Monday, February 28, 2011

Mother Jones picks up "LePage's Secret Puppeteers"

My recent Portland Phoenix story "LePage's Secret Puppeteers" -- on how Maine Governor Paul LePage outsourced the creation of his regulatory reform package to lobbyists for outside corporations -- has been picked up by Mother Jones, which has been doing a lot of hard-hitting reporting on the national Tea Party movement.

The piece has also made its way into the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Kennebec Journal, and the Portland Press Herald, though the latter paper swiped the article's findings without noting where they came from.

Funny enough, Mike Tipping's column in the Kennebec Journal elicited a letter from one of the sources in my article, Geoff Herman of the Maine Municipal Association. Tipping had noted -- accurately -- that Herman had "denied" the MMA had requested that a repeal of the state's culvert rule (designed to protect trout and other fish) be included in the governor's reform list, as LePage's spokesman, Dan Demeritt claimed. Herman took issue with that characterization, saying "there was no duplicity in the way the culvert issue made its way to the table" -- though since he wasn't involved, he can't know for sure -- and that he told me he presumed the issue made it onto the agenda by member municipal officials -- just as I reported in my piece.

But from there, Herman stopped making sense. "I didn't "deny" anything. There was nothing to deny," he wrote. "Even if the municipal association had expressly made the request, that also would have been a grass-roots process."

Two things: First, I called Herman specifically to confirm if Mr. Demeritt's assertion that MMA had requested the culvert rule change was correct. It was not. That's called a denial

Second, neither my article nor Tipping's suggested the MMA's participation -- had there been any -- would have been inappropriate. Rather, the piece provides evidence suggesting certain rules changes were instead made at the behest of outside corporate interests.

With Mr. Demeritt and Mr. Herman's stories at odds with one another, it's still unclear who really requested that the culvert rule be put on the agenda.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Speaking about publishing, Portland, Mar. 5

The Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance is hosting Pros(e): A Business of Writing Conference here in Portland, Maine on Saturday, March 5. I'll be giving the keynote.

The conference runs from 10 am to 6:30 pm at the Portland Public Library. Here's a little info from the MWPA website:

This daylong MWPA conference is chock-a-block full of amazing opportunities for authors to learn more about the publishing business and how to professionalize their writing. Maine journalist and author Colin Woodard (The Lobster Coast) will give the event’s keynote address. Seminars include:

+ Writing from the Copy Editor’s Perspective with Stephen Abbott

+ Shakespeare, Copyrights, and Protecting Your Work with Jenny Milana

+ The Proposal with Jaed Coffin

+ Do You Lulu? Taming the Tools of Online Publishing with Carolyn Gage

+ Finding Your Place in the Book Business with Barbara Baig

+ Q & A forums with magazine editors, book editors, and agents

The event is $75 for MWPA members, $125 for non-members. Further details, schedule, and sign-up forms in this PDF packet.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Maine: Portland's working waterfront, R.I.P?

Elected officials in Portland, Maine voted in December to undo central planks of the city's working waterfront zoning regime, an epochal change that took place with surprisingly little media and, thus, public attention.

My Talk of Maine piece in the new issue of Down East magazine evaluates the risk to the lobstermen, groundfishermen, and marine-related businesses that presently occupy the wharves of the central waterfront.

For some additional background context on the intersection of policy and politics on the Portland waterfront, start here and continue here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

WERU interview: LePage's secret puppeteers

I was a guest on WERU's News Report Thursday, talking about the issues raised in my Portland Phoenix article, "LePage's Secret Puppeteers."

The segment is now online at their website, if you want to check it out.

I posted several updates on the governor's controversial regulatory reform package last week. Since then, the Maine Chamber of Commerce has distanced itself from the more controversial measures, suggesting the governor may be running short of political support to push them through. MPBN also carried this report on the governor's decision to scale-back his wish list for the time being.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Borders goes down

The big news this week in the book world is the collapse of Borders, which just filed for bankruptcy protection, which means publishers -- and therefore, authors -- will take a hit for hundreds of millions of dollars in books the chain sold, but never paid for. The Wall Street Journal reports my own publisher, Penguin Group USA, had the most exposure at $41.1 million. That's a lot of copies of Lobster Coast.

Borders has also issued a list of stores to be closed. Surprisingly, all four Borders in Maine -- South Portland, Auburn, Brunswick, and Bangor -- will apparently survive for now. (I've heard the South Portland store is actually one of the chain's most profitable in the entire country.) The carnage in New England is extensive, however, with locations in Nashua (N.H.), Holoyoke, Wareham, Boylston Street, Hyannis, and -- sniff -- Peabody (MA); Danbury, Milford, Simsbury, Southbury, Manchester, and Wilton (CT) closing up shop. I've been to nearly all of these stores during one book tour or another, and there will definitely be some big retailing voids as a result. (Borders hopes to survive as a smaller chain.)

Much of the carnage in the bookselling world is apparently due to online retailers, but I still wonder if the disappearance of so many big box stores will give the surviving independent booksellers a fighting chance. In the past couple of years, Maine lost some of its best: Port in a Storm (Somesville), Bookland (Brunswick and Rockland), and Books etc.'s Portland location. I, for one, hope the rest survive, as there are getting to be fewer and fewer venues for readers, authors, and books to encounter one another, face to face.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Maine Story Updates, Feb. 15 edition

A few updates on stories I've been covering:

On "LePage's Secret Puppeteers": A number of updates regarding the prominent role of lobbyists and their corporate clients in the creation of Maine Gov. Paul LePage's regulatory reform wish list:

Pierce Atwood lobbyist Patricia Aho (who represented the American Petroleum Institute and the chemical companies that make a banned fire retardant) has already started work as Deputy Commissioner of Environmental Protection, according to LePage's communications director, Dan Demeritt. She joins the governor's regulatory reform adviser, Preti Flaherty lobbying chief Ann Robinson, and his political adviser, Preti''s in-house expert on LURC, Carlisle J.T. McLean, in his cabinet.

Far from trying to play down their role in putting the chemical BPA back in baby's bottles, sippy cups, and other containers, The Toy Industry Association of America trumpets their involvement in this Feb. 10 press release. Ms. Robinson is their registered lobbyist here, and Ms. McLean represented them on the BPA issue last year.

LePage may be feeling the pressure, however. His draft of the relevant law, L.D. 1, contains no reference to repealing the BPA ban, the Kid-Safe Products Act, e-waste recycling, or the zoning regime of 30 percent of Maine's unorganized territories. The governor's staff say they haven't abandoned those points, but are simply postponing them.

Finally, even Richard "Scoops Don't Matter" Connor's Portland Press Herald has picked up on this story. Rebekkah Metzler's article makes no attempt to credit my Phoenix article or Susan Sharon's MPBN piece for the material she passes on. That said, I guess I did beg them to steal my stories here a year ago, so I suppose I should be happy.

On "Mud Wrestling": In case you missed it, the state Ethics Commission has recommended the largest fine of its kind in state history to be levied against the Republican State Leadership Committee. As my article in February''s Down East described, the RSLC has been condemned by both parties for funding a series of false campaign ads attacking local Democratic senate candidates. Some think the $41,000 fine -- for not reporting their spending in a timely fashion so the Democrats could take advantage of clean elections matching funds -- isn't big enough.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Maine: Scarcelli's firm under fire Down South

My Portland Phoenix piece on Maine Gov. Paul LePage's very cozy relationship with corporate lobbyists has taken most of the attention, but in the same issue I have a short article on former Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and U.S. Senate hopeful) Rosa Scarcelli.

In short, Ms. Scarcelli's property management firm is under fire in Natchez, Mississippi, where its buildings have reportedly been "abandoned" after years of serious complaints by residents, code inspectors, and unpaid contractors. As you'll see in the piece, Scarcelli tells me her firm is a victim of a deadbeat property owner: her wealthy mother, Pam Gleichman. (Ms. Gleichman also owns dozens of properties in Maine, many of them housing the elderly.)

Scarcelli also took issue with a previous blog posting here, where I called her out for lying to the readers of the Portland Press Herald about her knowledge of her husband's involvement in the creation of the now-infamous Cutler Files website.

She contends that she didn't lie because she didn't learn that her husband, Thom Rhoads, had been involved in actual editing of the website until "around Thanksgiving." In September and October she says all she knew was that (a) her husband had done opposition research on Cutler; (b) her husband had given the research to her former campaign advisor, Dennis Bailey and (c) Mr. Bailey appeared to have made a website with it. Therefore, she argues, she wasn't lying to the Press Herald on Oct. 27 when she said she and her husband had nothing to do with the website (and that she was offended they were accused of involvement.) She says she was furious when she learned a month later that her husband had helped edit the website as well.

I told her it seemed to me that her husband having provided the content from which the Cutler Files was created was, indeed, "involvement," and that the distinction she was drawing between content creation and the technical production of the website itself was unimportant. But I said I'd share her point of view with my readers, in case some of you will see it differently.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Maine: LePage takes on another Preti advisor

My story in this week's Portland Phoenix reveals how Maine Gov. Paul LePage has been outsourcing the drafting of his regulatory reform proposals to corporate lobbyists. With the chair of Preti Flaherty's lobbying group, Ann Robinson, simultaneously acting as his advisor and as the registered lobbyist for PhRMA, the Toy Industry of America (TIA), and other interested parties, it's no wonder his reform wish list is packed with measures that help corporations "from away" rather than businesses here in Maine.

Apparently, the governor isn't feeling sheepish about all this. On Friday he announced he had hired a political advisor: Preti attorney Carlisle J.T. McLean, who represented Plum Creek in negotiations with the Land Use Regulatory Commission (which LePage wishes to eliminate) and tried to . keep BPA in baby's bottles and sippy cups on behalf of TIA.

Preti's website boasts of Ms. McLean's expertise in getting client's rezoning applications approved at LURC. Perhaps her skills will come in handy as the governor tries to force LURC to rezone a third of Maine's North Woods for development.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tea Party activist to challenge Sen. Snowe

As long expected, Maine Tea Party Patriots coordinator Andrew Ian Dodge has announced his intention to challenge Sen. Olympia Snowe in the Republican primary next year.

I wrote about Mr. Dodge earlier this winter at, as he is perhaps the most visible figure in a Libertarian effort to fend off the Christian Right's growing influence in the Tea Party movement. Social issues, he argues, don't matter; getting government out of people's lives does. While no fan of Maine's Tea Party-backed governor, Paul LePage, Dodge is also hostile to Sen. Snowe, who he denounces as Republican In Name Only.

Steve Mistler of the Lewiston Sun Journal did a fantastic profile of Mr. Dodge shortly after my piece came out that revealed, among other things, that he's independently wealthy. (Hypothesis: Libertarianism comes more naturally to people who've been born into material comfort.) In October, I wrote this piece for Newsweek on why Snowe and Maine's junior senator, Susan Collins, may be vulnerable to a challenge from the right.

On the face of it, Dodge's candidacy appears Quixotic. He's taking on a popular, entrenched, fabulously wealthy Senator from the right, but will likely garner little support from social conservatives or the anti-intellectual crowd. But, then again, a year ago I didn't think Paul LePage had a chance of being elected governor.

Friday, February 11, 2011

In Montreal

Back briefly in my role as a foreign correspondent, I'm currently on assignment in Montreal for The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Christian Science Monitor. Expect brilliant stories shortly.

True to stereotype, people are watching live curling competitions in the hotel lobby (Ontario vs Saskatchewan), and a good ten broadsheet pages of The Gazette are dedicated to hockey each day. Now if they could just fix all those badly-built bridges and overpasses.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Maine: LePage's (corporate) Puppeteers

My latest story in the Portland Phoenix is on how Maine Gov. Paul LePage is outsourcing the writing of his much-touted regulatory reform package to corporate lobbyists. They, not surprisingly, have the interests of their out-of-state corporate clients first in mind, the suffering small businessman: maybe not so much.

MPBN's Susan Sharon beat me into "print" on how the governor's official "Phase 1" regulatory reform document has PretiFlaherty document numbers stamped on it. In this story, the governor's communications director confirms a top Preti lobbyist's role in the drafting of the regulations, and I show what their clients have gotten out of it so far.

And its not just Preti. Pierce Atwood's managing partner was in on the act, and their clients wishes made the list as well. Will be interesting to see who benefits from "phase two" and beyond.

[Update, 2/13/2011: LePage has hired another Preti attorney as his political advisor.]

[Update, 2/15/2011: Some additional developments in this story.]

[Update, 7/21/2011: Additional details revealed in confidential administration dossiers.]

Friday, February 4, 2011

Talking about LePage's "Secret Bankers" on WERU

I was the guest on WERU's Radioactive program yesterday, talking about "LePage's Secret Bankers," my Portland Phoenix piece on the governor's corporate backers in the Republican Governor's Association Maine PAC.

You can now listen to the segment online: it's at the bottom of the linked page, the one marked "2/3 Radioactive."

I first wrote about the governor's backers in the RGA Maine PAC here at World Wide Woodard, and spoke with MPBN about the issue in December.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Maine: Tardy makes up for lost time

I'm again busy with a story that has me digging in lobbyists' disclosures and -- once again -- I accidentally ran across Josh Tardy, the immediate past House GOP leader here in Maine.

As I reported here last month, Mr. Tardy has found employment in a new lobbying partnership with (former Maine Democratic Party chair and) corporate lobbyist Jim Mitchell, where he's representing Corrections Corporation of America before his former legislative colleagues.

Now Tardy's client list has filled out. He'll also be representing some 20 other corporations including Anthem, G.M, PhRMA, Eli Lilly, MaineHealth, Proctor & Gamble, and J.D. Irving and will be the principal lobbyist for Altria (formerly known as Philip Morris), the Maine Trial Lawyers' Association, Maine's teachers' union, and, Maine Racing LLC, the new name for the entity that wants to build a racino in Biddeford.

I also learned it's no surprise that Tardy jumped straight from representing the people to representing corporations. His father, Robert Tardy, is also a legislator-turned-lobbyist. And guess where dad got the idea? Why from Josh.

Here's a passage from the Center for Public Integrity, a few years back: Former Republican lawmaker Robert Tardy retired from the Maine House of Representatives in the mid-1990s. "My older son was an attorney, and he said I was wasting my experience and said I should be doing some lobbying," said Tardy. Later, that son, Josh Tardy, was elected as a Republican to the House, where he serves as assistant minority leader.

Don't waste that experience!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Maine: LePage offering environmental job to top chemical/oil/developer lobbyist

If one thing has become clear about Maine Gov. Paul LePage's administration, it's that they're eager to please out-of-state corporate interests. As MPBN's Susan Sharon reported last night, the reason the governor's "phase one" deregulatory wish list included a desire to undo the Kid Safe Products Law (and its ban on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups) was not because the Maine Grocers' Association didn't like it, as the governor's spokesman claimed. The likely suspects: the American Chemistry Association and the national toy industry association, which fought hard to block passage of the law last year.

Who, you might ask, actually did the fighting for the chemistry industry in Augusta? That would be Pierce Atwood lobbyist Patricia Aho, whose client list for 2011 also includes the American Petroleum Institute (a.ka."Big Oil"), drug maker AstraZeneca, the Maine Real Estate and Development Association, Casella Waste Systems, Verso Paper, a wind farm developer and energy company Unitil. (Last year she represented Poland Spring owner Nestle Waters North America as well.)

So guess who LePage is considering to serve as Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Environmental Protection? You got it: Patricia Aho, as the MPBN report revealed.

Betting a pair of my newer socks that Ms. Aho won't be the only corporate lobbyist to find her way into overseeing the industries she represents. (In case you're wondering, these are the Toy Industry Association's lobbyists here in Maine.)

[Update, 2/13/2011: LePage has hired a Preti attorney who represented the Toy Industry Association and Plum Creek as his political advisor.]

[Update, 6/24/2011: Aho has been promoted to acting commissioner of the DEP, and is accused of gutting enforcement of her former patrons in the chemical industry.]