Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is Maine a red state now?

My post-election analysis piece is in the new issue of Down East (the one with January 2011 on the cover) and just posted online as well.

The piece asks if Maine is a red state now and, if not exactly yes, what the election results mean for (and say about) Mainers. Input from leading figures in both major parties, academic pundits, and present and former elected officials including outgoing Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, incoming Senate President Kevin Raye, outgoing minority whip Josh Tardy, and Tea Party activist Andrew Ian Dodge. Enjoy.

Coming up in the February 2011 issue is a piece on the conduct of the campaign itself.

Maine politicos may also wish to read recent updates here on Ocean Properties' political activities in Biddeford, the corporate cash behind governor-elect Paul LePage, a sample of Orwellian PACs, and the role of the aforementioned Mr. Dodge in the brewing Tea Party civil war.

And now, your moment of zen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Maine story updates, Dec. 21 edition

Ocean Properties' Biddeford Drive: Ocean Properties, the developers behind the now infamous Maine State Pier proposals, have been busy on the political front in Biddeford, where they want to build a racino.

Pepperel Downs LLC, the Political Action Committee behind the successful local ballot initiative approving the project, received all of its funding from Ocean Properties [PDF]-- $171,432 altogether. OP senior vice president Thomas Varley is the PAC's treasurer. Governor John Baldacci's brother, Bob Baldacci, seems to be sitting this one out so far, but the PAC hired two of the governor's siblings -- Lisa Baldacci and Rosemary Baldacci -- as consultants (paying each $7500.)

After the vote, OP invited several Biddeford city councilors to a Dec. 11 cocktail party and presentation on the project at the Sable Oaks Marriott. (see image at left.) Presumably they felt this would be more persuasive than presenting the project at the city council chambers, where public business usually takes place.

Portland City Council dismantles working waterfront protections: As I wrote here in October, Portland officials have been contemplating loosening the zoning protections for fishing vessels and other working waterfront interests in the commercial part of the waterfront, the so-called Waterfront Central Zone, at the request of the pier owners, who include developers. (The area has been protected from tourism and condo development for a quarter century as the result of a ballot measure.)

Last night the city council voted to implement the changes and to reject amendments that would have better protected working waterfront uses on the piers themselves (while allowing most forms of development along the south side of Commercial Street itself.) The key votes were all 6-3, with Greens John Anton, Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall siding with the fishermen, Republican Cheryl Leeman and Democrats Nick Mavodones, Jill Duson, Ed Suslovic, John Coyne, and Dory Waxman backing the pier owners. For more on what this is likely to mean, watch out for my report in an upcoming issue of Down East.

Press Herald and the Elected Mayor: In case you missed it, Al Diamon broke the story that the Portland Press Herald appears to have given a very large in-kind contribution to one of the PACs pushing for Portland to have an elected mayor. The Portland Regional Chamber gave $46,507 in Press Herald ads to the Elect Our Mayor, yes on 1 PAC, a sum I suspect was greater than all other donations to the issue, pro or con, combined. The Press Herald didn't charge the Chamber for the ads. The Forecaster has posted the document online and has some more context.

[Update, 10:15 pm: Unless I missed it, neither the Press Herald nor the AP covered the city council meeting, despite the exceedingly consequential decision taken last night.]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

MPBN interview: bankrolling LePage

A short programming note: I was interviewed by Maine Public Broadcasting's flagship Maine Things Considered program this evening on the subject of governor-elect Paul LePage's campaign contributors. You can read a transcript here, or listen to the segment here.

As I've reported here at World Wide Woodard, Mr. LePage's election effort was helped mightily by a million dollar advertising campaign paid for by fifty out of state corporations and industry associations, some of whom have clear interests in upcoming political issues in Augusta.

Donors included major pharmaceutical firms (who likely care how reimbursements by Dirigo and Maine Rx are handled going forward), a charter school curriculum developer (who might like to see charter schools in Maine), companies that outsource state social services (and might like to do so here), the industry association that represents the owners of Poland Spring (who are in a constant tangle with local communities over use of local water resources), and the Corrections Corporation of America (whose plans for Maine's first private prison LePage has already promised to help push through.) The last set of campaign disclosures -- which posted yesterday evening -- show these corporations (working through an entity called the Republican Governors Association Maine PAC) indeed bought approximately $1 million in ads supporting LePage or attacking his opponents.

Of course other candidates got corporate donations as well. Difference is, they're not the ones about to take over the Blaine House.

[Update, 1/20/2011: I've taken a more detailed look at these donors and their interests in Maine for the Portland Phoenix.]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Maine Story updates, Dec. 9 edition

A few developments in stories I've been following:

LePage and Private Prisons: Last week I reported on the fifty corporations that provided the big money behind Maine governor-elect Paul LePage's candidacy via the Republican Governor's Association's Maine PAC. One of the firms I highlighted -- the Corrections Corporation of America -- already looks to be seeing a return on its ($25,000) investment. Mr. LePage just announced he's in talks to help CCA build and operate a private prison in Milo, Maine. (Pity the Bangor Daily News didn't mention CCA's donation in either this or a previous story; nor did MPBN in their piece.) Perhaps the governor-elect's team might want to read up on the company. [Update, 12/28/10: The Portland Phoenix picks up on this story.]

Maine rail wins, thanks to new governors elsewhere: Mr. LePage isn't currently in a position to derail the expansion of passenger rail service in Maine, but in Ohio and Wisconsin incoming Republican governors have scuttled projects. As a result, Maine will get an additional $3.3 million in federal resources, fully funding upgrades that allow the Amtrak Downeaster to extend service from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick (and getting it halfway to Lewiston.) For more context on Maine passenger rail service, see my piece in the October issue of Down East.

Snowe's Tea Party challenger? Last week I wrote about the coming Tea Party civil war in Today, Pine Tree Politics claims the main figure in the piece, Maine Tea Party Patriots coordinator Andrew Ian Dodge, is planning to challenge Sen. Olympia Snowe in her 2012 party primary. PTP quotes only anonymous sources, but the Roll Call article they link to does seem to strengthen their allegation. Dodge hasn't confirmed or denied the report.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

American Revolution's O'Brien Brothers: the real story

It's belatedly come to my attention that my feature on the famous O'Brien brothers of Revolutionary War fame appeared in the Summer issue of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. (I'd also written the cover story on the history of wartime plunder.)

You may recall that the O'Briens have been celebrated for their role in capturing a British revenue cutter, HMS. Margaretta, off Machias, Maine in 1775, and event often touted as the "first naval battle of the American Revolution" or even the "birth event of the American Navy." Jeremiah and his younger brothers have had numerous ships named after them, including a Liberty Ship and a series of destroyers, most recently the USS. O'Brien (DD-975), decommissioned in 2004.

As my piece shows, it's ironic that the Navy has been honoring the O'Briens, given that they were relieved of their duties during the Revolution for embezzlement, illegal seizures of shipping, and lack of initiative at a time when the Continental Army, Navy, and Congress were in a desperate condition. The historical record shows clan leader Jermemiah O'Brien to be colorful and courageous, but also self-serving and corrupt. Trenchant reading for the historically inclined.

Unfortunately, the piece isn't currently available online, so you may have to grab this one on the news stand or library.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

PACs in the age of Orwell

I've been doing "follow the money" forensics of late on the Maine midterm elections, which has me digging around the disclosures of the constellation of Political Action Committees through which much of the real campaign money flows these days. Tracking the flow of money is a bit of a shell game, as one PAC gives to another. Making things more complicated, the PACs often have names that would make George Orwell proud, ones that disguise their membership and goals.

Here are a few of my favorites so far:

The "Friends of Maine Hospitals" -- who spread $13,000 between Republicans and Democrats alike -- are really the CEOs and trustees of Maine's hospitals.

Green Jobs for ME sounds like an organization dedicated to promoting solar panel manufacturing in the Pine Tree State. Bizarrely, it's actually a surprisingly large group of Lewiston area anaesthesiologists compelled to spend $94,000 to get slot machines in their community. (If someone knows the backstory on that, I'm all ears.)

The Maine Values Voters PAC sounds like a broad grassroots coalition. In fact, it consists of just two Maine voters; the majority of its funding came from the Christian Right's national Goliath, the Washington-based Family Research Council (which urges you to pray for Tea Party Sen. Jim DeMint.) The PAC's purpose? Buying ads in support of Republican District 25 state house candidate Robert K. Emrich of Plymouth. (He lost in the primary, and the group apparently lost interest in values after that.)

The Move Maine Ahead PAC was the shell through which Marden's and Walgreens funnelled a little over $6,000 to Republican candidates, including Marden's General Manager (and Governor-elect) Paul LePage. It should not be confused with the Move Maine Forward PAC, which forwarded $3000 to Democratic forces from a handful of industry associations and businesses.

The High Hopes PAC apparently represents the hopes of outgoing Senate majority leader Phil Bartlett (D-Gorham), who is listed as its primary fundraiser and decision maker . It piped Democratic candidates and committees nearly $50,000 from a peculiar collection of individual and corporate donors, from Wal-Mart, PhRma, and Visa USA to Equality Maine and Green Party Portland city councilor John Anton. PACs make for some odd bedfellows.

Sound Science for Maine PAC was not, as it sounds, a group advocating for science-based policy solutions. Rather, it was the shell through which two out-of-state chemical companies -- Albermarle Corporation and Chemtura Corporation -- funnelled $20,000 to various candidates, PACs and other entities associated with both parties. Makes one curious what business they may have before lawmakers next year.

And now, back to work...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Is the Tea Party on the verge of Civil War?

Thus far, the "Tea Party" movement has been a Big Tent affair, with Ayn Rand-loving Libertarians, 19th century Liberals, conspiracy nuts, and the soldiers of the Christian Right joining forces to punish alleged agents of socialism lurking in the halls of Congress, Federal Reserve headquarters, the Oval Office, and the offices of moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. But sooner or later, "leave me alone" Libertarians and evangelical advocates of instituting "Biblical law" were going to realize they don't have that much in common.

Sooner, it turns out.

As you'll read in my new piece at Newsweek, the cracks between the two Tea Party factions are already apparent, as each jockeys for influence over the new Republican Congress. And the current leading voice of the libertarian faction -- Andrew Ian Dodge -- is from Maine, of all places. Sources think its a matter of months before the battle is joined, and that the libertarians are grossly outgunned.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Maine: Who bankrolled LePage?

A lot of people didn't want Tea Party darling Paul LePage to become Maine's next governor; he squeaked to victory with just 38 percent of the vote -- one point higher than independent Eliot Cultler -- winning not a single daily newspaper endorsement. Prone to temper tantrums and the utterance of erroneous statements, Mr. LePage's animus against environmental regulations, health care reform, and the Maine Human Rights Act alienated a great many independents, who form the plurality of Maine voters. Democrats and Greens were a lost cause.

I've been curious who liked LePage enough to not only vote for him, but to actually bankroll his campaign. There are two ways to explore this. The first is to examine lists of donors who gave directly to his campaign, which provides a sense of his grassroots support here in Maine. The second is to look at the sources of the real corporate-scale cash that poured in from the Republican Governors Association, paying for many of the negative ads aimed at undermining his opponents. I've had a quick look at both.

Direct campaign donations are limited to $750 per real or corporate person, making it hard for any one interest group to dominate a candidate's war chest. Even so, a few names and interest clusters stick out.

Pre-primary donors -- people who thought LePage was the best Republican candidate -- included Linda Bean, her sister Diana Bean, and her mother Hazel Dyer ($750 each) and Eric, Peggy, Tucker, Michael, Kenneth, Erica, and Emily Cianchette ($750 each, except Emily who gave $500).

General election donors included James, Robert, Darin, and John Quirk of the Quirk Auto Group ($750 each), Sandi, Sam, Corey, Toby, and Sandra Knight of the Knight Auto Group ($750 each); , David, Sigrid, and Jane Marden of Mardens ($750 each), incoming House speaker Robert Nutting ($750), state Sen. Peter Mills ($750), Caspar Weinberger Jr. ($350), Portland developer Joe Boulos ($750); Rite Aid ($250); First Wind LLC ($750), Emerson Toyota of Auburn ($750), Central Maine Motors and their owner ($750 each); Howard Dana of lobbying powerhouse Verill Dana ($750), Maine Health president William Caron ($750); Linda Bean and Diana Bean again ($750 more each); Peter, Eric, Mac, Kenneth and Priscilla Cianchette ($750 each), Matthew, Lori, Jennifer, Lon, Christopher, and Kerry Sue Walters of Woodlands Assisted Living ($750 each); and Dean Scontras ($200). Amusement parks also like LePage, who got $750 donations from Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach and the owners of Aqua Boggin. So do anesthesiologists, including their state association ($750) and their main employer here, the Spectrum Group ($500). (If you want to browse Mr. LePage's disclosures yourself, you'll find them all here.)

But the really big cash behind LePage was funneled into the race via the Republican Governors Association's Maine PAC, which spent nearly a million dollars on media buys supporting LePage or attacking his opponents. Who really brought those ads? Fifty out of state corporations and industry associations to whom LePage owes a great debt including:

(Those wishing to research the RGA Maine PACs donors and expenditures on their own can do so via this page.)

I'll be keeping an eye out to see if any of these firms show up in Maine, looking for contracts or legislation.

[Update, 1/20/2011: I've taken a more detailed look at these donors and their interests in Maine for the Portland Phoenix.]

[Update, 1/24/2011: LePage has nominated a CCA warden to head the Dept. of Corrections.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Signing books, Portland, Maine, Nov. 26

Black Friday participants take note: the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance is holding their annual Holiday Book Sale at the Portland Public Library from 12 to 6pm Friday. Some two dozen Maine authors will be on hand to sign books. Proceeds go to MWPA and Longfellow Books, Portland's flagship independent bookseller.

I'll be there from 4pm to 6pm to sign copies of The Lobster Coast, The Republic of Pirates, and Ocean's End. Come by and say hello.

Other authors include:
Charlotte Agell, Adrian Blevins, Jane Brox, Richard Cohen, Ron Currie, Jr, Gail Donovan, Sandra Dutton, James Hayman, Phillip Hoose, Lily King, Elizabeth Kirschner, Cynthia Lord, Wesley McNair, Lincoln Peirce, Susan Hand Shetterly, Betsy Sholl, Jeffrey Thomson, and Greg A. Zielinski.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Maine political items: Nov. 23 edition

A few items of note for those with an obsessive interest in Maine politics:

In campaign, Baldacci did as asked: I recently interviewed Governor John Baldacci for an upcoming Down East story on the election. One tangential item from our talk that didn't make it into the piece: why did he have such a low profile in the recent election (in which would-be Democratic Libby Mitchell came in a distant third)?

"I certainly did whatever I was asked to do and wanted to be helpful," Baldacci said. "I supported and voted for Libby Mitchell and got involved in the land bond conservation effort while I was trying to help with the coordinated campaign efforts and the like."

Maine Dem Honcho Steps Down: Arden Manning, who headed the Maine Democratic Party's less than triumphant 2010 campaign efforts, will step down on Dec. 31 to pursue graduate studies in France, the Press Herald reported in an easy-to-miss brief yesterday. Manning took considerable heat for a series of negative campaign ads containing falsehoods and Sinophobic messaging.

Opponent of Portland elected mayor considering bid to become elected mayor: Cheryl Leeman, the sole Republican on the Portland city council, spearheaded the effort to stop Portlanders from instituting an elected mayor. But towards the end of this Press Herald piece she notes she hasn't ruled out running for the new post, which voters approved earlier this month. (Some background on the elected mayor story here.)

In a possibly related move, she declined her fellow councilor's offer to serve as the last appointed mayor in lieu of letting Democrat Nick Mavodones occupy the post. One thing is for certain: the Democratic majority on the council would rather have a Republican mayor than allow their true rivals, the Greens, to occupy the ceremonial position.

Following the money imperiled again? Last year I broke the story that Maine city clerks had destroyed most of the campaign finance disclosures (for city offices) in their possession, on the bad advice of a poorly-informed state bureaucrat. As a result, it is now impossible to fully reconstruct who past and present city politicos owe their careers to, including, say, Governor-elect (and former Waterville mayor) Paul LePage.

As a result of my reporting, the legislature ultimately amended the appropriate law to correct the problem. As of August 2011, the state Ethics commission is to take over the task of gathering and permanently archiving disclosures for Maine municipal offices for towns with a population of 15,000 or greater), just as they already do for state elections candidates.

But this morning, the Ethics commission held a conference call with the city clerks to tell them why they've decided to ask the new legislature to delay or reverse the change in responsibility, claiming it will be too hard or costly to accomplish by next August. If this happens, the only online source of campaign disclosures for Maine's largest city will remain my own webpage, which costs me $12 a month and takes a few hours of my time each election cycle.

[Update, 11/23/10, 16:05: I had an opportunity to speak with Ethics commission executive director Jonathan Wayne and learned that (a) the central problem has to do with adapting their database to allow municipal candidates to file electronically; (b) the discussion with clerks suggested a sort-of no frills alternative -- a database of scanned PDFs, for instance -- would probably satisfy everyone, without imposing undue costs and technical challenges. Mr. Wayne said the commission will be considering the issue over the next couple of weeks.]

I'll be following this story, of course. But for those interested in the whole saga, here's a list of appropriate posts.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maine ports: if you build them, will ships come?

In my bi-monthly column in Working Waterfront, Parallel 44, I look at the latest round of public investments in Maine's struggling shipping ports. State and federal taxpayers are investing millions in this once-crucial infrastructure. So what's the plan?

Maine's media being what it is, I've also managed a "scoop": Maine's only container port shut operation down back in August, when the longstanding scheduled barge service ceased all New England operations. Funny thing: the Portland Press Herald always prints a sunny piece whenever container operations resume at the city owned port, but rarely reports when those operations fail. (The paper never misses a story celebrating their own owner/editor, though; and they wonder why their circulation is plummeting faster than any other daily in the state.)

After reading, those with an unhealthy interest in Maine ports may find more details in the state's federal grant application.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tidal Power surges forward

Wind energy gets most of the attention on the renewable front these days, but a new generation of tidal energy technologies promise to generate environmentally-friendly flows of electricity in quantities that can be predicted decades ahead of time.

Not surprisingly, the Bay of Fundy region -- southern New Brunswick, the left side of Nova Scotia, and easternmost Maine -- is emerging as the leading test center for the industry worldwide; it has the world's largest tides, peaking at 50 feet at the head of Nova Scotia's Minas Basin (and still a healthy twenty feet on the Maine-New Brunswick border.) But what has surprised industry experts is that a Maine-based start-up has leapfrogged ahead of its older European competitors to become the forerunner in making the technology commercially viable.

I tell the story in this feature in the new issue of Down East, including the hopes its generating in Easternmost Maine, where F.D.R. intended to build the world's largest tidal project in the depths of the last Great Depression. (Unfortunately, the piece had to be cut for space at the last minute, so I'll likely be reporting some lost details in another venue.)

One programing note: hiatus complete, I'll be back in the magazine's Talk of Maine column next issue.

[Update, 11/15/10, 12:00: The government of Canada just announced it's investing $20 million in Nova Scotia's tidal energy test site.]

Monday, November 8, 2010

Talking Coastal Maine's identity, Wells, Nov. 9

Residents of Southern Maine: I'll be giving my talk on the past, present, and future of coastal Maine as part of York County Community College's Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday, November 9, at 4pm at the main YCCC building in Wells. The talk is based on my New England Bestseller, The Lobster Coast.

It's the last talk I currently have scheduled this calendar year, but you can always find newly scheduled events via my speaking page.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Talking Coastal Maine's identity, Cape Elizabeth, tonight

Residents of Greater Portland: I'll be giving my talk on the past, present, and future of coastal Maine as the keynote address to the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust's annual meeting, which takes place from 5 to 7 pm today at the Local Buzz, 327 Ocean House Road. The talk is based on my New England Bestseller, The Lobster Coast.

I'd have mentioned it earlier, but I hadn't been aware it was open to the wider public until I saw this notice in today's Maine Sunday Telegram. I understand space is in short supply at this point, so if you're thinking of attending, RSVP ahead at 767-6054.

Can't make it on short notice? Note I'm giving an expanded version of this talk in Wells, Maine on Tuesday, Nov. 9, as part of the York County Community College's Distinguished Lecture Series.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Maine: did outside negative ads work in local Senate races?

This campaign season was one of Maine's nastier ones in recent memory, in large part because of the role false negative advertising played in the election. Both Democratic and Republican groups indulged in outright lies about various candidates' records. But did it help them?

There's already been plenty of attention given to the gubernatorial race, where the Maine Democratic Party's decision to stretch the truth beyond the breaking point appears to have backfired, fueling the nearly successful last-minute stampede to independent Eliot Cutler, who finished a narrow second in the race. Mr. Cutler has argued that the experience shows that false campaign advertising doesn't work in Maine.

One hopes that is the case, but the outcome of five key state senate races provides evidence to the contrary.

In the waning days of the campaign, the Kennebec Journal reported that the D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee had dumped a staggering $400,000 into five state senate races, in most cases spending more than the actual candidates combined. (The RSLC had also failed to disclose their contributions in a timely fashion, meaning Democratic clean elections candidates didn't receive matching funds in time to use them effectively.) Most of the money was spent on negative -- and in some cases, false -- advertising against the Democrats in the race, and in a tone so unpleasant that even some of the Republican candidates denounced them. “There’s an ugly side to this that doesn’t belong here,” Republican Senate District 28 candidate Brian Langley told the Bangor Daily News, adding the ads could well hurt him.

Not so, it turns out. The ads appear to have worked.

In all five races targeted by the RSLC media blitz, the Democratic candidates lost: Lois A Snowe Melllo (R) took out Deborah Simpson 54-46 in District 15; Nichi Farnham (R) beat Joseph Perry 56-44 in District 32; Tom Martin Jr. (R) defeated Pamela Trinward (D) 54-46 in District 25, and Mr. Langley prevailed over Democratic rival James Schatz and onetime Green gubernatorial candidate Lynne Williams in District 28 by 52-35-13. In District 24, Augusta's Republican mayor, Roger Katz (who also condemned the ads) defeated Democrat Patsy Crockett 62-38.

There's no way to quantify the effect the ads had on these election results, but at least two of the races were close enough for the ads to have easily been decisive, helping give the GOP control of the Senate. Expect the RSLC -- and possibly its Democratic counterpart -- to intervene in our elections from here on out.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Maine: final pre-election round-up

Election day is tomorrow. Here are a few final items for Mainers and Maine aficionados:

Angus King condemns false political ads, endorses Cutler: As you've probably heard by now, two-term independent governor Angus King gave independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler a last minute endorsement Saturday. What you may have missed is that the speech King gave was uncharacteristically pointed, and well worth watching in its entirety. He says while he respects Paul LePage and has a 25-year friendship with Libby Mitchell, extreme partisanship and the negative mailers from the Maine Democrats deployed against Cutler compelled him to take a position.

Mitchell campaign and the FiveThirtyEight engine: Amid the growing consensus that Mitchell is indeed the spoiler who will give LePage the Blaine House, Mitchell supporters have clung to the New York Times' "FiveThirtyEight" forecasting engine, which claimed for most of the election that Cutler had a "zero percent" chance of winning. That's changed in the past week, but the algorithms in the engine don't respond to sudden changes, like the rapid sea change in polling numbers for Cutler and the endorsements of him of virtually every newspaper in Maine.

But as the New York Times' very own Five Thirty Eight blog notes: "If a candidate upends [LePage] at the last minute, it might indeed be Mr. Cutler rather than Ms. Mitchell. The model finally puts Mr. Cutler on the scoreboard, giving him about a 2 percent chance of victory (it had given him almost no chance before). I suspect that is a bit low, and that Ms. Mitchell’s chances, down sharply on Friday to 5 percent, are too high. The movement in this race is occurring very, very rapidly, in a way that sometimes occurs in primaries but is extremely rare in general elections."

Is the Maine Tea Party non-partisan?: Maine's "Tea Party" movement is just as ideologically ambiguous and institutionally fractured as its counterparts elsewhere in the country, so any conversation about what and who it supports isn't going to reach any solid conclusions. Still, it's interesting to see one of its (many) leaders holding a press conference to try to emphasize that it doesn't endorse candidates, even Republican First District Congressional candidate Dean Scontras, who's said he likes to think of himself as one of the movement's founders. But, then, the very same Tea Party leader has actively campaigned for Republican Second District Congressional candidate Jason Levesque on one of the principle Tea Party websites. No wonder we're confused!

Who's against an elected Portland mayor? Last week I posted a summary of campaign and PAC financial disclosures for local Portland races and ballot questions. The latter include a vote on whether to institute a directly elected mayor, an issue I've written about in Down East. Afterward, I realized the clerks had not given me the disclosures for the anti-mayor group, the grandly named Citizens to Retain Responsible Government, headed by longtime councilor Cheryl Leeman and the "unofficial mayor of Commercial Street," Cyrus Hagge, a philanthropist and president of a general contracting firm.

Another tedious trip to City Hall yields this snapshot of the anti-mayor cause. Ms. Leeman's PAC raised far less than its opponents -- $1175 in the current period -- and most of the contributions came from real estate interests, including (Mr. Hagge's) Project Management Inc., 2 Union Street LLC, 217 Commerical Street LLC, Bowball Investments LLC, and Mary Boulos of Cape Elizabeth. This would seem to indicate that at least some developers feel threatened by the idea of an elected mayor, even a weak one.

[Update, 11/1/2010, 14:45: One final poll out today, this from my colleagues at Down East. It shows LePage way ahead, Cutler in second, and Mitchell trailing. Mike Tipping -- perhaps the Maine media's closest thing to a polling expert -- has all the details.]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mitchell as spoiler, Part II

A week ago, I argued here that the Maine gubernatorial race had boiled down to two facts: a majority of Mainers don't want Tea Party darling Paul LePage to win the race and (b) Democrat Libby Mitchell has become the spoiler, a candidate who can't win the race, but is splitting Maine's moderate majority sufficiently to put a volatile social conservative in the Blaine House.

A series of polls have since come out since confirming this analysis. The latest, made public hours ago, has Independent Eliot Cutler (31%) in striking distance of Mr. LePage (37%), with Ms. Mitchell falling to a distant third (22%.) It's worth noting that this poll comes to us from Pan Atlantic SMS Group, which is headed by longtime Maine Democratic Party chair Victoria Murphy and her husband, Patrick, and thus unlikely to have animus against Mitchell.

Polls earlier this week differed on how far LePage is ahead, but agreed that Mitchell's support is declining while Cutler's is surging. Pine Tree Politics has a graph of all the polls, save the new one, showing the trend since the primary. Yesterday's Public Policy Polling survey also confirmed that Mitchell is the least liked and most disliked candidate in the race, while Cutler is the most liked and least disliked, despite a barrage of negative advertising against him by the Republican Governors' Association, the Maine Democratic Party, and Emily's List (d.b.a. "Maine Women VOTE!") [PDF]

Indeed, the negative adverts appear to have backfired on the Democrats, who overstretched the truth in their anti-Culter pitch. (Example: they quote Culter saying "Governors don't create jobs," but leave off the rest of the quote "What governors and governments can do is create the conditions in which people and businesses will invest, prosper and create new jobs.") A senior party official, Democratic National Committeeman Sam Spencer condemned the Maine party's ads last week, amid a stream of unflattering stories on the more Sinophobic ads. (Mr. Spencer is Cutler's godson, but I don't doubt his integrity in matters of political principle: he was the only one of the 471 national DNC members to oppose the national party's stunning decision to retain superdelegates' ability to overrule voters earlier this year.) Mitchell had an opportunity to distance herself from the more absurd ads in the debates, but declined to do so.

Mainers who fear a LePage victory appear to have but one fruitful course of action open to them: uniting their support around Mr. Cutler.

[Update, 10/29/10, 14:30: Right-leaning Pine Tree Politics concurs, as does the proudly leftist Progressive Review (d.b.a. Coastal Packet)]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Beginning or the Beginning of the End for Portland's Working Waterfront?

Portland, Maine's commercial waterfront has been largely protected from non-marine development since voters passed a ballot initiative in the late 1980s. But as some marine sectors have declined, pier owners have argued that the zoning should be loosened to allow restaurants, retail stores, and other Old Port-style development on the piers and the water side of Commercial Street. Only in this way, they argue, can they generate sufficient revenue to maintain the piers.

While there's general agreement that the status quo isn't working [PDF, p. 5]-- and that the south side of Commercial Street could probably be developed without harming the working waterfront on the piers behind -- loosening the zoning for the overall Central Waterfront Zone is a tricky matter. Get the details wrong and Portland's fishermen, bait dealers, seafood buyers, and chandlers could be forced out by luxury hotels, swank restaurants, and tourist-minded shopping.

Zoning changes are working their way through the city's policy machinery. If they turn out to doom the working waterfront, someday we may look back on last night's Community Development Committee vote as the turning point. Councilor John Anton put forward a series of amendments that would serve as an insurance policy for the working waterfront [PDF], effectively separating the 150-feet bordering Commercial Street (where all sorts of development would be permitted) from the piers themselves (where restaurants, retail, and any non-marine first floor tenants would be banned.) Anton's amendments were defeated by his colleagues Cheryl Leeman (who argues there are plenty of safeguards already) and Dory Waxman (who didn't say much of anything.)

The unamended package goes before the full city council for final approval in December. Those who care about Portland's working waterfront should scrutinize it carefully beforehand, as at this stage even the stakeholders themselves aren't sure what the effect of the Byzantine rules will be, and the fail-safe button is now in the off position.

I'll be covering this story as it unfolds, and the potential effect of the proposed zoning changes becomes more clear.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Maine: Fresh campaign reports for Portland city races

As the city can't manage to post campaign finance reports online until years after the fact, I've taken it upon myself to do so, and to at least skim them before each election. It's a tiresome task, so I do hope someone compels the city clerk's office (or their technical support people) to get their act together before the next election.

The latest disclosures for city office and the city ballot measure to introduce an elected mayor were due last Friday, and cover the entire campaign through Oct. 19. I'll post them over at my ad hoc Portland, Maine campaign finance page when I get a chance, but for now, here's the cliff's notes version:

City Council, at large race: This pits incumbents John Anton (Green) and Jill Duson (Democrat) against outgoing district three councilor Dan Skolnik (D) and challenger Charles Bragdon (G). The top two vote getters will claim a seat at City Hall.

Longtime councilor Duson has raised the most money -- $2038 -- with the Longshoreman's union and their leader, Jack Humenick, contributing $450. Maine Turnpike Authority manager Paul Violette and former councilor Will Gorman($100) also back Duson, along with the proprietors of something called CT Management (who gave a combined $700.)

Skolnik, who announced he was retiring from his District 3 seat, but is now staging a write-in campaign for at-large, won his previous term with the help of substantial donations from people associated with Ocean Properties, the firm behind the Maine State Pier debacle. Apparently the old OP crowd still likes the guy. Former VP Bob Baldacci (the governor's brother) gave $100 and former spokesman Harold Pachios, $250. Former legislator Ethan Strimling ponied up $100 as well. Total kitty for Skolnik: $645.

Anton is apparently confident in being reelected, as he reported having no activity this cycle. Bragdon also raised no money, but gave himself $79.60.

City Council, District Three Race: This pits former mayor Ed Suslovic (D) against political newcomer Will Mitchell (D), son of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell.

Mitchell raised an impressive $6394 this cycle from a long list of donors, large and small. These included his mom and dad ($100), councilors Anton ($350) and Nick Mavodones ($100), former councilors Gorman ($100), Jim Cloutier ($100), Jim Cohen ($100 with his wife), and Anne Pringle ($100), and the Portland Longshoremen (the maximum $350.) It's clear where the establishment stands on this one.

Suslovic raised $2355, but also loaned himself $10,000. Donors included Yarmouth Senate candidate Dick Woodbury ($250).

Question One: This asks if we should have an elected mayor, instead of letting the councilors appoint each other to the post. (I wrote on this issue and the background to it earlier this year in Down East.)

Two Political Action Committees have raised and spent thousands to ensure the measure passes. The driving forces are the League of Young Voters, which kicked in $1300 for their own PAC, and the Portland Chamber, which have $2500 (and another $2936 in in-kind support) to the "Elect Our Mayor - Yes On 1 PAC." The other big donor to that aforementioned PAC: Burt's Bees founder, philanthropist, and real estate accumulator Roxanne Quimby, who gave $5000. Makes one wonder if she's planning to run herself.

[Update, 11/1/2010: I made a second trip to City Hall to get the disclosures for the anti-elected mayor PAC.; see the last item here.]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mayflower: the real story

On account of new fatherhood, I took a short hiatus from writing the Talk of Maine column in Down East, but the new issue has my review of a new book on the Pilgrims: Nick Bunker's Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History.

As you'll read in the review, Mr. Bunker's account sheds new light on the Mayflower voyagers and the role early Maine played in their successes. As Bunker is from England -- not New England -- his book is liberated from the tropes of the Bay State's historical myth makers, giving us a refreshing and more accurate perspective on the Pilgrim experience.

(By contrast, here's what I've said of Nathanial Philbrick's popular Mayflower, a more readable account that failed to break with the Mass-o-centric paradigm handed down by Harvard's Victorian Era dons.)

I have a feature in the next issue of the magazine, but I'll be back at Talk of Maine in the January issue of the magazine, which hits the racks the second week of December.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Who's the spoiler in Maine governor race?

Maine's three-way gubernatorial race has boiled down to this: a majority of voters don't want Tea Party darling Paul LePage to lead the state, but they've had a hard time deciding what to do about it.

The large proportion of undecided voters in the race -- nearly thirty percent in some polls -- are resistant to voting for Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell, who has proudly run as the candidate of the status quo. They could line up behind centrist Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, but they've been paralyzed by the fear this will split the moderate vote, handing the Blaine House to LePage, a serial liar with socially conservative views, a hostility to environmental protection, and the political instincts of a small town street thug.

But recent polls suggest it is Mitchell who has become the real spoiler. The Critical Insights poll released last night confirms the trend: Cutler has doubled his support base to pull into a dead heat with Mitchell, who has been hemorrhaging support since the primaries. (Pine Tree Politics has posted a useful graph of the polling trends here.) Mitchell's candidacy is going nowhere because independents and moderate Republicans can't stomach her (notice she gained no supporters, even as LePage's support dove by fifteen percent in the aftermath of his public tantrums) and many progressives see her as part of the state's cozy Democratic establishment.

It's no accident that Cutler has won the endorsements of the state's leading newspaper (the historically conservative Bangor Daily News), the newspapers in Republican-friendly southern York County (the Seacoast group), the owner of the Village Soup weeklies in Waldo and Knox County (self-declared 'disruptor' Richard Anderson), and the decidedly liberal-progressive alt weekly, the Portland Phoenix. He's the only candidate with a hope of defeating Paul LePage.

[Update, 10/22/10, 15:00: The Brunswick Times-Record has just endorsed Cutler, noting Mitchell has not provided "persuasive evidence she’d be a different governor than fellow Democrat John Baldacci has been for eight years."]

[Update, 10/24/10, 07:50: The Portland Press Herald has also endorsed Cutler, saying
"Mitchell – although a dedicated public servant – is not the agent of change Maine requires."]

[Update, 10/26/10, 09:00: The Lewiston Sun Journal has endorsed Cutler, while the Biddeford Journal endorses Mitchell, rounding out the Maine dailies. Not one of them supported LePage.]

[Update, 10/29/2010: There's a follow-up to this post here.]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Maine: Press Herald fails readers again

I'm trying to avoid having this space become a running commentary on the shortcomings of Maine's former newspaper of record, the Portland Press Herald, but once again they've churned out a story so jaw-droppingly bad, I can't help but tear into them again.

Yesterday's paper contained a puff piece -- a puff piece! -- on Ocean Properties, the development firm behind the greatest Portland political scandal of the past decade. Ann Kim's piece "Ocean Properties' brand boosts racino's allure" touts its "reputation for having a golden touch."

Uh, right.

Ms. Kim and her editors failed to mention the fact that right here in Portland, the company allied with certain city councilors who deceived the public into thinking a critical piece of public infrastructure -- the city-owned Maine State Pier -- was in critical disrepair, and could only be saved by leasing it to the company for the better part of a century so they could build a $100 million waterfront hotel and office complex on top of it. Company personnel gave lavishly to the campaigns of city councilors Jill Duson, Dan Skolnik, and Dory Waxman (who they had employed as a community organizer for the project), all of whom refused to recuse themselves from Ocean Properties-related votes. Mayor Ed Suslovic and ex-mayor Jim Cloutier both lost their seats in the ensuing food fight, reshaping the city council.

Only later did it emerge that the city had known the whole time that the only reason the pier needed $26 million in "repairs" was so it would be strong enough to build an Ocean Properties-like development on top of it.

The Press Herald ignored this story under its previous owners. Under Rich "We don't sell news" Connor, it is whitewashing the past, even turning to Ms. Duson as a source on OP's reputation. One hopes the fact that former OP front man Bob Baldacci is a part owner of the paper isn't playing a role.

Maybe part of the problem is that there are few people left at the paper who know anything about this city. That would explain last week's editorial on the resumption of ferry service to Nova Scotia that wrongly asserts that The Cat and Scotia Prince docked in Halifax, not Yarmouth. If you don't understand even the basic routes the service has used (and why those route lengths make economic sense) you shouldn't be editorializing on them.

(For more on the history of Portland waterfront issues, start here. For the campaign finance disclosures of city councilors, start here. For the disclosures documenting OP's contributions to city councilors, download this pdf. For background on ferries, start here.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mainers: rescue the Press Herald's comments section

The comments area of Maine's former newspaper of record, the Portland Press Herald, has long been a nasty neighborhood, dominated by a pack of ignorant thugs. Thoughtful readers have learned not to even look at the comments, given the foul, often racist tenor of the remarks there.

That's a pity, because a well moderated comments section can be a more interesting and informative read than the news site itself. Take a look, for instance, at any story on the CBC's site for our neighbor (and demographic doppelganger), New Brunswick. The comments and debate there between readers is lively, pointed, and generally constructive. Often times you learn lots of things about the issue at hand that the CBC itself failed to report.

I've been a critic of Rich Connor's leadership of Maine's largest newspaper chain, but I'm encouraged to see his staff has just put out a reader survey asking if anonymous commenting should be eliminated, a step that might encourage posters to consider if they really stand behind their words. I encourage any of the paper's potential readers -- we all know how many of us have given up on the hapless broadsheet in recent years -- to take part.

My own position is that anonymous posting and blogging is often the refuge of scoundrels. Exercise your First Amendment rights proudly, thoughtfully, and in your own name.

[Update, 10/19/10: In an unusually cogent statement, Maine Today Media has announced it is ending online comments at all three of its newspapers, at least until such a time as they can figure out how to hold people accountable for their words. Now if you want to comment on a story, you'll have to write a letter to the editor under your real name, which is how it should be.]

[Update, 10/20/10, 10:00: The paper, perhaps reconsidering having posted something cogent and forceful, has taken down their explanatory statement, which had accurately described the comments section as having become "vicious," replacing it with this bland form that allows you to send your thoughts to Connor.]

[Update, 10/21/2010, 16:00: In another example of erratic, unprincipled leadership, the paper has reintroduced anonymous commenting.]

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lincoln Chafee on future of "old school" Republicans

Over at last week I wrote about the future of Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and, by extension, the "old school" Northeastern Republican tradition in these Tea Partying times.

As sometimes happens, some interesting material ended up on the cutting room floor by the time the piece passed through editing. In this case, it was former Republican Senator (and current independent candidate for governor of Rhode Island) Lincoln Chafee's thoughts on the future of this "Teddy Roosevelt" or "Rockefeller" Republican tradition, now that even Sunbelt conservatives are being challenged from the right.

“Ultimately I don’t think we can all survive as unaffiliated independents, and the Democratic Party hasn’t proven attractive for us,” Chafee told me. “I think a third party, a progressive party, might have to be formed so we can have a true home and organization.”

The Cha
fee family's G.O.P ties go far deeper than those of the current national party leadership, most of whom were Southern Democrats until the 1970s. The son of a Republican senator and governor, great-great-grandson of another governor, and great-great-nephew of two more, Chafee's remarks highlight the historic sea change in the party in recent decades, which could now be said to be the Party of Lincoln in Name Only.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

LePage: a more comprehensive look

It's a sign of the state of Maine's media that the most comprehensive and richly sourced article on gubernatorial frontrunner Paul LePage comes to us from an out-of-state publication.

Suzy Khimm, a reporter for Mother Jones magazine, appears to have done the article entirely by telephone from Washington, D.C., but managed to speak to more Republican and Tea Party sources than any of our daily newspapers to date.

One quibble: Ms. Khimm quotes former Maine G.O.P. chair Ted O'meara in the piece, but fails to mention he is also the campaign manager for one of LePage's gubernatorial rivals, independent Eliot Cutler.

For further reading: I've written a couple of pieces on LePage and the Maine "Tea Party" effect in recent months, including this one in Down East and this other one for Newsweek.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Are Snowe and Collins Vulnerable?

My latest piece for just posted, this exploring whether Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are vulnerable on their right in these Tea Partying times.

As you'll read, the fate of Maine's senators is also that of the old Northeastern (or "Rockefeller") Republican tradition, the one that created the G.O.P. and ran it for the first century of its existence. These "old school" Republicans claim to uphold a decidedly Yankee combination of frugality and (government-directed) social reform, both outgrowths of the Calvinist mission of the early Puritans. But the Sunbelt-controlled national party has swerved to the right since the mid-1960s, declaring government the enemy (and, often, Jesus as their policy adviser), driving many Rockefeller Republicans into the ranks of the unenrolled or into the arms of the Democrats. Their supporters gone AWOL, moderates can find themselves in a tough spot in winning over increasingly conservative Republican primary voters.

There's input from both senators, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, a national pollster, and a wide range of Maine politicos. After reading, you may wish to peruse Public Policy Polling's polls -- here and here -- on the Maine Senators' alleged vulnerability. I've also written in more detail about the state of the Maine G.O.P. in this article at Down East.