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.