members quit. Heath stays. An audit finds "questionable accounting", but no outright wrongdoing. He lives to fight another day. And fight he does.
This week, the 48-year-old Heath resigned as the man in charge of the Maine Family Policy Council-- the new name for the Christian Civic League of Maine. It's no secret that organizers of the League, including Heath, decided to change the name a couple of years ago, in large part, to try to carve out a new beginning and shake off what had become a very polarizing image for the organization. Sad and unfortunate, supporters believed, for an organization that had
stood in the forefront of Christian-based political action in Maine for more than a
century. But the fact was, just the name "Christian Civic League" had come to carry a stigma of controversy.
Just as the name, "Michael Heath", does, too.
I talked to Heath today. He says all the right things, saying what an honor it was to serve an organization and causes he cared about for 20 years. That he just felt it was time to go and find new challenges as a consultant in Maine (or anywhere else someone will pay for his advice or organizing skills). But he also admits the obvious. It's odd for him to quit right in the middle of Maine's same-sex marriage debate, building to the "People's Veto" referendum just six weeks from today. He admits he's quitting, at least in part, because he doesn't appear to be wanted by those on his own side.
The fact is, that while he still has a solid base of support among some on the Christian Right in Maine, he's not very trusted or respected by many of the Great Middle in Maine-- the all-important swing voters. And frankly, he doesn't appear to be very well liked, trusted or respected by many in the state legislature-- his target audience for most of his career when he wasn't leading a referendum campaign.
So, how did he fall so far from that day in February 1998? Many would point to Heath, himself. He's been accused of arrogance and bigotry. Of hate-mongering and intolerance in the name of Christian Love. You may not realize this, but while Heath appeared to have a thick skin, I've interviewed him enough over the years to know those allegations hurt him deeply. Doesn't change the fact, his detractors say, that they believe down to their core, that he's wrong. No, not just wrong. Shamefully, abhorrently wrong.
Such is the gaping cultural, political and religious divide upon which Michael Heath chose to stand and build his career.
It's small wonder, that after so many years standing and waging war before that cultural chasm, that when he took missteps-- and there's no denying he did-- the fall was long and hard.
And so, 2009 will be the year Maine takes on the Great Marriage Debate. And here's the irony. Michael Heath partly won in 1998 because he convinced voters that so-called "gay rights"-- making discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal, just as it is for discrimination based on race and religion-- was just a gateway to what gay people really wanted-- marriage equality. Maine eventually accepted "gay rights" and it's now the law of the land. Now, the bigger battle Heath predicted has come to pass. Will Maine decide that since gay couples can live together and raise a family together, that it's only right that they truly can be a family, legally recognized through marriage? Or will Maine decide that marriage means "one man and one woman" and "same-sex marriage" is a radical departure that should not be recognized?
Again, the battle Michael Heath predicted has come to pass. But no matter the outcome, one thing's certain. Michael Heath won't be the one standing in front of the bright lights, microphones and cameras on election night.
Who would have predicted that a decade ago?
About That Public Option
It's not looking good for the public option right now. Many of you aren't there yet, but it seems inevitable. In fact, that's what we're hearing from key members of the Senate right now, from the right, left and center, including Maine's own Olympia Snowe.
Did you catch her on Face the Nation this weekend?
Here's what she said: "I urged the President to take the public option off the table because it's universally opposed by all Republicans in the Senate. And therefore, there's no way to pass the plan that includes the public option."
And her fellow member of the so-called "Gang of Six" (bipartisan moderates in the Finance Committee) Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) said essentially the same thing: "There are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option... There never have been. So to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort."
Not much wiggle room there...
So what will happen instead?... Well, while we've put a lot of emphasis on the public option debate-- and by "a lot", I mean, virtually all-- there are a lot of things that are being discussed that could expand access to insurance for millions of Americans even without the public option. If that happens, it not only will be good for the health of many of those people and their families, it potentially will be good for the health of the economy as a whole. But it won't be free. Then again, what is?
Regardless, we'll know a lot more about which direction this debate is taking now over the next week. In the meantime, as the death of the public option begins to sink in over the next few days, we'll likely see some chest-thumping cheers from the right and some deep disappointment and vows to fight on from the left. There also likely will be questions about "political damage" to the President from engaging in, and losing, the fight over the public option. The right clearly feels emboldened. They've whipped up their base on this one, and the hang-dog days of the GOP that carried through the 2008 election cycle appear over thanks to the way this debate has taken shape. In that sense alone, this has been an important political victory for the GOP. Of course, that's a big part of what has irked the President and his supporters-- the thought that Republicans chose political gain over fixing the pain in the health care system. Republicans adamantly disagree with this assessment. They think the President and Democratic leaders are just simply wrong on the public option and it was their duty to stop him if they could. And they did-- with Olympia Snowe proving to be a crucial swing vote who finally swung away in recent days from even that "triggered" public option that she first floated during the August recess. (The compromise was that the public option would only kick in, or be "triggered", if private insurance companies failed to meet certain benchmarks for cost, quality and access by certain dates. That plan did not seem to get any traction on the right and the left was decidedly cold to it from the beginning. I guess there's a chance it could spring back to life in the next few weeks, but right now, that does not look likely at all.)
I just hope that more of us admit that the President has one big thing right-- fixing health care and controlling costs and taking personal responsibility for our own healthy choices, is something that we all should care about.
Brief Thoughts on 9/11
Eight years gone by already...
Hard to believe really...
The memories are so vivid of that day, and the days immediately after, that it seems like it's only been a couple of years at most.
But I look at my 9-year-old, and I remember he was just a baby at the time. My wife was pregnant with our second child. Our third child, just three now, wasn't even contemplated yet. Time flies by so fast...
Several things stand out to me today. One, I'm just so thankful there hasn't been another major attack, and I thank those who've worked hard in our government, military and law enforcement to make that happen. (I think we'd be foolish to think we've just been lucky...) Two, I still can't believe two of the terrorists started their day here.
That still feels like a violation.
I know eight years doesn't seem like such a momentous anniversary. I'm sure we'll see much more introspection-- and media coverage-- in two years on the 10th anniversary. But for now, I was heartened to see some ceremonies before some of tonight's football games and the other ways, great and small, that people are keeping the memories of those who died alive, and honoring those who serve.
Can Congress Get Civil on Health Care?
President Obama spent more than an hour trying to do a lot of things when it comes to his health care reform plan-- he wants to take back the debate he seemed to lose in August during those contentious town-hall style meetings-- convince Democrats that he's not softening on key reform issues dear to them-- chastise critics for, he believes, demonizing and distorting his plan for political gain-- but also signal to GOP moderates like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins that he's willing to compromise and work with them, even on the much ballyhooed public option.
Our News 13 senior political analysts Phil Harriman and Ethan Strimling, former state senators from the right and left, both agreed that it was Obama at his best, although they disagree with whether his plan is best for America.
There's a lot to digest in this whole debate, but here's my question of the moment-- is the president deluding himself that this debate can or will be more civil in the weeks ahead? For one, I think the president's absolutely right-- health care as we know it, ain't working, and there's broad agreement that now's the time to fix it. I think he's also right that America, and Congress, are often at their best when people of different backgrounds and beliefs get together and hash out their differences, work out compromises and solve intractable problems.
But there is deep worry on the political right... that President Obama is an activist president looking to swing the country further to the left than its been since the "Great Society" days of LBJ. And some of them are bound and determined to try to stop that. And that's just being true to their convictions.
But that leads us to a question of methods...
That whole "death panels" stuff was a gross exaggeration. The reform plan talked about setting up provisions for expanding end-of-life consultations and hospice care for seniors, something a Republican lawmaker originally suggested. Somehow this got distorted into accusations that Pres. Obama wanted bureaucrats to sit around in panels with the power to "pull the plug on grandma." That led to people showing up at rallies and making signs that showed Obama looking like Hitler. I'm sorry to disabuse those of you who believe that stuff. That's a gross exaggeration that does little to enlighten America about an important debate. It leads me to wonder if some are playing a "win at all costs" game. Scratch that... I don't need to wonder. Some are playing a "win at all costs" game.
Is that OK?
Well, there are examples in history where a cause is so important that it's worth brokering no compromise and taking no prisoners. Acts of civil disobedience during the civil rights movement, for example. Or the granddaddy of all examples-- the outright revolution and rebellion in the face of tyranny that helped launch our nation.
But let's make a case for civility... Classic example, "the Troubles" in Ireland ended only when old enemies with decades of atrocities and grievances laid at each others' feet, finally sat down in Stormont and hashed it out until they came up with the Good Friday Accord. Surely, those stakes were even higher and the issues more intractable than our current health care debate, and yet they finally found civility-- and agreement-- saving lives.
So, let me ask you-- and it's the subject of our current web poll-- what do you think of that congressman from South Carolina shouting "You lie!" at the president during his speech? Now, first let's address the underlying issue that appeared to prompt the outburst. The president claims his plan will not extend coverage or pay for coverage for illegal immigrants. Rep. Wilson believes that's not true, and shouted it out! Well, the House reform plan specifically forbids using federal money to pay for health coverage for immigrants here illegally. But people like Rep. Wilson see a loophole, in no specific mechanism for enforcing it.
But, c'mon! Shouting "You lie!" in the middle of the speech not only is a serious breach of well-established etiquette for such presidential speeches to Congress, it also just feeds the cynicism that many Americans feel for their government. Maybe I'm corny. My thought for Rep. Wilson is "Grow up." Vigorously defend your principles and beliefs in this health care debate. But respect those who disagree, and respect the institution in which you sit and the office of your president.
Our nation will be best served right now if people on both sides of this critical issue recognize that the man or woman across the aisle, or just showing up at a health care meeting, is not the second-coming of Hitler just because they disagree with you. Tone down the rhetoric-- and that goes for everyone-- the president, members of Congress, your neighbors, everyone...
In my humble view, that's the cure for what ails us.
The Senator Obama's Calling
As best as we can tell, Sen. Olympia Snowe is taking some rare time off this week with her family. But I have a hard time believing that she's still not putting in some hours of work no matter where she is for Labor Day weekend.
You see, she's essentially on speed dial from the White House these days. Snowe is playing a critical role in the nation's health care reform debate, and in case you hadn't heard, that's sort of a big deal right now. Snowe is not only a member of the so-called "Gang of Six"-- the group of moderate, "swing vote" senators seen as necessary for compromise; she's not only a member of the Senate Finance Committee, where much of this debate will take place in the days ahead; she's also THE senator who appears to have come up with a compromise that could allow the president to successfully walk the tightrope he's on.
Here's the key word: "Trigger." You've probably heard of the so-called "public option" in this whole debate. President Obama and his supporters believe the best way to get coverage to millions of uninsured Americans is to create a "public option", whereby the government would be sort of an insurer of last resort. But this "public option" has been a lightning rod for critics, who believe that government has no business being in the health care business (although, apparently, they haven't heard of Medicare or Medicaid). So conservatives are looking to kill the "public option", while liberals vow their can be no reform without it.
Enter Sen. Snowe and her seemingly elegant solution... the "trigger." Under her plan, there would only be a public option IF private insurers fail to meet certain benchmarks for quality, cost and access by certain dates. If that happens, only then would it "trigger" the public option. Conservatives should be pleased, because the private sector gets first (and possibly only) crack at providing health coverage under the reformed system. Liberals should be pleased because there still will be the safety net of a "public option" if the private sector fails.
There you go... Everyone's pleased... At least... in theory...
Whether democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will go along with this sort of "public option"-lite version remains to be seen. But it's an intriguing possibility-- and by all accounts, the White House and the president are deep in discussions with Snowe and others to see if it's a pill that can be swallowed.
I recently talked to Sen. Snowe about her thoughts on the public option and this "trigger" compromise, and here's a transcript of what she told me, in her own words:
"We don't want government dictating those (health care) choices, and ultimately, a
major bureaucracy imposing those decisions in a way that runs counter to
what we've been accustomed to... (However) we have an obligation to accomplish this goal in other ways if we don't
support a public option or a single payer. You know, I'd
support a fall-back to be triggered in the event that an affordable plan
doesn't kick in, isn't offered by insurance companies. If they
don't perform, they don't live up to their responsibilities under the
restructuring that we will do, because they've been engaged in practices
that are simply unacceptable-- such as rescinding policies when people
have a major illness, lifetime caps on benefits, you know, rating their
policies based on your health status or banning policies from being
issued because of a pre-existing condition-- all of which, are policies
that should be relegated to the past. A lot would change in
the marketplace from that standpoint, and insurers would have a
responsibility. We want to create a competitive environment that will
offer affordable, competitive choices to American consumers."
So basically, she's no fan of government-run health care for all, but she's not thrilled with the job the private sector's been doing so far either! So, her solution: Clearly define what's needed and give the private sector another chance to get it done. If they fail again-- well, only then would you trigger a clearly defined, competitive and tightly-managed "public option." Again-- sounds great... in theory.
Meantime, Sen. Snowe-- enjoy your holiday weekend. Because you're going to be very busy again very soon.
We're now right in the middle of three days of official tributes to
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. It's riveting to me. And I can't help but be
struck by the contrasts. The "Lion of Liberalism" being lionized at
his passing, while at the same time, we hear the constant references to
his humanity-- and his flaws.
Think about it... What other
iconic figure in America seems such a study in titanic contrasts? A man
of incredible wealth-- known as the champion of the little guy...
Unabashed liberal-- able to befriend and achieve compromises with
unabashed conservatives... The youngest child of a dynastic family
always in the shadows of his brothers-- who not only outlived, but in
many ways out-achieved them all... Wonderful family man and patriarch
of that legendary family who led them through seemingly endless
personal tragedies-- once the butt of constant jokes about
alcohol-fueled parties and epic scandals like Chappaquiddick and the
William Kennedy Smith rape trial.
The truth is, he's all these
things. In death, remembered as larger-than-life-- and all-too human.
It's part of what makes his legacy so remarkable.
already talk about adding Kennedy's picture to the Famous Five hanging
in the Senate Reception Room. A testament to his legacy and impact
after 45 years of service. A senator who authored more than 300 bills
that would become law, from COBRA rules allowing you to keep access to
your insurance when you lose or change jobs, to Title IX legislation
ensuring equal opportunities for women's athletics at universities, to
voting rights, to deregulating the airline industry. His reach was
just incredible.(Interesting footnote... Way back in the 1950s,
the Senate formed a special commission to decide which historic
senators' pictures should hang up there, embodying the attributes of
courage, integrity and significant contributions. The Senator named to
head up that commission?... Sen. John F. Kennedy. Subsequent
resolutions over the years allowed for nine portraits-- two remain
empty-- for the moment.)
I only interviewed Kennedy personally
once. It was in 2004 in Boston in the run-up to the Democratic
National Convention. Labor unions organized a big event. Politicians,
both major and minor, were everywhere. Then Kennedy rolled in, and no
one else seemed to matter. He then proceeded to give an old-fashioned
barn-burner speech. The pro-labor crowd erupted. He got down off the stage 10
minutes later, talked to a few reporters such as myself, and headed out
to the next event somewhere else. The reactions seemed universal, and
I include myself-- he seemed larger-than-life and still so approachable and human.
personally believe the Kennedy Chapter in our nation's political
history is coming to a close. It was a good, long run. About 50
years-- from the time JFK became a national figure through now. I
don't see another in the family taking up the mantle to the same
degree, and it's probably not fair to even expect it. But remember--
40 years ago, many thought the Kennedy legacy was already destined to
dim. JFK and RFK were gone. Few thought Ted Kennedy, the youngest brother,
could hold a candle to them. Instead, he kept that flame burning
brightly over the years in ways few expected, and achieved big
things that even conservatives acknowledge if not admire. Sure, his
presidential ambitions flamed out relatively early, in 1980, thanks
again in large part to that word: Chappaquiddick. But that seemed to
liberate the Liberal Lion to focus his energies in that clubby chamber
of power known as the U.S. Senate.
Rest in Peace, Sen. Kennedy.
Whether liberal, conservative or moderate, I hope the nation finds another who can hold a candle to you.
(Note: If you get a chance, watch CBS's news special that's now on-line called "The Last Brother"
Those of you who are not fans of Kennedy's politics are almost certain
to find it too sycophantic... but it's fascinating. Especially seeing
Gloria Borger of CBS reading a letter to Kennedy from Jackie O after
Caroline Kennedy's wedding, near the end of the 47 minute special. The
letter is incredibly touching and personal, and it's poignant to see
Ted Kennedy react to it.)
(News Note: We're learning that both
Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will attend Sen. Kennedy's
funeral tomorrow. We're also learning that former president George H.W. Bush will not attend. That's unexpected, and I can't help but wonder about his health. I really don't think he'd miss it short of a family emergency or a serious illness. Our coverage continues on News 13 at 11 tonight, and through Saturday.)
Thanks, Grandkids, for the Loans!
First rule, never start a letter, email, blog or correspondence of any kind with an apology. Having said that, I'm sorry. I had a serious case of "August-itis" over the past few weeks. You know, a couple of weeks vacation, another week spent enjoying the sunshine now that it's finally here, etc. etc. Anyway, I haven't updated this space in way too long. But I'm shaking that off well short of Labor Day and vowing to do better, so look for updates at least three times per week going forward.
Now, while I've been busy doing little this August, your federal government has been busy-- I mean really, REALLY BUSY-- spending money. Did you catch this line today:"The Obama administration said Tuesday that it now expects the 10-year
budget deficit to reach $9 trillion, or about $2 trillion more than it
estimated earlier in the year."
That kind of money boggles the mind! And that's not the budget, that's the deficit!
If we somehow convinced nine thousand billionaires (are there even that many on the planet?) to pour every penny they have into the giant hole that is this deficit, it would only just fill it.
Now, to put it mildly, we can't keep doing this. We can't. It's insane.
Now, if you're blaming the Obama administration for this staggering number, well, I'm sorry. For the moment at least, you're wrong. First of all, the deficits were huge under the Bush administration as well. And they existed when the Republicans controlled Congress, and they still exist now that Democrats have control again.
I firmly believe we must get our hands around the deficit problem and soon. But here's why you can't blame Obama. Government needs to be irrational. There, I said it. Government needs to be counterintuitive and downright irrational at times. Now, I can hear my liberal friends groaning and my conservative friends puffing up with "I told you so" pride. But if that's you, you don't get it.
Follow me here... What do you do when your job is iffy and your home just lost 10 percent of its value and your retirement portfolio dropped so far, so fast that you'd give a left toe (or at least the toenail) to have lost only
10 percent??? It's simple. You stop spending. That's only rational. Now, what if every single person in the country (or the world!) does the exact same thing at the exact same time? Well, I'll tell you what happens. The economy craters. Our recession turns into a mind-blowing Great Depression with a capital "G" and a capital "D". But again, every single one of those individual decisions to NOT SPEND would be rational. Unfortunately, it's a collective disaster. So someone has to be behave irrationally to stop the tailspin.
That, my friend, is your federal government. Your irrational friend to the rescue.
So, what did President Obama and Congressional leaders do this spring and summer? They spent. In fact, President Bush recognized this as well, and he helped push through a bunch of money last fall to help stabilize the financial markets. He spent, too. And that was the right call. Did it absolutely stink to high heaven then? Yes. Does it still now? Yes. Is this free money? No. It must be paid back-- with interest.
But something else happened this August while I was lazing about. Consumer confidence grew
much faster than expected. The stock market has risen to its highest levels of the year. I personally believe that "Cash for Clunkers" did more than get a few hundred thousand consumer butts into new bucket seats. I think it was a factor in this uptick in confidence. Of course, it's not sustainable unless unemployment rates start dropping soon as well. But we need our government to spend when times are bad, when the rational thing to do is sit on your hands.
And the opposite is true as well, by the way. When things are smoking along and people are employed and tech stocks and home prices look like they'll never drop again, government must once again make decisions that don't seem to make sense, at least when it comes to what an individual would rationally do. "Hey, everything's wonderful?... Time to act like a wet blanket and raise interest rates." You know, that sort of thing.
So anyway, my irony alarm is going off. Remember a few years ago, when the financial gurus and Wall Street traders laughed at the idiots (i.e. Congress and government regulators) and insisted they were stupid and clueless and that we needed a new, golden era of deregulation because, hey-- those idiots (i.e. Congress and government regulators) would only mess things up and kill the goose laying those golden eggs (i.e. mortgage-backed derivatives)?... Then, do you remember last fall, when it turned out that we (i.e. regular taxpayers) were the one's getting goosed and Wall Street went crawling on their pin-striped covered knees to the only ones with a life boat big enough to save them (i.e. Congress and government regulators AND regular taxpayers) and begged for a bailout?... Well, as much as it still gooses me, giving that bailout was absolutely the right thing to do.
Just do me a favor and remember this about three to five years from now the next time we hear Wall Street mucky-mucks whining about "too much government interference". I'll give Rep. Chellie Pingree credit for a good line last fall, although she probably stole it from someone else first!... She said: "Wall Street wants to privatize the profits and socialize the losses." Unfortunately, that's EXACTLY what they want to do. And we're idiots if we don't believe that. Anyway, back to the central point-- Our federal government needs to be an interfering ninny when times are good and spend like sailors on shore leave when times are bad.
But I don't want to leave that as the only thought here. As soon as this economy starts to turn around, we need to get REALLY smart-- and start paying down this debt. I'm not just talking about shrinking the deficit. A "shrunken deficit" still means you're spending more than you have. We need to actually PAY DOWN DEBT. Our grandkids are counting on us.
Does that mean that we can't have the full health care reform many people feel we want and need? I don't know. But it does mean choices. A central idea in economics is how to meet unlimited wants with limited resources. Again, it's about choices. Right now, I choose to NOT blame the current powers-that-be in Washington for this terrible deficit. We all collectively had a hand in the decisions that got us here. And we really do need the government to be spending cash on clunkers and bailouts and infrastructure projects right now to keep this recession from turning into a depression. (And, my goodness, do I dare hope it's working?!) Hopefully, there aren't too many messed-up priorities and too much waste in the system. Which is to say, of course, there will be some. With so many cooks in this kitchen cooking up such a massively big pie, it's bound to happen.
But I will stop being so understanding if we don't refocus our priorities and make better choices once the economy is humming along again. If not... Well-- then
you can rightfully use the word idiots.
Snowe Decides It?
Here are two things that are supposed to be happening this month. Lazy summer days filled with the smell of cut grass and sunscreen. (And after a rocky start to the summer, things seem to be moving along these lines finally!) The other thing that's supposed to be happening is... nothing. As in, nothing election-wise. It's July. And it's 2009. It's the dog days of summer. And it's an off-year for elections. Nothing should be happening other than the odd candidate or two declaring for next year's open gubernatorial seat.
But check this new headline I just got in an email news release this week:
New Radio Ad Urges Snowe to Act on Health Care Reform
And here's the first quote in it:
"It's really up to Senator Snowe whether we will
have health insurance reform..."
"It's really up to Senator Snowe whether we will have health insurance reform..."??? Now that's quite a statement. 100 votes in the Senate, not to mention 435 in the House, and the other 534 members should apply some sunscreen and go mow the lawn because their votes don't matter?... You know what this is about, of course. President Obama's huge health care reform plan and the huge debate it's creating in Washington and across the nation. But think on the claim. She decides?
Well, let me back up for a moment. You need to know that this is from the group, Americans United for Change, a Washington advocacy group on the liberal end of the spectrum. They want health reform to pass and pass largely in the form envisioned by President Obama; namely, with a so-called "public option" for health coverage. That public option, of course, would be an option to get health coverage provided by the government. Depending on your perspective-- that option is either the chance for everyone to have coverage if they want it and a way to keep the private sector providers honest and competitive-- or it's the second-coming of Lenin-Marx. (Not to be confused with Lennon-McCartney.)
So, this group wants health care reform. But let's set that aside for the moment, because the side this group is on is beside the point I'm focusing on today. The question I have is: Are they right? Is Olympia Snowe the deciding vote on this?
Now, remember. There is some recent precedent. It was just a few months ago in the depth of winter (the time when we can only dream of the smell of cut grass and sunscreen-- unless we fly to Florida). That's when three GOP Senators (the so-called "Gang of Three") crossed party lines to vote with the Democrats in favor fo the economic stimulus plan. Those three Senators were: Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter. Specter is now a Democrat. So, that leaves Snowe and Collins. But this radio ad released this week in Maine doesn't target Collins. It targets Snowe.
Here's another quote in the news release:"Olympia Snowe could change all of that. She is
the lynch pin in the negotiations that would move health care reform out of the
Senate Finance Committee, where it has been bottled up for months"
Ok. Here's our big clue as to why this is all about Snowe and no one else. Snowe is seen as a true moderate in the Senate. We know that. In fact, her recent "party affinity score card" shows that she votes against her party more than any other senator, period-- about 1/3rd of the time. Collins ranks second. But Collins isn't on the Senate Finance Committee where this thing, in their words, "has been bottled up for months." Snowe is. So, if and when this reform debate moves out of committee, then we could see a similiar radio ad (and maybe even one from the other side) targetting Snowe AND Collins. But for now, it's all about Olympia.
So here's the deal. This new radio ad (you can see the transcript below) urges you to call Senator Snowe and ask her to take action. I'd echo that. But only to this extent. If you care about this issue... either for reform or against it... or perhaps, for reform, but some reformed form of reform. (I'm glad I'm not trying to say this out loud.) Then I urge you to contact her now, too. Few things are more important than your health. And few things are more important in Washington right now than health care reform. Getting involved, should you care to, would be a healthy decision.
Meantime, I am very interested to see just what role Sen. Snowe plays in all of this in the coming weeks. She's certainly proving, once again, to be in the middle of things.
SCRIPT for "ACT" - (Radio
The Republicans leadership claims that the health insurance reform
debate is moving too fast.
Too fast for whom?
Premiums are going up 3 times faster than wages. Health insurance
profits have soared. Every month, 500 Mainers lose their health
The truth is, Republican leaders admit that what they really want is to
kill insurance reform, not just slow it down. One of them even said they would
make this President Obama's Waterloo.
But our Senator, Olympia Snowe, could change all of that. She is
the lynch pin in the negotiations that would move health care reform out of the
Senate Finance Committee, where it has been bottled up for months.
It's this simple. It's really up to Senator Snowe
whether we will have health insurance reform... or whether premiums keep
going up and more and more Americans lose health care.
Call Senator Snowe. Tell her it's time to act NOW.
Paid for by Americans United for Change.
Collins Credits News 13
I don't know if you saw Diana Ichton's investigative report the other day about on-line scammers pretending to be the IRS, but I know at least one person who did-- Sen. Susan Collins.
It's a good bet you know Diana is our "On Your Side" consumer investigative reporter. After getting a call from a viewer, she did a report Monday on this scam where you get an email that looks for all the world like it came from the IRS (complete with legit-looking logo, etc). In it, you're told you have a sizable tax refund owed to you. To get it, all you have to do is fill in the form, including your bank routing number.
Well, a day or so after the report, Sen. Collins's staff called Diana looking for more details. And the next thing we know, the Senator is calling for hearings on such scams. (I've copied her statement below.)
Here's the deal... These scams are awful. People fall for them all the time, especially when times are tough like they are now. The scammers know that. As you've probably figured out, if you respond and give away your bank routing number and other key personal information in this scam, the feds don't put money into your account. The scammers drain that account dry.
Diana didn't go looking for credit when she did this story, and certainly she was floored when staff members of a U.S. Senate committee began calling asking about it. She did it because that's what she does pretty much everyday-- alerting people to problems and pitfalls in their daily lives and how to empower yourself to know your rights and know when something is "too good to be true." But Diana told me that she was the one who felt empowered, knowing that a story she worked on is making a difference and could lead to some pretty dramatic results.
(Below is the statement from Sen. Collins in its entirety.)
SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS ASKS FTC TO REVIEW ONLINE SCAM
Collins credits Ch. 13 for uncovering the fraud and alerting the public; plans upcoming
U.S. Senate hearing to probe Web scams
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today asked the Federal Trade Commission to carefully review an online consumer fraud scam highlighted recently by Ch. 13, WGME-TV, the CBS-affiliate in Portland, Maine.
"I am outraged by these on-line scams that pose as federal agencies and craft their messages to look like actual government forms or websites," Collins said. "These con artists are taking advantage of hard-working people who are struggling in this poor economy."
In an ongoing effort to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse, Senator Collins and Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., are leading a series of oversight hearings to monitor how billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the federal stimulus program.
"I have made 'scam fighting' a major part of my work in Washington, D.C., and will hold a hearing with Sen. Lieberman on this issue soon," Collins said.
The scam exposed by Ch. 13 featured an email inquiry that claimed to come from the IRS, with logos and design that matched the appearance of the official IRS Web site. When Portland's Chris Lovering, who recently lost his job, got the email in his inbox, he was overjoyed by the news: The IRS said it owed the couple a $733.50 tax refund. All Lovering had to do was fill out an online form.
When the form asked for sensitive personal information, however, Lovering smartly stopped "applying," alerted his wife, Alison, and called Ch. 13. "I want to salute the couple's alertness and vigilance, which prevented them from being victimized by these online hustlers," Collins said.
The WGME-TV piece, broadcast July 20 with reporter Diana Ichton, exposed the fake IRS emails and alerted Maine viewers to the scam. Lovering became suspicious when the form asked for his Social Security number, date of birth, bank account information and bank routing number.
"These criminals have hit a new low, in my opinion," Collins said. "During this economic recession, the public's interest has been heightened by federal programs - like the stimulus package -- designed to provide help and assistance and to create jobs. Scofflaws are using that public awareness to pose as government agencies - like the IRS in this case - in attempts to bilk honest Americans, taking their hard-earned money and stealing their identities."
The Senator also underscored the advice given to consumers in the Ch. 13 report and directed people to the FTC Web site, www.ftc.gov, which offers these pointers to guard against online crooks:
* Protect your personal information. Share credit card or other personal information only when you're buying from a company you know and trust.
* Know who you're dealing with. Don't do business with any company that won't provide its name, street address, and telephone number.
* Take your time. Resist any urge to "act now" despite the offer and the terms. Once you turn over your money, you may never get it back.
* Read the small print. Get all promises in writing and review them carefully before you make a payment or sign a contract.
* Never pay for a "free" gift. Disregard any offer that asks you to pay for a gift or prize. If it's free or a gift, you shouldn't have to pay for it. Free means free.
There's that Word Again: Change
Check this out... It's the slogan from Rosa Scarcelli, the latest candidate to announce a bid to become Maine's next governor. She just put up a website today www.RosaforMaine.com
and it includes a very prominent banner...
Now... for some reason, this message sounds vaguely familiar... Hmm...
Oh, that's right. Change.
It was a really, really, REALLY powerful word in 2008. In fact, it was soooo powerful that anyone who was in New Hampshire leading up to that state's Democratic Primary in January 2008, saw a remarkable, ah hem, change. Hillary Clinton arrived from Iowa with the main messages: "Ready on Day One" or "Ready to Lead". And within about 72 hours, with Barack Obama's momentum building and Hillary seeming too "old Washington insiderish", her primary slogan became, "Ready for Change, Ready to Lead." It became pretty clear from that point on that no one could win the presidency in 2008, unless they won the battle to own the word: "Change." Barack Obama owned it and won the Democratic nomination, and the presidency.
Now, it's 2009, and we're talking about the race for Governor of Maine in 2010. And already, candidates and campaigns are placing their bets on the power of the word "Change". My bet? With the economy really, really, REALLY bad and projected to stay that way into 2010, the word is going to stay powerful. So what does it mean? Well, clearly it's shorthand for a lot of things... "I'm the outsider. You don't like the way things are? Neither do I. Don't blame me for the current mess. I'm here to fix it."
Now to Rosa Scarcelli. I have to say, as a very early impression, she seems an impressive person. Is she an impressive candidate
? Don't know. She's never BEEN a candidate before in her life. She's a 39-year-old who grew up in Wilton and lives in Portland. She's the principal owner and executive of a property management company, Stanford Management, and (according to her website) it's one of the largest woman-owned business in Maine. I haven't interviewed her, but one of my News 13 colleagues has and I looked at the tape and the report and she seems poised and articulate.
And I'm ready to make a crazy-early prediction...
She has no chance to even get past the primary unless she can tap into a "throw the bums out" vein of thought in the electorate, mine that vein for all its worth and own the word "Change." Ok. It's not like that's really such a bold prediction afterall. Anyone who runs for a very high office (like governor) with no real political experience beforehand almost invariably runs as an "outsider." And "outsider candidates" usually have one thing in common... They're all about "Change" with a capital C.
But it's interesting. I'm hearing privately that a number of her fellow Democrats in Augusta are a little irritated at her message. Remember, her message is: "If we want change, we need to change who we send to Augusta."
Umm, excuse me. Most of the people Maine voters have been sending to Augusta-- are DEMOCRATS! Her party. They're the clear majority in both chambers of the legislature and they hold the Blaine House. So, no real surprise that her message (which is repeated in a very nicely put together video you can find on her campaign site and on youtube) is sounding about as harmonizing as fingernails on a chalkboard to some of her party leaders.
But let's get real. She's only trying to stake an early claim to what could prove to be extremely fertile ground once again in 2010. Expect others, likely even long-time elected officials who are running, to try like mad to grab a piece of that turf themselves in the months ahead. It was the
most powerful word in 2008, and in 2010, we really shouldn't expect that to change.
Cronkite: A Huge Loss
We just heard tonight, Walter Cronkite died.
Anyone my age (age 40) or older has vivid memories of Uncle Walter delivering the news. He was almost a part of the family in the living room or kitchen TV each night. Listen, I won't go on and on. Others have much more important and impressive things to say. I just want to say, I found him inspiring as an aspiring journalist and so did a lot of people. He helped to make sure that the word "trust" became synonymous with a true news person. I hope his good work in that regard hasn't been frayed too much by our new national cynicism and by anything my generation in this profession has done. I still believe in it.
I will share one thing with you. My greatest thrill as a professional came in April 2001. I went down to Washington to receive, on behalf of News 13, one of the first ever "Walter Cronkite Awards for Excellence in Political Coverage." I still have a copy of that award at home and a picture on my wall in my office. But the reason it was such a thrill had less to do with traveling to DC and putting on a tux to get a national award. It was because it was presented by the award's namesake. Mr. Cronkite. My producer and I had a chance to pose with him for a picture, and chat with him. It was no more than 45 seconds. It was enough. I was thrilled.
Another person who won an award that night was Tim Russert. (Another giant gone.) I remember he stood and said that receiving a "Walter Cronkite Award" from Mr. Cronkite, himself, was like being a painter and receiving an award presented by Michaelangelo. It was an apt comparison.
Seeking (a) Justice
So America, how'd she do?
Sonia Sotomayor's time before the Senate Judiciary Committee is over.
1) She will be confirmed.
2) Republicans accomplished their goals.
3) So did Democrats.
4) Lindsey Graham and Al Franken were the stars.
I'll take those in order.She will be confirmed.
Sotomayor did not mess up. She did not have, in the words of Lindsey Graham, any "melt downs". (More on that in a moment.) When pressed on issues like gun control and affirmative action, she largely refused to answer. Listen, if you're ever called to testify before Congress, refusing to answer is not a great strategy. But there are two exceptions... #1: You invoke your 5th Amendment rights to avoid self-incrimination because you briefly held the major league single season home run record and answering truthfully about your steroid use would get you in trouble or, #2: You're a Supreme Court nominee. As Sotomayor herself pointed out, we don't really want a justice who has preconceived notions and set conclusions about cases that could come before her. Or at least, it would be extremely bad form to admit
that she does. In short, she did what she was supposed to. She will be confirmed.Republicans accomplished their goals.
Republicans didn't have a lot of wiggle room. They really had three things they wanted to do and they did them. #1: Ask some pointed questions to see if she'd mess up or "melt down". Again, she didn't, but this is a life-time appointment to one of the most important and powerful jobs on the planet. They had to be sure. #2: Appease their constituents. Many conservatives don't like her, just as many liberals didn't like Roberts or, especially, Alito. Democrats grilled them. The shoe is on the other foot. (By the way, I never understood that saying... Who would ever take their shoe and try to cram it on their other foot?!) #3: Put her on notice that she owes America a wise judge who will dispense justice fairly to all who come before her, regardless of background. A fair number of people were concerned and offended by Sotomayor's public comments in speeches
that said this: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences
would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't
lived that life." I understand she says she was trying to inspire fellow latinos to aspire to greatness and implying that our systems are at their best when important decisions aren't just the domain of people from one point of view or background. But she said "better" conclusion... not "every bit as good". That's still a little troubling. Look, I understand a basic truth of our legal system. If you're accused of something, you deserve to have a "jury of your peers". If you're a minority, a jury of your peers should not only be "white males". We tried that for way too much of our nation's history, and we know how that worked out! By extension, affirmative action cases and other issues that involve complex interactions along race, gender, socioeconomic, religious or other lines of social division, should not be decided only by "white males" either. In other words, is it "better" to have appellate courts that include representation from diverse backgrounds to insure a "rich experience" in the delivery of legal opinions, outcomes and decisions? Probably. Is this what she was trying to get at in her speech? Probably-- I hope. But hear me out.. If a latina woman, for example, feels uneasy in allowing a white male to sit in judgement and render a legal decision that will affect her life because he doesn't share her "life experiences", does it fix the problem by reversing the roles and saying maybe it's time for the white male to feel that unease, too? As I mentioned, I never understood why anyone would want to "put the shoe on the other foot". The only thing you're left with is discomfort.Republicans accomplished their goals.So did Democrats
Democrats wanted Sotomayor to do well and to keep Republicans from getting much, if any, traction on anything. Mission accomplished.Lindsey Graham and Al Franken were the stars.
Most of these hearings involved speechifying from the various Senators. No surprise. But I was struck by how Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, had a knack to cut right down to it. On the first day, he uttered the memorable line, that unless she had a complete meltdown, she would be confirmed, and that he didn't expect she would have said meltdown. He was right on both counts. But it was a great way to preface some direct questioning, mostly on the whole "wise latina" comments. He also made it clear in the hearings that if people in his party couldn't vote for her, that it wasn't because they couldn't vote for a latina, it was because they couldn't vote for her. All in all, he came off as true to his beliefs, but reasonable. A good course to take. Some other bloggers I've read seem to indicate they're not sure how much he's posing... but regardless, it was refreshing and he stood out. As for Al Franken, the junior Senator from Minnesota-- with senatorial experience measuring in the hours-- had two of the best questions of the hearings. One was the classic job interview question: "What makes you think you'd be a good justice?" And it elicited a pretty interesting answer. We saw her as a person for a moment, not a wall under siege. He also took a moment, quizzing her on Perry Mason
. Say what?!? Yes, he asked her if she could recall the one case that Perry Mason lost to the antagonist lawyer in the series. What a curveball
! Ok, some are thinking "goofball"
. But hear me out. First, she is the one who originally brought up Perry Mason when she was talking about her inspirations for becoming a lawyer. And if his goal is to be a sympathetic questioner, it's a shrewd move. Again, it makes her instantly more human as she chuckles and admits she has no idea. It also helps to put her back into a more relaxed frame of mind (not that she necessarily needed it). It's just a memorable moment and a good tactic as a sympathetic questioner. Or, he was just being Al Franken unable to stop himself from telling a joke. But I think it was at least a little bit of the shrewd stuff. We'll see... (PS... Remind me to tell you my story about when Al Franken knocked on the window of our news car around midnight in the rain outside of the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. It's a hoot.)
It's taken me a couple of days to get to this-- but I can hold off no longer...
What should we really think about Sarah Palin up and quitting as governor of Alaska in that rambling speech
that managed to never really explain why?
Now, I'm going to assume you're in one of four camps...
1) You love Sarah Palin;
2) You hate Sarah Palin;
3) You feel you should either love or hate Sarah Palin because everyone else seems to, but you can't quite figure out why you should care;
4) You are Sarah Palin.
I mostly want to address those of you in that third category.
I mean, I get why some people love her and I get why some people hate her. But I don't get her
enough to figure out if she's a lasting political player who still could be a realistic presidential contender in 2012 despite her strange resignation-- or not. I mostly feel it's got to be the "or not" category because that's the sort of thing that leaves one as damaged political goods. Remember, the race for the White House is so ridiculously intense that even minor flaws and missteps often become yawning chasms in which to pour doubt and scrutiny.
So, she's toast, right?
And maybe she knows that
. So she's getting out. Getting out from under the pressure and personal debt, looking to cash in on her still huge personal appeal in some circles and hanging out a "Gone Fishin'" sign until then. (Did you see the video ops she did yesterday? Ok. I know she's the real deal. Likes to hunt and fish. Her husband is a commercial fisherman. But does she have to hit us over the head with it by granting all of her network interviews in waders and fish oil? Hmm... Come to think of it... maybe she did...)
I almost feel guilty blogging about this. It's not like you can't find roughly 36,235,126 blogs about this very topic right now... some of them in Hindi. But she's such a fascinating, exasperating, important and yet unimportant figure... I can't help it. Bottom line... I'm curious as all get out to see what she's going to do next. One thing I don't expect her to do now is run for president in 2012. But maybe she will...
So, here's the deal... Ultimately, Sarah Palin is like a box of chocolates. Strike that... I was going to go with the "never know what you're gonna get" line, but try this... Sarah Palin is like a chocolate Easter bunny... You know, the centerpiece that immediately draws your eye and makes all the other candy clusters scattered about the basket instantly less appealing... But as you look at the glittering wrapper, you can't help but wonder. Is this a solid chunk of chocolate with staying power? Or is this the hollow kind that crumbles the moment you grab on too tight?...
Maybe by Easter 2012, we'll have our answer.
O... What a Tangled 'Web' We Weave...
It's all about the "O".
Les Otten finally made it official. He is
running for governor. I know. I know. He says he's forming an "exploratory committee" to... well... "explore" the possibility of running for governor in 2010. But let's not kid ourselves. He's filed all the paperwork to run. He's hired some staff. He's put up a website. He's not kinda
running for governor. He is
running for governor. He may drop out if he's disappointed at the support he's getting. (Unlikely, I believe.) But right now, he's running. No asterisk required.Now... about that website...
Today, the executive director of the Maine Democratic Party is accusing Otten of "blatant plagiarism" in the design and (especially) the logo on the website. They claim he ripped off both design and logo from Barack Obama. Here... Check them out for yourself... Here is Les Otten's website
. And here is Barack Obama's website
. Pay particular attention to the "O" logo on both of them. Do they look alike? Remarkably so. Do the websites otherwise look alike? Well, they both have similiar fonts, photo layouts and color schemes. But as Les Otten and his campaign point out, those color schemes and layouts are very common throughout the political world. (Everyone must have the same Washington consultants.)
Otten and his campaign defend the website. The campaign says he's using the "O" as a focal point because: "Les' last name begins with the letter 'O.'"
(Hard to argue with that.) The statement continues: "We are very proud of our website, which was built from scratch, from
the ground up, by a locally owned company - INsyt of Farmington, Maine..." "It is unfortunate that the Maine Democratic Party is focusing on the
design of www.lesotten.com rather than its content. It is interesting
that the Maine Democratic Party has forgotten that President Obama's
campaign logo was initially accused of copying the Pepsi logo."
Now that's an interesting defense. (And Pepsi doesn't even start with "O".)
As for this whole flap... Well, either the Democratic Party thinks Les Otten is a real contender worth taking a shot at or they just felt the O-thing was just too easy and good to pass up... or maybe both. Whatever the case, Otten appears to have no intention of changing his website... or the spelling of his name.
If there are two things we know about politics, incumbents almost always win... and when there IS
no incumbent (i.e. an open seat) there's a free-for-all.
The free-for-all has begun.
Exhibit A: The Race for Governor in Maine
Baldacci is in his home stretch. He faces term limits and can't run
again. And just this week, we're learning of two more candidates
planning to try to take his place. They are Les Otten-- the former
American Skiing Co. founder and CEO-- and Rep. Dawn Hill, a two-term state representative from York. Hill is a Democrat who
describes herself as a fiscal moderate and a social progressive. And Otten
is-- well, we don't know yet. He's expected to announce details,
including whether he's running as a D, R or I, during public events
scheduled for Monday.
My guess is (and it's just a guess-- I
haven't talked to him about it), he'll run as an independent, thus
avoiding a bruising primary battle and trying to carve out his own
identity as a prudent populist careful with a buck, while
self-financing a significant portion of his campaign and trying to eek
out a plurality victory, ala the Angus King model from 1994. Could
work. Maybe not. But a deep-pocketed third party or independent
candidate always makes things interesting.(Update: Ok. I was wrong. He declared as a Republican. He told me he considered running as an independent, but decided he needs the support of an organized party and says he's always been a Republican. I liked my theory. Oh well.)
And that reminds me,
we already have a third party. In fact, the Green Party already has at
least two candidates declared for the race-- Green Party organizer
Lynne Williams and author Patrick Quinlan-- which means we'll have
THREE primaries to watch in June 2010. If history is any guide, which
it often is-- when it's not wildly off-- expect the eventual green
party candidate to get 9-10 percent in the general election. Jonathan
Carter got 9 percent in 2002. Pat Lamarche got 10 percent in 2006.
for other candidates, many are rumored, few are officially declared.
Among the latter, we've already heard from former Attorney General
Steve Rowe (D) and businessman Matt Jacobson (R). But we're hearing
rumors and chatter (often self-started by the presumptive candidates
themselves) that a dozen more names (or more) could emerge in coming
Here's an early question... How many will run as
so-called "Clean Elections" candidates, who will accept public
financing, plus the ability to raise some matching funds, in exchange
for limits on such fund-raising? I expect it will be fewer than you
think. In 2004, the last time we had an open seat, Maine spent about
$1.2 million on gubernatorial candidates. Some of it went to former
state senator Jim Libby, who lost in the Republican primary. Most of
it went to Jonathan Carter, the Green who got the aforementioned 9
percent in the general election.
But the legislature is already
cutting the amount available in 2010, and could cut it more. And
there's a wide belief that the restrictions mean that the so-called
"clean" candidates won't have enough cash to run a competitive race.
course, Barbara Merrill-- the independent, "clean" candidate from 2006
helped as much as the bad economy to push the legislature to put new
restrictions and financial limits on public financing. Remember, she
used a lot of the money to pay her husband to run much of her campaign,
while seemingly going to pains to not disclose that fact-- or at least,
that's how most people, including members of Maine's Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices
So, back to the main point today... Lots of choices for governor in 2010. May the best one win... which means, it's your job to pick the right one. No pressure.
Another Mainer Serves Obama
I had a chance to interview Glenn Cummings Wednesday night, Live at Five. For those of you who don't remember, Cummings was the Speaker of the Maine House until a few months ago and we had him in to talk about the announcement this week that he's been selected to join President Obama's team as a Deputy Secretary of Education. Pending approval through the vetting process (meaning, assuming no skeletons in the closet, which would be truly shocking to anyone who knows him), his first day will be May 4th. He'll be a top person in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education. The goal of the job is a good one... get more people the resources, opportunities and access they need to go on to college. It seems Glenn's background in Community College building (he's a dean at SMCC) fits well with Pres. Obama and Ed. Secretary Arne Duncan's focus on expanding access at the Community College level as a first place to start. As someone who's known Glenn for more than a decade from his days with Portland Partnership before he ever entered politics, I wish him very well and think he's as smart, kind and conscientious as anyone I've met in public service.Here's a couple of things we didn't have a chance to talk about during our live interview, but that I found very interesting.
- First, Cummings told me he wasn't going for such a high position. His intention, he says, was to go for a senior policy advisor position. But as things rolled along, it became clear the administration thought he was up to a bigger job. (Of course, the fact that he campaigned for Obama last year when he was still Speaker and introduced him at an event in Bangor certainly didn't hurt with that "getting on the radar" thing-- but his background would appear to make him very well qualified for the gig.)
- Also, you may be wondering if he needs Senate confirmation. Answer: No. His government grade level will be a notch or two below what would require Senate confirmation. Not surprisingly, he says he's not upset he'll miss that process!
News 13 just confirmed that
Sen.Susan Collins is going to be spending most of next week in Eastern Europe as
part of a Senate delegation from the Senate Armed Services Committee,
coordinated through NATO. A spokesman for Sen. Collins says she will be
joining Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Committee Chairman, traveling to
Moscow, Russia; Warsaw, Poland; Prague, Czech Republic; and Brussels,
Belgium. Brussels is home to NATO headquarters in Europe.
The roughly five day trip will
focus on the thorny issue of missile defense among NATO allies and
the openly angry response it provokes in Russia. The topic
of missile defense is seen as a critical one to clear up as the Obama
administration tries to re-engage Russia (what Secretary of State Clinton
called "a fresh start" with Russia last month) on even tougher issues like
nuclear arms control and Russian cooperation with U.S. and NATO policies
involving Afghanistan, Iran and the rest of the Middle East.
The U.S. has been working out
agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic over a missile shield project that
has Russia irritated to say the least.
NATO marked its 60th anniversary
at a summit hosted by France and Germany earlier this week.
Stay with News 13 for more
details on this diplomatic trip involving Sen. Susan Collins as soon as we get
It's an ugly word, torture
. It conjures up images from which conscientious people instinctively recoil. Darkness. Pain. Terror...
And that's the enigma of our current national debate. Did we, the United States, condone and conduct torture in the pursuit of knowledge to stop terrorists, and thereby engage in a form of terror to further that pursuit? Of course, we have no doubt these enemies exist and that stopping them is a matter of life and death. September 11th remains all the proof we need. But the questions we are asking ourselves right now-- through news headlines, congressional investigations, blogs and the like-- are, what did we do, who let it happen, and-- most difficult of all-- was it worth it?
There's a fiercely partisan debate erupting over whether those who authorized the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" like waterboarding should be prosecuted or otherwise punished. I suggest that your answer to that likely has much more to do with your political party than your sensibilities. Here's why... We all agree that torture is wrong. That isn't the debate. Instead, if you believe in the previous administration you likely believe in the assertion that critical information was gathered during these "enhanced" sessions that stopped terror attacks and saved lives. You also likely believe in the idea that this was something less than true torture. Something legal, defensible and justified. If you don't
believe in the past administration... Well, you likely distrust and dismiss any notion of a sort of "torture light" and you want more than answers. You want someone held accountable.
Here's the problem... It's entirely likely that the vast majority of us will never know what exactly was learned, when and how-- and whether that information truly saved lives. And one question in particular seems to blur our search for clarity: If critical information was gathered by these techniques, could we have gotten it some other way,
any other way?
That answer seems beyond our grasp. Time flows down a different path.
Still, there is broad agreement on the need to try to get as many answers as possible. I spoke earlier tonight with Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. One of her committees, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is currently conducting an investigation into the CIA's Detention and Interrogation program. (You can read the press release issued by the committee when that investigation was announced by clicking here
.) She expects some answers, including critical timelines, documents and details, by December. Will this debate fester between now and then? Can any "Committee Report" settle the issue? Will this supplant even the economy (as hard as that
is to believe) as the political battle line in the mid-term elections now a scant 19 months away?
But here's something we do know. No matter what happens, torture must remain a thing reviled by humanity and rejected by nations that consider themselves free. It's still an ugly word.
Swine Flu, Stimulus and Senator Collins
Oh, how quickly things have changed.
Less than three months ago, I was struck by an extraordinary e-mail I received from the progressive group, Americans United for Change. Let's just say this group praises Republicans about as often as Halley's Comet comes around.
But here's a sample quote from that Feb. 11 email/news release: "Their support for the bill
that passed the Senate yesterday demonstrates a level of courage and leadership
that the people of Maine and from across the country should take great pride
That's just a sample of the praise Democrats, even the liberal progressive wing of the party, heaped on Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe at the time for being two-thirds of the Gang of Three (along with PA's Arlen Specter) for crossing party lines to vote for the economic stimulus plan. Americans United for Change even produced a radio ad
that aired in Portland and Bangor in February saying how wonderful they were.
But here we are a few weeks later, and here's a new statement from
Tom McMahon, Acting Exec. Director of Americans United for Change. And as you read it, realize it arises from the current Swine Flu worries, and it's directed squarely at Sen. Collins:
"Despite enabling the failed economic policies that led our nation
into one of the deepest and most protracted recessions in decades, how is it
that Congressional Republicans still think they know better on the economy?
During the debate over President Obama's jobs and economic recovery, they knew
better and could see no earthly reason why preparing for a pandemic makes good
economic sense and instead insisted on more tax cuts for multi-millionaires..."
And that's just a small sampling of the anger and disdain being fired at Sen. Collins right now for her part in what was taken out
of that stimulus plan. Sen. Collins used her leverage (and she had a TON of leverage at that time) to advocate for removing about $800 million in pandemic flu preparedness money out of the stimulus bill. She said it wasn't about the merits of flu preparedness. Instead, she thought it didn't pass the stimulus plan litmus test of being about jump-starting the economy and creating jobs, and should be debated separately in a separate bill. She got her wish. It was taken out.
But now, with concern about the Swine Flu mounting seemingly by the second, that effort is winning scorn, not praise. Let's face it. With a potential pandemic flu staring us in the face, being against
pandemic flu preparedness in any way at any point in the recent past looks really, really bad. But is it fair?... Well, it should be noted that Sen. Collins has advocated for flu preparedness in the past, even led hearings on it in the Homeland Security Committee. It also should be noted that in March, one month after the stimulus plan, a separate appropriations bill did
include about $156 million for pandemic flu preparedness. It also should be noted, that amount is much less than what was proposed in the stimulus bill. So, again, is the criticism fair? Before you decide, you should review the issue, including reading a statement
put out tonight by Sen. Collins's spokesman, Kevin Kelley. I summarized a couple of his points above.
As for that February 11th email from Americans United for Change-- I remember wondering at the time how long such love for a Republican would last. I have my answer.
Phil and Ethan: The Odd Couple
I had an interesting conversation with someone recently. He's a viewer who told me he enjoys what we do at News 13. (Praise-- a good start to any conversation!) He then told me that his favorite part of what I do is when I moderate our Political Edge segments with Phil Harriman and Ethan Strimling. If you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you know Phil and Ethan are two former State Senators-- Republican and Democrat, respectively-- who offer political commentary and perspective, usually every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:30. You also know that in those segments, I do a whole lot of listening and not a whole lot of talking. So the fact that this viewer identified that as his "favorite thing I do" is sort of a mixed blessing!
But I know what he means.
Phil and Ethan are wonderful at what they do. Officially, since last fall, they've served as our News 13 Senior Political Analysts-- which is a long title for a job that doesn't pay them a dime! But I think of them as sort of the Lennon/McCartney of political analysis
and commentary in Maine. Totally contrasting styles making beautiful
music together. Here's what I appreciate most-- they couldn't disagree more on many issues and they argue vigorously-- but they do it with insight, humor and mutual respect. There's a lesson for all of us in that I think. They both love our state and nation and want our citizens and government to succeed. They just couldn't disagree more about how to get us there!
But they prove you can have deeply held political differences, debate those differences and respect each other at the same time. I find that refreshing. And obviously, at least one of our viewers does, too. And the more I think about it, the more I think he's right. Sitting back and letting two well-informed people respectfully disagree is one of the best things I do.
P.S. Phil and Ethan... If you're reading this, I want to tell you we're doubling your salary this week!
(Note: You can also catch them frequently, especially Phil Saturday mornings, on our media partner, News Radio 560 WGAN.)
WHAT WILL HE DO?
It's the question hanging over Maine tonight... Will Gov. John Baldacci veto Gay Marriage? He hasn't said. We talked to him today (Tuesday) and he says he's still gathering "research" on the issue. But time is running out. The bill likely will be on his desk by Thursday, possibly even tomorrow.
All indications are the Governor never wanted to be in this position. People close to the debate tell me he's been pushing for the legislature to send him a Gay Marriage Bill that included an automatic referendum on it, requiring a statewide vote to let the people decide. It's clear that House and Senate leadership-- members of his own party-- never wanted to do that. They wanted to pass it outright. And now, they have.
Your move, Governor...
The Governor does have options. He can sign it or he can veto it. And remember, neither the House nor the Senate passed LD 1020 by a "veto-proof" margin. But some of you may not realize he has a third option. He can let it become law without his signature. It's not an option used all that often by Maine's governors, but it is an option, and one he almost certainly is considering, given his public reluctance to take a stand on the issue.
So, why the reluctance?... Gov. Baldacci is known for being an advocate of so-called "gay rights." In 2005, he signed the law amending Maine's Human Rights Act to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in things like employment and housing. He also spoke out against a People's Veto of that law that fall, and his side won. So, again, why the reluctance now? We can only speculate, but one reason may be his faith. He's catholic. And while he's taken significant grief from leaders of his faith at times for his support of abortion rights, there are indications that he did not want to be the governor who ushered in gay marriage-- something his faith community, or at least its leadership, is strongly against. Again, it's only speculation because he's not telling us.
Regardless, the fact is he must now choose. The legislature made its choice-- passing LD 1020 by a strong margin after emotional public hearings, testimony and debate. Now, the governor must perform his consitutional duty-- to veto, sign or "let become law." We'll have our answer soon.
(Note: Around noon on Tuesday, Gov. Baldacci signed the bill shortly after the Senate gave it final approval by a 21-13 vote. Gov. Baldacci becomes the first governor in the nation's history to sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Previously, in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa, same-sex marriage was legalized through the courts. In Vermont, lawmakers approved it by overriding a gubernatorial veto. Vermont's law takes effect Sept. 1. Opponents in Maine have already begun a "People's Veto" challenge. It seems like a good bet that we'll have a statewide vote on the law this November. )
The Incredible Shrinking Legislature???
It's not often that I get an email that makes me sit up and immediately check my calendar. That's exactly what happened the other day-- I was sure it must be April 1st.
Here was the email's title:Maine
House approves bill to reduce size of Legislature
You see what I mean. It had to be a joke. The Maine Legislature voting to shrink itself?!?! Turns out, it's not a joke. That's exactly what happened. The Maine House took the first step recently to get rid of 20 of its members, to reduce its overall size from 151 to 131 members. The bill passed by unanimous consent after an effort to kill the bill was defeated by a whopping vote of 122 to 23. (By the way, in case you're wondering, the bill would not shrink the size of the State Senate, leaving it at 35 members.)
The House Majority Leader, John Piotti, (D-Unity) had this to say after the vote:"Now is the time to make this change. We are asking all levels of state government to sustain cuts and create
new efficiencies. Our actions show that the Legislature is serious about
this as well. I think the citizens of Maine expect us to do our part, and we will
through this legislation."
Bottom line... There's a growing belief that Maine doesn't need to have one House member for every 8,400 people. While Maine's "citizen lawmakers" don't make a lot of money
-- it still adds up. And in this era of big budget gaps and tough budget cuts, lawmakers are making it clear that they're willing to swing their ax in their own direction.What do you think?
And here's the most important part. The bill is actually a Constitutional Amendment, meaning you will have the final say. Assuming this makes it all the way through the legislature (you can track this bill's progress by clicking here)
, it will require a statewide referendum vote to amend the Constitution. And if voters say yes, it will take effect in 2013.
No fooling.(Update: After much fanfare, and several steps down the path, the legislature ended up killing this plan. Surprised?...)
Taxing Our Tourists
How many of you have been to Disney World lately? Well, given the state of the economy, probably fewer this year than in years past. So, how about this-- how many of you have been to Disney World ever?... I thought so. The mouse ears are lost, but the photo albums are stuffed with the evidence.
Here's why I ask... When you went to book that vacation, how much did you consider the taxes on your hotel room, rental car, meals and the mouse ears? Chances are, you didn't pay any attention whatsoever. Ok, a few of you tax-obsessed people likely had an idea, but did knowing that Florida takes its normal 6 % sales tax and doubles it when applying it to hotel rooms to try to sock it to tourists make you say, "Nope. That's it. We're going to Colonial Williamsburg instead!"? Florida also throws an extra daily surchange on rental cars and meals taxes are higher as well. The reason?... Florida is doing its best to try to EXPORT its taxes to its tourists to try to give the locals a break. And truth is, taxing authorities in touristy areas pretty much do the same thing all over the place!
Now, this brings us to a debate here in Maine. The Maine legislature is once again debating tax reform. The goal once again (oh, yes-- this is not a new debate) is to try to shift more of Maine's taxes off of people who live here and on to people who visit here. The current plan that seems to have the most momentum calls for lowering Maine's top marginal income tax rate (by definition, a tax for people who make their living here) from 8.5 % to 6.5 % and then broadening the sales tax to make up the difference. By "broadening the sales tax", we mean expand it on to services like taxi rides from airports, specifically targeting visitors.
I save. They pay. So far so good.
But is this good policy? Well, all things being equal, there's nothing wrong with giving Mainers some relief at the expense of people who are paying more attention to the lighthouses and lobster rolls than scrutinizing the details of their Visa slips as they try to enjoy their vacations. But-- will the tourists notice? And if they do, will they care? And if they care, will they choose to go somewhere else? If you ask someone who makes their living from tourists (umm... that's a lot of you... by state estimates, one dollar in six generated in Maine comes from tourism), there's a real worry here. Let's say that only one person in 1000 notices that Maine has jacked up some of its "tourism taxes" and decides to skip Vacationland. That doesn't sound like much... but tourism generates about $14 billion in economic activity each year in Maine (again, state estimates) and directly and indirectly provides about 180,000 jobs. So, in theory, losing one visitor per 1000 by raising taxes could cost the state $14 million in economic activity and cost 180 people their jobs!
But that's the debate... Would that really happen? Economists talk about inelastic and elastic demand. Inelastic demand means you can raise the price on something and people will still keep buying it in roughly the same amounts. In reality, there aren't too many things that truly have "inelastic demand".
Are tourism taxes the exception? Again, think about your last vacation. When you used your favorite travel search engine to sort out the best airfare and hotel deals, did you double-check the tax rates? And when your kids begged you for some mouse ears while strolling over to Space Mountain, did you tell them they'd have to take a pass because you noticed the sales tax was about 7-8 %? Probably not... Something happens when we're on vacation. The parts of your brain that are into fun and relaxation go into overdrive, while the parts of your brain that rationally calculate money shut down. In other words, your rational brain turns inelastic and you only freak out when the bills come due a month after you've come home. (Hey, it's a theory.)
So, what do you think Maine? You don't like to pay a dime more than you have to in taxes, so should we pull a few more of those dimes out of the pockets of our honored seasonal visitors?... If you have an opinion, now would be the time to call your lawmaker.
Welcome to Primary Day in Maine.
You're forgiven if you didn't really notice. It's an off-year. No statewide issues. Very few candidates. Just a handful of local issues, such as school budget votes. Those are important, but rarely fire the public's collective imagination.
The exception to this ho-hum election day may be in Portland. The voters in Maine's largest city (or a few thousand of them anyway) are picking people to serve on the to-be-formed "Charter Commission." Now, here's why selecting members of a "Charter Commission" falls outside of, rather than squarely in the definition of "ho-hum." This could be the first step to fundamentally changing Portland's system of governance, by paving the way to creating an elected mayor.
Back in November, Portland voters approved this commission, by approving a plan to review the city's charter. The charter is basically the blueprint for running a community. It sort of functions as a community's "constitution". It can even be legally binding in a dispute. The analogy only goes so far, but it gives you a sense of why the charter matters. And Portland hasn't reviewed its charter in 23 years.
So, what happens now?
Well, after picking its nine members, the charter commission will hold a series of meetings and hearings, spanning perhaps a year, before making recommendations for any changes in the charter that would then go out to the voters to approve. Ok, ok.... A year of meetings sounds pretty "ho-hum" to many of you. But I swear, this is important. Again, focus on the big picture. Portland residents, how do you want your city to function? Do you want to elect your mayor, like Boston, Chicago and New York? Or stick with the current system, where you elect city councilors and they choose one among themselves to fill the largely ceremonial job for a year? And if you decide to elect the mayor, do you endow the job with more than just figurehead responsibilities, thereby diminishing some of the authority of the city manager?
Anyway, there are some among you who, like me, find this stuff pretty fascinating. The rest of you-- well, you probably are stifling a yawn as you mutter "ho hum"... The really, really, really low voter turnout so far probably indicates the yawners are in the majority. Still, if you live in Portland and you care about your city, go vote. You have until 8 pm. Get results on News 13 at 11. (I'll try to be excited for the both of us.)
Blowing in the Wind
"For the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change.
It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence
on foreign oil, while building a new energy economy that will create
millions of jobs."
- Pres. Obama, Jan. 26, 2009
Just days after taking office, Pres. Obama made a bold announcement when it comes to energy independence, our economic future and, in his words, "our planet." He committed his administration to trying to get our nation to make a profound shift, to creating one quarter of our energy needs through renewable resources by 2025, a scant 16 years from now.
Bold plan. It doesn't look like it's going to happen.
Congressional leaders are now all but abandoning that pledge
and the president appears to lack the ability to force the issue. The problem?... It's just so blooming hard! Both in terms of political will and economic reality. In other words, it it ain't easy, too few people want to do it. Instead, there's a new Senate plan in the works that calls for 15 percent renewables by 2021 and a soon-to-be competing House plan that calls for 20 percent by 2020. Both are less than what the president wants, but the proposed Congressional mandates are even weaker than they seem. That's because they include loopholes like exemptions for some utilities and rules that would allow others to substitute "efficiency upgrades" for the renewable requirements.
Ironically, President Obama predicted just this sort of lack of political will when he first officially announced his plans
back in January, saying: "Year after year, decade after decade, we've chosen delay over decisive action."
It looks like delay is winning again.
This doesn't mean that Pres. Obama has it entirely right. He might, but then again... It's just that there's deep disagreement over what we need to do and how we should get there. For example, Republican leaders have a plan that essentially agrees with the Democrats that our dangeous dependence on burning foreign oil must end. But their plan calls for building 100 new nuclear power plants over the next 20 years, saying that's a more viable way to quench our growing energy thirst, adding there have been big improvements in recycling the spent nuclear fuel (always the achilles heal of nuclear power).
Interestingly, all sides seem to agree that the most promising way of increasing renewable power in the short term is through wind power. And one place that seems to be getting a lot of attention right now-- is Maine. There's both talk and action when it comes to wind power on land and off-shore, where there's a new push by our elected leaders, with encouragement and interest from Washington, to create a deepwater off-shore wind farm somewhere in the Gulf of Maine. The off-shore plan is a long way from reality, but many of the elements (from scientific viability to financial support to political will) seem to be coming together.
So, while we're clearly seeing more government gridlock on the energy independence issue out of Washington, Maine still appears to be ready to move forward on the promise of the "green revolution." Our security, our planet and our wallets depend on it.
(Note: The AP article linked above on the current renewable energy plans in Washington closes on an interesting sidenote which I think bears discussion... It reads as follows:
- "Ironically, a new report says that because of climate change, wind
speeds are diminishing across parts of the United States, including a
10 percent drop in the Midwest over the last decade. The number of low
or no wind days also has been increasing, according to the report by a
team of scientists at Indiana and Iowa State universities."
If correct, this would seem to point to two things. 1) Maine is really
a focal point for wind power expansion because of what appears to be happening elsewhere, and 2) We better get our act together really, really
quickly when it comes to finding ways to keep both our economy and our planet healthy for the long term. I don't know about you, but the idea of seemingly rapid mass changes to our planet's climate and environmental systems, while we dicker over "renewable mandates", seems to be reminiscent of a certain saying about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.)
Through Thick and Thin
Did you hear the news?
The Portland Press Herald and its siblings, the KJ and the Waterville Sentinel have been sold. Thus ends 14 months of what a union leader calls "limbo"-- a long, agonizing wait during which it's been clear the Seattle Times Co. no longer wanted any part of the properties it reportedly paid more than $200 million for a decade ago. During that 14 months, the paper's owners started trimming its balance sheet, slashing costs in a desperate attempt to attract a buyer. The result?... The company trimmed its news sheets to the point where it seemed at times a puff of wind could blow it away.
But now, new hope. A buyer's group, led by Bangor native, Rich Connor-- an editor and publisher now in Pennsylvania-- has bought the papers, promising to re-focus on-- crazy thought here-- news. The early word is we should expect thicker sections again, harder news, resurrected sections axed in recent months, community sponsorships and a newspaper that's "part of the fabric" of Greater Portland again.
All of that would be most welcome. And those involved also promise something even bigger. Profitability. And that's where things get even harder. Across the country, newspapers are bleeding readers and revenues, lost mostly to on-line competition. (To a lesser extent, local broadcast news operations face the same problem.) Proud papers like the Boston Globe face publicly stated threats of extinction. Something preposterous even a year ago, and distinctly unfathomable a decade ago when revenues from circulation, classified ads, special auto dealer inserts and other revenue sources made newspapers hugely profitable.
Or course-- that success through the late 1990s (about the time the Seattle Times bought Guy Gannett's Maine newspapers) turned out to be a curse. Newspaper groups couldn't conceive of ever losing their lofty perch and couldn't figure out how this upstart thing called "the internet" could ever seriously touch, much less dislodge them. It was simple math. Why invest time, energy, resources and cash in a medium where it was unclear how you'd ever charge your customers a dime for any of it! The then-existing business model was just too lucrative to abandon. Newspaper people thought of themselves as just that... newspaper people. They were in the newspaper business. Not the content or information business. The newspaper business. So they stayed pat, and failed to notice the seismic shifts happening beneath them, until the ground had crumbled and it was too late.
Or is it?...
That brings us to today. It's every news lover's hope that newspapers will find a way to thrive and survive. And this current deal involving Maine's newspapers presents a near perfect test case for the theory. But how much are the hopes for a "newspaper resurgence" just nostalgia? Newspapers like the Press Herald need to prove that they can still "deliver the goods"... by providing timely, accurate information in a convenient and cost-efficient format.
There is a big part of me that wonders: Does it still make sense to spend Monday, for example, gathering news, writing it up, then sending massive amounts of paper and ink through huge machines, then tossing the finished product on to trucks that motor hundreds of collective miles around the region, burning up gas-- to deliver Monday's news on Tuesday... when other media can deliver the same content much more efficiently, and instantly, over TV, PDA, cell phone or computer screens? I'm not being flip or snarky at a news competitor. I love newspapers. I grew up loving them. I still do. But if someone like me... a professed news junkie and newspaper fan is asking such questions... doesn't that illustrate the fundamental dilemma?