Sunday, June 30, 2013

Alewives return to St. Croix, spurring optimism about ecosystem recovery

A year ago, I wrote about the strange case of the alewives of the St. Croix River, which forms the border between Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The schooling fish -- which many ecologists regard as a key forage fish -- has been banned from the river since 1995 by an act of the Maine state legislature, a move based on scant science and poor politics. Many were pushing for the fishways on key river dams to be opened.

Fast forward a year and the state legislature has done just that, to the applause of the U.S. and Canadian federal governments, lobstermen, groundfishermen, alewife fishermen, environmentalists, and the native people of the watershed, the Passamaquoddy. Only smallmouth bass fishing guides remain opposed, fearful that the fish will somehow destroy their livelihood.

I returned to the St. Croix recently to revisit the situation; the result is a feature in today's Maine Sunday Telegram, which I hope you'll find enjoyable and informative. It's also upbeat, as many sources think the tiny fish could help jump start a wider ecosystem recovery, not just in the St. Croix, but in the eastern Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy as well.

[Update, 6/25/19An update on the alewives story.]

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Speaking on American Nations, Falmouth, Maine, June 26

For those in Greater Portland, Maine, I'll be giving my American Nations talk tomorrow evening at Maine Audubon Society's Gilsland Farm in Falmouth.

It's based on my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, which won the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Non-Fiction and was named a Best Book of 2011 by the editors of The New Republic. For those who've read the book, I'll also be showing how the results of the 2012 election cycle comported with the regional cultures defined in the book.

The talk kicks off at 7pm and is free and open to the public. Hope to see you there.

My next scheduled public talk on American Nations is at the Waterman's Center in North Haven, Maine, July 23.

Monday, June 24, 2013

WGBH's "Beat the Press": DEP series "just the most unbelievable investigative thing I’ve ever seen"

WGBH, the Boston-based public television super-station, has a media discussion program called "Beat the Press," and this week they discussed my investigation of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Gov. Paul LePage's "gag order" against the paper.

Like all other commentators to date, the panelists all think the governor is doing himself a disservice, but host Emily Rooney also had effusive praise for the series, which I will shamelessly repeat here.
“This Portland Press Herald piece…it is unbelievable it’s eye-rolling, just the most unbelievable investigative thing I’ve ever seen," Rooney says. "It’s right out of Chinatown with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.”

(They start throwing the word "Pulitzer" around too, which Google says is some sort of prize founded by one Pulitzer József of Makó, a town south-east of Budapest which I'm pretty sure is where I gave myself heat stroke while trying to hitchhike my back from the Romanian border during a general strike by the Hungarian State Railways. But I digress....)

Thanks to the station for their interest, and to all of you for reading.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

At the edge of the nation, a new marathon is run

I've just returned from assignments in far Downeast Maine and southwestern New Brunswick. The first story ran today in the Maine Sunday Telegram and was on the backstory to the creation and organization of today's inaugural Bay of Fundy International Marathon.

The race, which concluded a few hours ago, started at West Quoddy Head light, the easternmost point in the United States, and continued through Lubec, Maine, over the F.D.R. Memorial Bridge, through Canadian customs and onto Campobello Island, New Brunswick. Runners ran the entire length of the 10-mile long island to East Quoddy Head light and back again to recross the bridge and border and reach the finish line in downtown Lubec, population 1100. I hear the rain even held off.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Maddow on my DEP series; LePage hints at stepping down

It has been one crazy week in Maine politics.

As regular readers know, my seven-month, five-part, three-day investigation of the state Department of Environmental Protection began running Sunday. On Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage reacted by announcing a statewide ban against any official -- including his own spokespeople -- from speaking to my newspaper, the Portland Press Herald, or its sister papers in the state capital and his most recent hometown, Waterville. His justification: an unspecific charge of bias, with my series on the DEP and George Polk Award-winning investigation of the education department as examples.

Needless to say, this gave the story a national profile. First there were pieces from the Poynter Institute, CJR and Politico. Then the Associated Press. And last night, liberal anchor Rachel Maddow devoted a full 20 minutes over two segments to my DEP investigation, the governor's gag order, an interview with my editor, Cliff Schechtman, and LePage's instantly infamous remarks earlier in the day regarding state senator Troy Jackson and Vaseline. Here in Maine, environmental groups have called for an investigation of DEP Commissioner Pattie Aho or her resignation.

A few minutes ago came the wildest turn yet: news that the governor is considering running for Congress in 2014 instead of the Blaine House, taking advantage of the fact that incumbent Rep. Mike Michaud will be stepping down to run against him!

Nobody knows how serious the governor really is, but just having aired such a plan indicates misgivings about his future at the Blaine House and will likely sow doubt among would be donors, including perhaps former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is hosting a fundraiser for him here in Maine next month, and Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins, who are reportedly attending.

[Update, 6/26/13: Later that day, WGBH's "Beat the Press" did a panel discussion related to our series and the governor's reaction to it. This week, after having his budget veto overridden, the governor held a press conference in which he said he wouldn't run for Congress and was consulting with his family about whether to run for reelection as governor.]

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In response to DEP series, Gov. LePage orders staff, commissioners not to speak to Press Herald

The third and final installment of my investigation of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection appeared in today's paper, and we didn't have to wait long for the governor's reaction to the revelations.

Today Gov. Paul LePage ordered all his staff and commissioners not to speak to the paper, which is Maine's largest, or its sister papers, which together constitute the state's largest chain. Needless to say, this has caused the story to become national news.

The full series -- "Lobbyist in the Henhouse" -- is now available at this special landing page.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What happens when a corporate lobbyist heads a state DEP?

Under Gov. Paul LePage, Maine's Department of Environmental Protection has been headed by a woman who was the lobbyist for the chemical, oil, drug, waste, automotive, and development industries.

My seven-month, five article investigation of what's happened under her watch started running in yesterday's Maine Sunday Telegram. (Don't miss the companion stories on land enforcement and intimidation of staff.) The second installment -- on commissioner Patricia Aho's oversight of a program to protect babies and children from toxic chemicals -- is on the front of today's Portland Press Herald. The series wraps up tomorrow with a piece on Aho's moves against recycling programs opposed by some of her former lobbying clients.

[Update: 6/18/13 - The entire series can be accessed at this landing page. It's getting even more attention since Gov. Paul LePage ordered all his staff and commissioners not to speak to the Press Herald.]

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Reviewing Olympia Snowe's new book in the Washington Post

My review of former Sen. Olympia Snowe's new book, Fighting for Common Ground, is in this Sunday's Washington Post, but it's already available online for those who can't wait that long.

Snowe, you'll recall, surprised most everyone last year by stepping down late in the Senate primary season, and there's been speculation as to why she did so. She's also set up an organization to support moderates, Olympia's List, which recently gave a $10,000 donation to Snowe's former Senate colleague, Susan Collins. Previously, the political action committee that became Olympia's List gave to a long list of Maine Republicans, including non-moderates like Gov. Paul LePage and state Rep. Amy Volk.

Snowe's husband, former Gov. John McKernan, was in the news last week, after a federal judge allowed three of six counts against for-profit college operator Education Management Corporation to move forward. McKernan was CEO when the alleged legal violations took place before becoming board chairman, a position he stepped down from last August. The firm faces a second whistleblower suit which is expected to also move forward.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Speaking on history's value to the present, Biddeford, Maine, June 8

For those in southern Maine, I'll be giving the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Maine Historical Society this Saturday, June 8, in Biddeford.

The talk is titled "The Past is Present: History's Powerful Role in Shaping Contemporary Life, Politics, and Events."

The meeting takes place at the historic Pepperell Mill from 10 am to 2 pm. It's open to the public, but costs $25 for members, $30 for non-members, which includes a box lunch and a tour of the million-square foot mill campus.Call 207-774-1822 to register.

I have upcoming talks on American Nations in Falmouth, Maine, June 26 and North Haven, Maine, July 23rd.