Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mr. King Goes to Washington

On January 4 Angus King, the two-term independent governor of Maine, will replace Olympia Snowe in the United States Senate. What's he got planned? Where does he stand on the pressing issues on The Hill? What's he have to say about his decision to caucus with the Democrats and the committee assignments he received as a result? And where's he going to live?

I sat down with King recently and posed these and other questions. The results are in today's Maine Sunday Telegram.

For more on King's background, readers may also be interested in this biographical piece I did as part of a series on the Senate candidates. And if you'd prefer an exit interview with Sen. Snowe, check out my colleague Kevin Miller's story today.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Some more on the Republican's Yankee Problem

For those with an interest in how regionalism is shaping U.S. politics, I have a new extended essay in today's Maine Sunday Telegram on how the G.O.P. has managed to make itself all-but extinct in the region of its birth.

The argument is built on the framework developed in my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. If you're interested in examining the "nations map" more closely, there's a high-resolution PDF available here at World Wide Woodard.

Readers of the print edition will find it on the front of the Insight section today. My thanks to staff artist Michael Fisher for the excellent "elephant-in-the-boat"  illustration.

Regular readers will recall that I floated an initial version of this argument last month at Washington Monthly's Ten Miles Square.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jane Smiley on American Nations, Hugh Laurie and Republic of Pirates

From the Department of Shameless Self-Promotion's Book Publishing Unit:

Jane Smiley's Favorite Book: Today, the Sacramento Bee asked some bestselling authors for their 2012 holiday book recommendations. Jane Smiley -- author of 22 books -- chose American Nations.  "It's my favorite book of the year," she wrote. Thank you!

Hugh Laurie meets Republic of Pirates: Media outlets around the world reported recently that Hugh Laurie of House is in negotiations to play Blackbeard in NBC's forthcoming drama Crossbones, which is based on my third book, The Republic of Pirates. The original story appears to have been carried by Hollywood Reporter, but it's lead to stories everywhere from Entertainment Weekly to London's Guardian to this website.

A Maine Sunday Telegram trifecta: This past week's Maine Sunday Telegram Bestseller List for Paperback Non-Fiction simultaneously included American Nations (#1), Lobster Coast (#3) and Republic of Pirates (#6). Thank you, Southern Maine readers, for your continued interest and support.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Speaking on the oceans on MPBN's Speaking in Maine, Dec. 5, 1pm

As some of you know, my first book and years of my reporting career focused on the problems facing the world's oceans. In May, I joined Graham Shimmield, director of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, in a public discussion of the challenges facing the seas.

The talk is airing tomorrow, Dec. 5, on the radio stations of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. It's part of their "Speaking in Maine" series, and starts at 1pm.

For those with further interest in this topic, my book is entitled Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas. Alas, it's the only one of my four titles not to make this week's Maine Sunday Telegram Paperback Non-Fiction Bestseller List, but that doesn't mean it isn't good!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Maine's War for the Shore

A trivia fact you may not know: Maine is one of the few states where private landowners -- not the state -- own the seabed exposed at low tide. And under a controversial 1989 court decision, public easements were defined as being limited to those delineated in a document adopted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1647: "fishing, fowling, and navigation."

The 1989 decision is regularly ignored in practice and has been condemned by legal scholars, the State of Maine, and even some high court justices themselves. Now there appears to be fresh motion toward redefining public trust rights in the intertidal zone, a topic I've written about in today's Maine Sunday Telegram.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Snowe's Mixed Signals

In February, the political establishment here in Maine was rocked by Sen. Olympia’s Snowe’s late and entirely surprising announcement that she would not seek reelection. The Senate, she said, had become a frustrating place, where “an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.” Rather than serve another term - her reelection was a given - she would “enter a new chapter” in which she would “help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.”

“I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us,” she added, and later announced she would convert her campaign committee into a PAC to support such centrist, post-partisan change.
But here in Maine, where she is the perhaps most influential Republican, Snowe has not yet put her money where her mouth is.

As my story in today’s Portland Press Herald shows, Snowe, her husband, and her campaign committee gave exclusively to Republicans and in Maine’s state-level races this cycle, including divisive and polarizing figures like Gov. Paul LePage, with whom she shares a personal loyalty. Indeed, her staff say she gave to candidates based on their loyalty to her during her abortive reelection bid, and the pattern of her giving emphasizes party over ideology, as when she appeared in television ads to unseat the most avowedly centrist, non-partisan member of the state senate in favor of a Republican challenger.

Sources expect her political donations will change character going forward, now that her campaign committee has become Olympia’s List. Stay tuned.

Cross-posted from Washington Monthly

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How did the Maine GOP lose the State House?

Earlier this month, Republicans lost control of both houses of the Maine legislature, reversing their historic takeover just two years ago and isolating Gov. Paul LePage, a Tea Party-style conservative now mid-way through his first term.

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram, I've tried to determine how and why. Drawing on data on electoral geography, political spending, party strategy, candidate incumbency and candidate ideology (as determined by the LePage-ist Maine People Before Politics and the liberal Maine Peoples Alliance) -- and interviewing candidates, part strategists, and academics -- the piece concludes that the Democratic effort was regionally targeted and greatly helped by Gov. LePage's reputation in those areas and the willingness of donors to give lavishly to block his agenda.

Also with the article check out the map of the new Maine House of Representatives: a stark "red/blue" map showing the GOP to have become the party of the so-called "rim counties", the Democrats the party of southern, central, and coastal Maine as well as Bangor. (The senate map is similar.) Given the relative population of these areas, that's a worrying trend for Republicans and one that's likely to be on their minds as the 126th legislature gets to work.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Meeting readers at MWPA's Holiday Book Sale, Nov. 23

If you live in or near Portland, Maine and are wondering how best to spend -- or avoid -- the Black Friday shopping experience, may I suggest seeking sanctuary at the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance's 2012 Holiday Book Sale?

MWPA has teamed up the Friends of the Portland Public Library and Portland's own Longfellow Books, to host the annual event Friday, November 23, from 2 to 5pm. More than a dozen Maine authors will be on hand to meet readers, sign books, and hide from the bustle of the Maine Mall.

I'll be there, but despite that you may still want to come by to meet fellow authors including Janis Bolster, Susan Conley, Gail Donovan, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, Brenda Gilchrist, Margaret Hathaway, Preston Hood, Wesley McNair, Elizabeth Miles, Jim Nichols, Patricia O'Donnell, and Elizabeth Peavey.

It's at the main branch of the Portland Public Library on Monument Square.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reviewing "Governing the World" in the Washington Post

As a longtime foreign correspondent and onetime student of international relations, I've had an interest in how it is that the United States went from being the leading force in the creation of institutions of international governance to an opponent of the same. Under Woodrow Wilson, F.D.R., and Harry Truman we worked to build the League of Nations and United Nations -- the latter, at least, a powerful lever for implementing American policies for decades -- only to have neoconservatives and the Rapture-minded-faithful-in-office work to take them down.

There were reasons for this conversion, of course, and  Columbia University historian Mark Mazower relates them in his new book Governing the World: A History of an Idea. My review of the book is in this morning's Washington Post if you'd like to learn more.

For those looking for other reading suggestions, my most recent reviews for the Post were of Mike Lofgren's The Party is Over, Eric Ratkow's American Canopy, E.O Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth and David Hackett Fisher's Fairness and Freedom.

[Update, 11/25/12: The Denver Post picked up this review.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Woodard on Woodward

Bob Woodward is coming to Portland, Maine tomorrow and, as a result, I interviewed him last week for the Portland Press Herald. The article - pegged to his talk at USM - is in today's paper.

At the start of our conversation, Woodward asked: "That's 'Woodard' with no second W?" Yes, I said, although for my entire career people have been trying to add the 'w' back in on account of you. (The reverse, I understand, is not true.)

In any case, enjoy the interview, which focuses on Woodward's thoughts about investigative journalism in the age of Wikileaks and weakened newspaper companies.

The talk, should you go, is sponsored by WEX, the company until recently known as Wright Express. Company president Mike Dubyak wrote to let me know of their central role in the event. He said Woodward is speaking before his company's employees at USM Thursday morning and that he, Dubyak, will be moderating tomorrow night's event. (It's also a fundraiser, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to scholarships for USM students.)

Photo C

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Beyond the Red State, Blue State Map, a Federation of Regions

I have yet another offering in regards to how the "true" regional map of out country is reflected in the results of last week's U.S. elections: this front page story from the Maine Sunday Telegram. (It was also the lead story in the Telegram's Augusta sister paper, the Kennebec Journal.)

The nut: "While [red state/blue state] maps suggest our political differences may have a regional basis, they actually conceal the depth of the sectional divide because they fail to capture the true cultural fault lines that have shaped and defined American politics since long before the United States came into existence."

(Needless to say it draws from the American Nations paradigm.)

The piece is also available via the McClatchy news wire, for any subscribing publications out there.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The 2012 U.S. Election and the American Nations

If you've been on the edge of your seat, wondering if the U.S. election would play out as suggested by the regional map put forth in American Nations, the waiting is over. It did, almost to a T, and no surprise given that the general election became an explicit choice between those two touchstones of American regional conflict, individual liberty against communal freedom.

I hold forth on this in this OpEd piece today at Bloomberg View, which just over a year ago published a five part series of excerpts adapted from the book. (It's worth a click just to enjoy the illustration, which features a fight between a cartoon-like Puritan and Appalachian frontiersman.)

Enjoy and, as always, let me know what you think.

[Update, 20:17: The Minneapolis Star-Tribune picked up this OpEd, with a fun cartoon of their own.]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

On the GOP's collapse in Yankeedom

I've written several pieces running this weekend on the effect of regional cultures on the U.S. election results this year. They all draw, of course, on the paradigm set forth in my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

The first posted last night over at Washington Monthly and focuses on the predictable but disastrous outcome for the Republican Party in the region of its birth: Yankeedom, the swath of the country first colonized by New Englanders and their progeny. It's the featured piece on their website this morning. As always, have a read and let me know what you think.

If you've just been introduced to my framework, you can download a high-resolution, county-level map of the eleven regional cultures here.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Maine Politics: Evaluating the Money Flood

I have a number of election related pieces about to come out in several venues, and the first is on the legislative races here in my home state of Maine.

After the 2010 elections, I wrote about the unsavory consequences of outside spending in Maine's once fairly chivalrous state senate, house, and gubernatorial races in Down East. This year, the flood of third party spending into our legislative races more than doubled that of 2008, with unknown consequence for Pine Tree State politics.

In tomorrow's Maine Sunday Telegram I explore the issue, speaking with campaign finance experts, candidates who'd won and lost in targeted races, and other sources about what it all means. Did it work? What's it mean for clean elections candidates? Who outspent whom and why might they be involved? It's all in the piece, now up online.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gov. John H Reed (1921-2012)

John H. Reed, governor of Maine in the early and mid 1960s, died Wednesday in Washington, DC at age 91.

I didn't know much about Gov. Reed until late yesterday morning, when I started work on this obituary profile which ran in today's Portland Press Herald. Grandson of one of Fort Fairfield's most successful men -- a seed potato grower -- and a farm manager himself, Reed was thrust into the governor's mansion at 38 after the sudden death of his predecessor. A Republican who became friends with LBJ, he would later serve - twice - as our ambassador in Sri Lanka.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It's all in the piece....

(A side note. By odd coincidence, yesterday I wound up speaking to both name partners at the law firm Curtis Thaxter back to back for entirely different and unrelated stories. (Kenneth Curtis defeated Reed to become governor of Maine in 1966.))

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Maine: fulltime virtual schools reapply for charters

For those following the issues surrounding the possible advent of full-time virtual charter schools here in Maine, I have an update in today's Portland Press Herald.

Schools that would be managed by K12 Inc and Connections Learning have resubmitted their applications to receive charters. The companies were at the focus of an investigative report I did for  the Maine Sunday Telegram which ran Sept. 2.

More details in the article.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On Romney, Dixie, the Electoral College, and the American Nations

There's been a lot of talk in political circles about what it would mean if Mitt Romney won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College contest while carrying only the South. Would Barack Obama be said to have more of a mandate than he would if his popular vote loss wasn't confined to Dixie? Will such a development shore up support for retaining the Electoral College?

As the author of a book on North American regionalism, I've found the discussion intriguing. This evening I joined in, offering some thoughts at Washington Monthly's Ten Miles Square. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Making of Charlie Summers

For those who've been following the race to replace US Senator Olympia Snowe here in Maine, the third and final installment of my candidate biographies is out in today's Maine Sunday Telegram.

Today's profile is on Republican nominee Charlie Summers, who by some -- but by no means all -- polls is within striking distance of the frontrunner in the race, former governor Angus King. Summers -- literally raised in his parent's hotel in Kewanee, Illinois -- was a rising star in Maine politics twenty years ago, but has been serving his state and country in appointed or military capacities, not elected ones, ever since. Now he's hoping to replace his former mentor - Sen. Snowe - even as he has become estranged from her.

While reporting this story, I made some calls to Kewanee, which prompted a reporter there to write this "local kid made good" piece for the regional newspaper chain in that area this weekend. 

In case you missed them, here are the previous profiles of Angus King and Democratic nominee Cynthia Dill. And if you're a glutton for Maine politics, there's also this dual profile of the US House Maine-2 candidates, Michael Michaud and Kevin Raye.

[Update, 10/29/12: Here's my post introducing the U.S. Senate profiles to readers of Washington Monthly]

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Things to watch and read, Oct. 25 edition

A few items that may be of interest to readers of this blog:

Case against McKernan-led firm moving forward: As I reported in the Portland Press Herald today, one of the two whistleblower suits against for-profit university company Education Management Corp., looks to be going forward. A magistrate judge has recommended four of six counts against EDMC go forward. Former Maine Gov. John McKernan was CEO when at least some of the alleged counts took place, and is currently EDMC's chairman of the board. He is married to U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who announced in February that she is not seeking reelection.

Regional origins of violence: I've argued in my latest book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, that understanding our cultural geography is essential to understanding just about anything in U.S. (and Canadian) politics. Today Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker takes a similar approach to understanding regional differences in violence and other things over at the New York Times's Opinionator blog.

Is the Tea Party done for?: A year ago, I used the American Nations paradigm to show why the Tea Party movement is doomed to never become a dominant force in national politics in the Washington Monthly. Today, the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne argues the conservative ideas central to the movement are on the wane on the national stage. (Central evidence: Mitt Romney's sudden, necessary lurch to moderation.)

Republic of Pirates, the TV series: As many of you know, NBC announced in May that it was ordering a prime-time television series based on my third book, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Neil Cross (of BBC Luther fame) is writing the show, which is now titled "Crossbones." For entertainment news hounds, this recent news item on the show has been circulating around the web.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

NOM, same sex marriage, and Maine campaign finance law

If you've lost track of where things stand with the National Organization for Marriage, same sex marriage initiatives, and Maine's campaign finance laws, here's the story for you.

NOM was the primary force behind efforts to defeat the same sex marriage ballot measure back in 2009, giving nearly $2 million to the effort. It ran afoul of Maine law, however, by refusing to disclose the source of those funds, prompting an investigation by the state ethics commission, a suit by NOM against the commission in federal court, and this story I wrote for Down East at the time.

As of the last filing period, NOM had given $250,000 to defeat this year's repeat ballot initiative, again constituting a majority of the funds raised so far. This time it claims all funds came from its general treasury, meaning no further disclosure is required.

So is NOM in violation of the law this year as one national activist has claimed, and why haven't they had to disclose their 2009 donors, given that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against them? Read my story in today's Maine Sunday Telegram for an overview of where things stand.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Alewives in St. Croix: Environmental group files suit against Maine

For those of you who've been following the peculiar story of the alewives of the St. Croix River -- who the Maine legislature has prohibited from spawning in most of the river -- there's a new development.

The Conservation Law Foundation has filed suit against the State of Maine, charging that the law is in violation of the constitution, a development I broke in today's Portland Press Herald.

It follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's directive informing Maine that its law violates the federal Clean Water Act and Attorney General William Schneider's response that the EPA's remarks were not legally relevant.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Speaking on American Nations in Plattsburgh, NY, Oct. 16

For those in the greater Plattsburgh, New York area, I'll be discussing American Nations at the State University of New York - Plattsburgh tomorrow evening, October 16th, at 7:30.

This is part of the Karl Cron Lecture Series hosted by the university's Protestant Campus Ministry Student Association and  is held at the Alumni Conference Room.

The lecture is free and  open to the public.

For more information, their press release says to contact chaplain Ana Rivera-Georgescu at or the student association president Alexander Malsan at

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Making of Cynthia Dill

Here in Maine, the big political race this season is for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Olympia Snowe, whose sudden retirement announcement back in February took the entire political class by surprise.

There are five candidates, but even in the most generous analysis, it's a three-way race between former two-term independent governor Angus King, sitting Republican secretary of state Charlie Summers, and Democratic nominee Cynthia Dill, a state senator.

I've been researching "the making of...." biographies of these three candidates for the Maine Sunday Telegram, seeking to show where the candidates came from, how it shaped who they are and the values and political philosophies they hold and, in the broadest sense, what those values and philosophies are as demonstrated by their extant political career. The first, on Angus King, appeared late last month.

The Cynthia Dill profile is in this morning's Telegram, and traces her life from her birth in Carmel, New York (where the Dills are a well-known and much respected family) to her rapid political ascent, which has seen her go from first-term town councilor in Cape Elizabeth to a major party nominee to perhaps the most influential legislative body in the world in just six years.

A side note: Maine politicos may also be interested in my post yesterday at the Press Herald's Open Season blog, in which Ms. Dill hints at the possibility of a "last minute deal". In a Facebook comment yesterday, Dill further clarified that she might leave the race if someone -- presumably Mr. King -- stood up for "Democratic values."

The third installment of this series - on Mr. Summers - is scheduled to appear a week from today. [Update: 10/28/12: The Summers piece is out too.]

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In a polarized age, Maine CD-2 candidates have much in common

In a politically polarized age, Maine's Second District Congressional race stands out. The district -- the largest east of the Mississippi -- is more rural, poor, and conservative than Maine's other, more southerly House district, and while it has supported Democratic presidential candidates in recent elections, its voters are largely responsible for giving the GOP control of both houses of the legislature in 2010.

Perhaps its not surprising, then, that the two men vying for the seat this year have a great deal in common. As my dual profile in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram points out, incumbent Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and his rival, state senate president Kevin Raye, have remarkable parallels in terms of background (both live within a few miles of the rural Maine towns where they were born) and policy (both being moderates within their respective parties with reputations for fostering cross-partisanship and who express concern for the loss of American manufacturing.) They've even faced off for this House seat before, in 2002, when Mr. Michaud won by 4 points.

In the absence of stark contrasts, incumbency may be serving Michaud well. Polls have him up by double digits.

Monday, October 1, 2012

American Nations, the Penguin paperback

I'm pleased to announce that my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, is now available in paperback. Penguin put their edition on sale last week, with slightly modified cover art and the current map of the nations.

The book is also available in Viking hardcover, Kindle, Nook, and audiobook editions. I've provided links to the Amazon pages for informational purposes, but buy them from your local bookseller if your community is fortunate enough to still have one. (Here in Portland, Maine, that's Longfellow's where there are usually signed copies in stock.)

For more on the book, try the reviews and media available from the American Nations page at

Thursday, September 27, 2012

King campaign's spin gets out of (their) hand

Here's a lesson in how not to spin a news article.

As many of you may already know, my lengthy profile of Angus King -- the Independent candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Olympia Snowe -- was in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram.

Shortly after it appeared, the King campaign posted (without permission) a censored version of the article on their campaign website (since removed). The campaign said they had edited it for length, but managed to purge all references and quotes that could be construed as critical of the candidate, plus a great deal of the background material on his origins in Alexandria, Virginia and some of his business activities. Most rich for many was the deletion of retired Press Herald state hours reporter Paul Carrier's observation that, as governor, King could be "thin-skinned and controlling".

My colleague Mark Shepard reported the incident in the Press Herald, and that story has since been picked up by conservative media including Fox News, the Daily Caller, and blogger Matt Gagnon (d.b.a. Pine Tree Politics). Gagnon's headline, "The paranoid, thin skinned, insecure King campaign" distills the narrative the incident has helped write.

The lead story in yesterday's Press Herald? Steve Mistler's piece exploring if the King campaign is firing on all cylinders.

That's an example of of how to spin something right out of your control.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Making of Angus King

My biographical profile of Angus King, currently frontrunner in the race for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Olympia Snowe, was in the Maine Sunday Telegram yesterday.

The piece -- and forthcoming ones of Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill -- focuses on the making of the person, their world view, and political philosophy. And, yes, I did manage to find yearbook photos, even if it took going to the former Hammond High School in Alexandria, Virginia to get them.

King has been leading in the polls, but only by single digits (over Summers) in the latest polls.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reviewing "The Party is Over" in the Washington Post

My review of Mike Lofgren's The Party is Over is in the Washington Post this weekend.

Lofgren, a career Republican congressional staffer, retired last year after 28 years and published a fiery essay at Truthout about what he saw as the radicalization of his party. The book expands upon these themes, and takes Democrats to task for not offering a credible alternative.

For more -- and my thoughts on the book -- enjoy the review.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

K12 Inc. under investigation in Florida

For those who missed it, I had a follow-up story in the Portland Press Herald yesterday on K12 Inc., one of the two companies seeking to operate full-time virtual charter schools in Maine.

The company is under investigation in Florida for allegedly using uncertified teachers and pressuring other teachers to join in concealing this from school district officials.

K12 was at the center of my Maine Sunday Telegram investigation on digital education policy here in Maine, which ran with this companion story on K12 on Sept. 2.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gov. LePage attacks Telegram investigation in radio address

Gov. Paul LePage is apparently not concerned about the troubling findings of my investigation in last week's Maine Sunday Telegram, which showed how private online learning companies with dubious track records were shaping his administration's digital learning policies.

The governor instead used his weekly radio address to lash out at the article, claiming at one point that it had "lied saying that my campaign was paid by an out of state company to push virtual learning."

"This is a bold faced lie," the governor added, apparently referring to the article rather than the statement he had just made.

Of course, the article made no such claim, as anyone who reads it can see for themselves.

What it did say was that the nation's largest digital learning company, K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., spent $19,000 to help get LePage elected in 2010, via the Republican Governors Association Maine PAC.

But let's recap this issue for the governor, since he seems to have been poorly briefed. The RGA Maine PAC was created to get the Republican nominee -- LePage --elected, and it would spend over a million dollars to do so in 2010.

On October 11, 2010, K12 Inc. kicked in two donations totaling $19,000, which you can see on page 3 of their disclosure for that period at the Maine ethics commission (or the image here:)

Over the next 48 hours, the PAC made ad buys totaling over $360,000, about half spent in support of LePage and the rest on negative ads targeting LePage's opponents, Libby Mitchell and Eliot Culter. You can find all of this on page 5 of the same document, or in this image:

So it's the governor who is the one who is being boldfaced here. I suggest his office should issue a correction, as we did in regards to the typographical error in our piece.

On that: last week Brent Littlefield, LePage's chief political adviser, did his best to make hay over the fact that in one of the references to this $19,000 contribution in my article, the wording made it sound like the RGA Maine PAC had given the $19,000 to LePage's campaign organization to spend, rather than spending it themselves in support of LePage. (This would of course impossible, since direct donations to campaign organizations are capped at $750.) We corrected that online and in print last week, and I responded to Littlefield's effort to spin this on WGAN Friday morning.

"[O]ur education policy was taken to task because of a perception that what we are doing somehow hurts school boards, superintendents or taxpayers," the governor also proclaimed in the radio address. "And yet nobody was talking about our core goal: what is best for the students."

Of course, the effect on students was precisely what the article said was at stake, though the set of policies LePage has directed the education department to move forward on -- the Digital Learning Now! standards -- have plenty to interest the taxpayer as well, including directives to have the state pay for the online classes of private school students.

But, then, anyone who has actually read the articles already knows this, and has been able to avail themselves of the source documents that back it up. If you're one of those who haven't read it, you might want to do so, even if you're the governor of Maine.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Virtual schools in Maine: LePage adviser tries a diversion

My Maine Sunday Telegram investigation on full-time virtual charter schools and digital education policy seems to have gotten the attention of Gov. Paul LePage's inner circle.

LePage's political adviser, Brent Littlefield, called up WGAN's morning news program Wednesday to denounce a "falsehood" in the article: that in one of three references to K12 Inc.'s $19,000 contribution to LePage's candidacy via the Republican Governor's Association PAC, the wording suggested the money had been given directly to LePage's campaign organization. If there are such blatant falsehoods, Mr. Littlefield asserted, how can we trust anything in the piece?

First things first: yes, the wording of that first reference inadvertently got changed in a way that made it incorrect. Of course the RGA Maine PAC didn't direct the $19,000 to LePage's campaign organization -- such donations are capped at $750 by law. The reason such PACs exist is precisely to get around such spending caps. We've corrected the wording online and put a clarification in print.

But the point that was actually being made was that K12 Inc. contributed $19,000 to help get LePage elected, which is absolutely true.

Littlefield is of course well aware of the RGA Maine PAC's role in the 2010 gubernatorial election. The PAC -- whose purpose was to get the Republican nominee elected to the Blaine House -- spent over a million dollars in support of LePage or to oppose his opponents.

On October 11, 2010, K12 kicked in two payments totaling $19,000 (see page 3 of the PAC's disclosure here). Over the next 72 hours, the PAC made ad buys totaling over $356,000, about half spent in support of LePage (on the radio) and the other half on negative ads targeting his opponents, Libby Mitchell and Eliot Culter (on television; see page 5 of the same document.)

During the interview, Littlefield also displayed a surprisingly poor understanding of what the article was actually about, suggesting he hadn't bothered to read it before hopping on the phone for a little spin work.

I suppose Littlefield is just doing his job, but I don't think WGAN's listeners will appreciate being manipulated in this way, especially over a what is actually a minor fact in the story, and one that isn't even news, having been reported on nearly two years ago.

I'll be on WGAN this morning to set the record straight and to encourage listeners to read the piece and the sidebar, even if Littlefield hasn't.

[Update, 21:29: link to this morning's interview added.]

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Virtual control: an expose on digital education policymaking in Maine

Readers of the Portland Press Herald and its sister papers may have noticed I've been relatively quiet for the past month. Here's why:

On the front of today's Maine Sunday Telegram you'll find my special report on how national online education companies have influenced the creation of digital education policies -- and full-time, virtual schools -- here in Maine.

There are a lot of revelations in this one (that education commissioner Stephen Bowen was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council until March of last year gets lost in the flood), but you shouldn't miss the sidebar on the dubious record of full-time virtual schools elsewhere in the country.

Oh, and my colleague Bill Nemitz -- not knowing what I was working on -- independently came up with this separate piece concerning Mr. Bowen as well.

Thanks to everyone who has e-mailed, posted, or otherwise commented on the piece; I appreciate the flood of kind words. Will keep the investigations coming.

Monday, August 27, 2012

DeCoster, Land o Lakes reward friendly lawmakers

Many of you may recall last year's fight over a special bill to reduce labor protections for worker's at Austin Jack DeCoster's notorious egg farms, home to serial violations of labor, environmental, health, and worker safety laws of frankly jaw dropping magnitude. The bill -- sponsored by Rep. Dale Crafts (R-Lisbon Falls) and backed by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake (R-Turner) -- was approved in commitee, but struck down after Sen. Chris Rector (R-Thomaston) and other lawmakers learned they had been deceived about the company's recent track record.

Decoster subsequently sold his holdings to Land o Lakes subsidiary Moark LLC, and last session the legislature passed the sought-after labor restrictions on the egg farms' behalf.

Now the legislators involved appear to be reaping their rewards. Austin Jack DeCoster has donated $100 each to Mr. Timberlake and Mr. Crafts' reelection efforts. His longtime farm manager Doucas Goranites -- foster brother and genetic first cousin of Sen. Olympia Snowe -- has given Timberlake the maximum allowed donation of $350.

For its part, Land o Lakes has given both lawmakers -- and another Turner-area legislator, Sen. Garrett Mason (R-Lisbon Falls) -- the maximum $350 each through Moark LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary based in Fontana, California. Two of Moark's employees, General Manager Blair Hagy and DeCoster Farms official Laurin Hagy, also gave $350 apiece to Rep. Crafts. Blair also gave Rep. Timberlake and Sen. Mason $350 apiece. Altogether, egg interests have added up to what amounts to significant money in legislative races, which are often won with a campaign chest of just a few thousand dollars.

In the world of money and politics, it's rare one finds a clear quid pro quo, but every once in a while...

(Cross-posted from the Press Herald's Open Season)

Monday, August 20, 2012

FDR's park and America's second "day of infamy"

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's life was changed forever one morning on Campobello Island, located a few hundred yards over the Canadian border from Lubec. He was at his summer cottage, in bed. He tried to get up, but his legs didn't work. The doctor in Lubec was stumped. Nobody in the Passamaquoddy region had ever seen polio -- which FDR contracted at a Boy Scout camp in New York -- before.

Today, FDR's cottage is part of a unique and incredibly beautiful international park, co-administered and co-funded by the United States and Canada. That park has also faced a major upset -- the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks -- and, like its namesake, it has had to refocus its energies to recover.

I revisited the park earlier this summer, and my feature on its foundation, its namesake, and its current struggle is in the Insight section of this week's Maine Sunday Telegram. Read and enjoy.

One note: I've received a number of e-mails and calls from recent visitors to the island who have been told by Lubec customs that they don't really need a passport to get back into the U.S., just a photo i.d. It's great that Lubec is taking a practical approach to Campobello's strange geography, but technically they're doing you a favor. Officially you really do need a passport.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Six Rival Regional Cultures of Canada

Much of the attention for American Nations has come from within the United States, but I've always thought the book had at least as much relevance for Canadians, offering an explanation for English-speaking Canada's perennial identity crisis. Spurning some of my marketing-savvy, but Americo-centric friends, I even went so far as to include two Canada-specific chapters. (A pity that Penguin Canada declined to properly stock the book when it took off last fall.)

So I was especially pleased that Vancouver's independent online magazine, The Tyee, picked up on the book this week, and offers some Canadian perspective on the "nations" and current events. Crawford Kilian writes:

"It's both helpful and discouraging to look at Canada as contending nations, not just regions. Our disputes are not mere local squabbles. Nations are not open to calm, reasoned argument against their national interests; they yield only to force or to cost-effective bargains.

So after a century and a half of successful resource exploitation, The Far West has no reason to give a damn about The Left Coast's worries about pipelines and supertankers. Nor does the Left Coast care much for The Far West's corporate values. (But bear in mind that interior B.C. is solidly Far West.)

This contending-nations perspective implies no resolution to the Northern Gateway dispute (and many others) except by force or bribery. Given Woodard's thesis, the only solution for us Left Coasters is a new alliance of Canadian nations that could overcome the present coalition of the Prairies and the Ontario."

Of course, you could always join Cascadia...

Agreed the tension in Canada is between the Far West on one hand and Yankeedom, the Left Coast, and New France on the other. The big complication for those who don't much appreciate Stephen Harper's politics is that the continent's great swing region -- the Midlands -- is far and away the largest nation in Canada, encompassing most of its major population centers in southern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba.

For those wanting to probe the map more closely, there's a high-resolution PDF here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Maine spurns EPA, but will back partial alewife restoration in St. Croix River

There's been a new development in the controversy over the restoration of alewives into the St. Croix River watershed on the border of Maine and New Brunswick.

A month ago, I wrote an extensive story in the Maine Sunday Telegram on the debate over the fish's future, which pit lobstermen, marine fishermen, environmentalists, the Passamaquoddy Indians, Canada, and the preponderance of scientific evidence against smallmouth bass fishing guides, who fear the alewives will harm the non-native game fish they rely on for their livelihood. Amazingly, the guides have had their way so far, convincing legislators to pass laws in 1995 and 2008 that bar the fish from traversing fishways at dams in the lower river.

The day after the story came out, the U.S. EPA directed Maine to let the fish into the river and declared the 1995 and 2008 "Alewife Laws" to be in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. After that, the offices of Attorney General William Schneider, Governor Paul LePage, and the U.S EPA's New England office all went silent, refusing to respond to requests for information about their positions or when they intended to declare what they were.

Today, we finally got answers from Schneider, who sent a letter to the EPA. As you can read in my story in today's Portland Press Herald, the Attorney General essentially told the EPA their decision had no relevance (which may come as a surprise to the federal agency), but that Gov. LePage had decided on his own to back a partial alewife restoration plan put together by an international body charged with resolving conflicts on the St. Croix.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Speaking to CBC-New Brunswick about the lobster blockades

Maine lobster prices have hit a thirty-year low, causing hardship and stress for lobstermen from Kittery to Lubec and most everywhere in between. Now the crisis has spread to lobster harvesters in eastern New Brunswick, who've seen prices collapse on the eve of the opening of their summer season, which was to start tomorrow. The difference is that their ire has been directed at, well, lobsters from Maine!

As I reported last week, hundreds of New Brunswick lobstermen have taken matters into their own hands, blockading local processing plants and even a Maine trucker to prevent our lobsters from being delivered there as they always are this time of year. (My colleague, Ed Murphy, got the truck driver, Leonard Garnett of Steuben, on the phone who told of the ordeal, perhaps made more harrowing because of a language barrier; unlike Down East Maine, the regions of New Brunswick that are in protest are largely French-speaking.)

As things heat up -- protests have spread to the northeast and the provincial capital, Fredericton -- I spoke to CBC-New Brunswick's "Information Morning" earlier this morning to give their audience a sense of how the issues are seen from Maine. (I join the show at 3:00, after a taped segment with John Sackton of news.)

For those interested in deeper context for the Maine lobster fishery and the communities that carry it out, I humbly suggest my second book, The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Are there three strains of American libertarianism?

D. Robert Worley, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Advanced Governmental Studies, has a new essay out on Huffington Post that posits that there are perhaps three strains of libertarianism in the United States, each with its own regional origins.

The argument draws explicitly on my latest book, American Nations, to identify the cultural regions at play, but you can also see the influence of Daniel Elazar's three political cultures: the moralistic, individualistic, and traditionalist. Those familiar with my thinking won't be surprised that I think Elazar's paradigm is handicapped by embracing state boundaries, but I if you apply his criteria to my map -- which Worley has -- it's far more compelling.

Worley's observation of the differences between the corporate libertarianism of the Deep South and Far West and the individualistic libertarianism of Greater Appalachia are fair enough, but from my perspective the most refreshing and provocative idea is that there is a "civil libertarianism" anchored in Yankeedom and the Left Coast that whose adherents "favor individual freedom and oppose all forms of unchecked coercive power, and...rely heavily on government solutions, specifically the Constitution's Bill of Rights and the federal courts."

I'd be curious what the rest of you think.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cheap Maine lobster triggers blockades at Canadian processing plants

Here in Maine, lobster prices have been at forty year lows, and the source of considerable consternation for those who harvest the crustaceans.

Thus I think many here will greet my story on the cover of today's Portland Press Herald with a combination of combination of sympathy and surprise.

Lobstermen in eastern New Brunswick -- who take July off but are to start their summer fishing season on Aug. 9 -- are furious at lobster processors there for filling up their inventory with cheap Maine-caught lobster, perhaps leaving no room to buy locally-caught lobster later this month. For the past two days hundreds have blockaded processing plants demanding an end to imports from the U.S. -- and even detained a truck driver from Steuben, Maine carrying a load of lobster to one of the plants.... But I've said too much already; read the story!

(For those interested in the history of our coastal fishing communities -- and lobstering in particular -- I humbly refer you to my second book, The Lobster Coast.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fearing outside ads, King raises serious cash for U.S. Senate race in Maine

Angus King, the independent candidate and undisputed frontrunner in the race to replace retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe here in Maine, has been aggressively raising campaign money. While his rivals thus far have depended on in-state donors -- the same suspects you'd expect in a gubernatorial contest or perhaps a Congressional primary -- King has been working the big leagues, and even reported his first "bundler" recently.

As my story in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram shows, the King campaign is motivated by the fear that outside interests will swamp Maine's inexpensive airwaves with negative ads, and that they will need the means to respond. They're not paranoid. Even here in the summer doldrums, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week purchased $400,000 in such ads at local television stations -- almost half as much money as King has raised in half a year of fundraising.

If you can't get enough of my writing on Maine Senatorial politics, I also had this profile of Sen. Susan Collins' mentor and fiance, Tom Daffron, in the Telegram.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On Sen. Collins' mentor, fiance

In February, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), 59, announced she was engaged to be married for the first time. Sometime next month, she will wed Thomas A. Daffron III, a political consultant and longtime chief of staff to Bill Cohen (R-Maine) when he was a congressman and senator.

My profile of Mr. Daffron in today's Maine Sunday Telegram traces the couple's 38 year professional relationship, during which time he acted as a mentor, adviser, and consultant to Collins and many other Maine politicos.

One correction from the print edition. I wrote at one point that former Bangor mayor Tim Woodcock's wife Susan had also been a staffer under Daffron and Cohen. Her first name is, of course, Carol. Apologies, Ms. Woodcock.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tidal power comes of age, in Maine of all places

For the better part of a decade now, I've been covering the development of a new form of renewable energy here in the Gulf of Maine / Bay of Fundy region, home to the world's highest tides.

Tides -- which run about 10 feet here in Portland, and over 50 feet at the head of the Bay of Fundy -- pack an enormous amount of energy, a fact that led early 20th century engineers to propose damming entire bays in eastern Maine as part of Hoover Dam-scale energy projects. The ecological effect would have been enormous, of course, so it's probably a good thing these projects were never completed. (Parts were built under F.D.R., including the causeway linking Eastport (a.k.a Moose Island) to the mainland.)

But the new iteration of tidal power requires no dams and, indeed, appears to have little if any adverse effect on the environment. After years of development, it's finally going commercial on this continent, starting next month in Cobscook Bay, between the two easternmost towns in the United States, Eastport and Lubec, Maine, where the tides run 20 feet.

My front page piece in yesterday's Maine Sunday Telegram tells the story of how a Maine start-up company has managed to take the lead in an industry that's attracted the likes of Siemens and Lockheed Martin, and the opportunities and challenges ahead for them and their competitors as they seek to expand in the region.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Did the Caribbean Pirates Visit Downeast Maine?

While researching The Republic of Pirates, I became interested in the legend of the Machias pirate fort, which has Sam Bellamy building a temporary base in Downeast Maine in April of 1717.

The story comes from the same source as so much of popular pirate history, the 1724 General History of the Pyrates. But is it true?

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram I dig into the legend, talk with other experts, and put forth the theory that the Downeast pirate lair may have been built, but by someone other than Bellamy. Dig in and see what you think.

For Republic of Pirates fans, look out this winter for "Crossbones," the forthcoming NBC drama based on the book.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On the Dixification of America

Last week, the South got kicked around the blogosphere a bit, and I'm partly to blame.

The occasion was the publication of this widely-read piece on the "southern" oligarchy's takeover of American politics at AlterNet and Salon, which draws partly on my book, American Nations, and at this writing has over 4000 Facebook likes.

For those who are interested in the discussion, I contributed my two cents over at Washington Monthly.

By coincidence, I recently reviewed a topical book for the current issue of Washington Monthly, Chuck Thompson's Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, which posted online just yesterday. (Teaser: I have a more pessimistic view of the human condition which gives me pause about the certainty of a proposed breakup being peaceful.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Update: EPA directs Maine to open St. Croix dams to alewives

A bit of breaking news yesterday in regards to the future of alewife ("river herring") runs on the St. Croix River, which forms the border between Maine and New Brunswick.

Responding to legal motions by environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has directed Maine to open the river to the fish, which just completed their annual migration. Maine had blocked the fish from entering the river under laws passed in 1995 and 2008.

The story is in today's Portland Press Herald.

The move follows the publication on Sunday of my front page feature on the issue in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

The EPA's letter to Attorney General Bill Schneider and four LePage administration officials is available here. (In lawyerly fashion -- and contrary to journalism practice -- the "news" is in the last two paragraphs.)