Al Diamon

Al Diamon

On the Governor's Proposed Budget

I like Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s new budget.

Really.

No, I haven’t lost my mind, although that remains a possible excuse for future columns. And my newfound respect for LePage’s fiscal prowess isn’t the result of bad drugs, because the doctor assured me any side effects wouldn’t alter my political philosophy.

I’m as clear-headed as I ever am this early in the morning (noon). I just like this budget.

Sure, it contains some items that could charitably be described as unworkable (a statewide teacher contact), ineffective (a $400 “property tax fairness credit” for low-income elderly people), nasty (outlawing General Assistance payments for asylum seekers) cruel (cutting off Medicaid for some parents making less than $10,000 a year) and nuts (a change in the school-funding formula that looks suspiciously like a cut in state aid to education).

Like every governor’s spending plan, the new budget isn’t perfect. But it does offer several sound proposals aimed at fixing longstanding problems with Maine’s financial situation. The fact that much of the best stuff stands no chance of passing the Legislature is no reason not to acknowledge that LePage has a clear vision of what’s wrong and what needs to be done to correct it.

Let’s start with the Rainy Day Fund. This is money that’s supposed to be available in emergencies, such as a recession. There’s currently about $123 million in there. If we experienced another severe downturn, that’s enough cash to last approximately 20 minutes. The governor wants to add $40 million, thereby giving us an additional cushion of 6 minutes and change. It’s not enough to correct the problem of insufficient savings, but it is a shift from the standard budget approach of “if we’ve got it, we’re spending it.”

Also, boosting reserves sits well with bond rating agencies, which means the state will pay lower interest on future borrowing.

Who could be against that?

1. Democrats, who want to use the money for new spending.

2. Republicans, who want to use the money for tax cuts.

Expect that $40-million figure to be significantly smaller in the final budget.

Next up: taxes. LePage wants to reduce the top income-tax rate from its current 7.15 percent (but set to increase this year to 10.15 percent) until everyone is paying a 5.75 percent flat tax by 2020. To make up for the lost revenue, the governor would expand (he uses the delightful euphemism “modernize”) the sales tax to cover ski tickets, golf fees, amusement parks, lawn mowing, tickets for movies and concerts, haircuts, house painting, snowplowing, dry cleaning and other services. Also, the tax on hotel rooms would jump from 9 to 10 percent.

This makes sense, since a large portion of the new taxes would be collected from tourists and rich people with second homes. In addition, it would help broaden the sales tax base, which is overly reliant on vehicle purchases (expected to fall sharply this year) and materials for home construction and improvements (the first spending that gets cut in a recession).

Who could be against that?

1. Republicans, who – with the exception of LePage – have been united in opposing anything that resembles a tax hike, even if the overall package is revenue neutral. The GOP succeeded in stripping a more ambitious tax shift from the governor’s budget two years ago and has displayed little enthusiasm for the revamped version.

2. Democrats, who forced through a similar tax-reform plan in 2010, only to see Republicans overturn it with a People’s Veto campaign, after which the GOP used the issue to clobber the Dems in legislative elections.

Finally, LePage wants to give cities and towns a tool to reduce property taxes by allowing them to charge nonprofit organizations service fees to cover the costs of police, fire and public works. It would end the free ride enjoyed by hospitals, religious institutions and charitable outfits by requiring them to reimburse municipalities for the benefits they enjoy at other taxpayers’ expense.

Who could be against that?

1. Democrats, who fear the fees will reduce money for those in need.

2. Republicans, who fear the wrath of rich campaign donors who sit on hospital boards.

But who needs those self-serving creeps, guv. You’ve still got me.

 

I’ve budgeted some time to read emails sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The pleasure and the greed

I’ve got this great idea for a new law. It would be titled “An Act To Give Free Beer To Al Diamon For The Rest Of His Life.” If this bill got approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, I could walk into any bar in the state and drink as many brewskis as I want on the taxpayers’ tab. Also, the public would be leaving a nice tip, because no matter what the minimum wage is, I still believe in treating bartenders in a manner that ensures my glass never sits empty for longer than it took leading Democrats to condemn Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s new budget — a period of time measured in nanoseconds.

Realistically, my bill and LePage’s budget stand about the same chance of passing unscathed. But while legislators will be taking the governor’s spending plan seriously enough to amend it beyond all recognition, they’re more likely to reject my measure without so much as a toast in my honor. Something about the unfairness of passing legislation that only benefits one person.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative method for achieving my selfish goal:

Referendum.

To do that, I’ll have to gather the signatures of just over 61,000 registered voters, many of whom will probably be drunks I find in bars. Then, I need to draft a suitably deceptive question (“Do you favor providing cost-free refreshment to a qualified individual of exceptional merit?”) to appear on the ballot.

Next, I’ll form a political action committee designed to obscure my intentions (The Campaign To Free Up More Of Al’s Money For Charitable Endeavors — Maybe). After a vigorous campaign funded by the alcohol industry (keep in mind that if I’m not paying, I’ll be drinking a lot more) and donors I’ll promise to buy a couple rounds (with what will actually be their money), I’ll celebrate victory by raising a tankard of the most expensive ale on tap.

Before you dismiss this scenario as the absurd musings of a besotted brain, consider a real referendum question that may well end up on this November’s ballot. It would allow a casino to be built in York County, but due to language buried in the plan’s bowels, only one person in all the world would qualify to own that facility.

No, not me.

The proprietor of this money machine must be “from an entity that owned in 2003 at least 51 percent of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County.”

That limits the casino’s ownership to Shawn Scott, a Las Vegas developer who started what’s now the Hollywood Casino in Bangor. Scott spent about $2.7 million to buy a majority share of a then-decrepit racetrack and finance the referendum that allowed it to add slots and later table games. Two months after winning final approval, Scott sold out to a big gambling operation for a reported $51 million.

Obviously, Scott knows how to turn a profit on a scale that negates the need for anyone else to buy his beers. But sometimes, he can be a little too slick. His various enterprises have been linked to dozens of lawsuits in several states. A 2003 report from Maine’s horse-racing regulators found his companies engaged in “sloppy, if not irresponsible financial management.” He’s been accused of using deceptive practices to kill plans for a casino at Scarborough Downs. And his efforts to collect signatures for this referendum were thrown into disarray last year when more than half the names on his petitions proved invalid.

I won’t even bother to mention allegations that Scott’s minions convinced people to sign by lying about the referendum’s intent, because I might use that tactic myself.

To date, Scott has spent more than $4 million on this scheme, most of it bankrolled by his sister in Florida. It’ll likely cost twice that to run a campaign capable of overcoming fierce opposition from the state’s existing casinos. Which means he’s expecting an even bigger return on his investment than he received from that Bangor deal.

My referendum is nowhere near that greedy. Even counting all those beers I’ll owe supporters, there’s no way I can drink up more than a million bucks a year.


Set ‘em up, bartender, for me and everybody who emails This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

You Can't Say That

The trouble with the right to free speech is other people’s vocal cords. They insist on flapping them to utter obnoxious noises.

Also, other people’s computers, used to produce ridiculous postings. And let’s not forget other people’s fingers, which operate the aforementioned computers, light matches to burn American flags and flip us the bird when we politely suggest they conceal their ignorance by shutting their pie holes.

“Why they’ve got to go make these silly statements, I don’t know,” said a prominent Mainer during a radio appearance in late December. This person was referring to Democrats protesting the election of Donald Trump as president. But his comment could be interpreted more broadly, considering that the speaker is something of an expert concerning “silly statements.” He’s Paul LePage, Maine’s Republican governor and loudspeaker-equipped inflatable lawn ornament.

More proof that free speech is a nasty business.

Which may be why so many people in this state are trying to get rid of it.

In September in the liberal bastion of Portland, somebody used a wall set aside for graffiti to paint a portrait of LePage dressed in Ku Klux Klan garb. The city’s mayor immediately called for its removal. “I do not want it up there,” Ethan Strimling told the Press Herald. “It is not reflective of our values.”

Shortly afterwards, another artist altered the painting to show the governor in Mickey Mouse ears. Apparently, that did reflect Portland’s values, because Strimling said nothing further.

Last spring, an electronic sign on Main Street in Mexico (the town, not the place Trump wants to wall off) began displaying such messages as “Weed the People.com” and “Cannabis oil cures cancer.” That prompted town officials to send the property owners a letter that stopped just short of demanding the sign’s removal. “Reasonable people do not do something like that,” Town Manager John Madigan told the Sun Journal.

In Mexico, reasonable people are in short supply.

A South Portland High School student who wore a Trump “Make America Great Again” hat to school was harassed by two staffers.

An anti-abortion protester, who stood outside Planned Parenthood’s Portland office and shouted stuff about Jesus and dead babies, has been charged by the Maine Attorney General’s office with violating the state’s civil rights law.

The Maine Department of Corrections has, upon receiving legal advice, reluctantly stopped enforcing a rule that prohibited family members from posting online or publishing writings of prisoners.

But perhaps the weirdest recent attack on free speech comes from somebody who might be mistaken for a journalist.

In general, journalists are strongly in favor of the First Amendment and its guarantee of reporting unfettered by government. But George Smith has told me he doesn’t consider himself a journalist – even though he writes weekly columns for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, a blog for the Bangor Daily News and co-hosts a cable-access TV show.

In his December 14 column, Smith lists a few ways elections could be improved. Some of his ideas make sense: banning campaign signs on public property, making it illegal for Clean Election candidates to also run privately funded political action committees, getting rid of legislative term limits. But it’s Smith’s first suggestion that runs afoul of free speech.

He wants to let the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices (motto: Issuing Inconsequential Fines Since Sometime in the 1980s) “check the honesty of political ads.”

Smith goes on to say, “If they determine an ad is false, they should require the ad’s sponsor to immediately make a correction, using the same media that was used for the false ad. And the commission should issue a press release noting the inaccuracy of the ad.”

Only two problems with that. First, it’s unconstitutional for the government to tell political candidates (or anybody else) what they can say. Second, determining what’s false is nearly impossible. If candidate D calls candidate H “crooked,” how will the commissioners determine whether that’s a fact, a matter of opinion or a lie? There’s no objective way to do so.

Smith should stick to hunting and fishing, subjects about which he has some familiarity, and leave it to voters to sort out the messy blessings of free speech.

 

I’ll shut up now, and let you blather on at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The "M Word," It's legal, but still controversial

It’s legal. But it’s still controversial.

Its health benefits are debatable. But that doesn’t deter its advocates from making outrageous claims.

And no matter where you buy it, it’ll be strictly regulated just like alcohol, tobacco and firearms. But for far more dubious reasons.

After decades of political upheaval, Maine and the nation are still trying to come to terms with how to regulate a seemingly benign agricultural product with a name that begins with the letter “m.”

Marijuana?

Hell no, I’m talking about milk.

For reasons that have never made sense, the sale of moo juice is subject to an array of rules more complicated than those governing such toxic substances as campaign finances, nuclear waste disposal or excess gubernatorial verbiage. Selling milk is significantly more difficult than selling Donald Trump’s agenda to Portland’s liberal legislative delegation.

The most obvious example of regulatory excess is Maine’s law controlling the retail price of milk. Unlike other forms of price controls, which attempt to protect consumers by placing maximum limits on how much can be charged, the state sets the minimum amount.

Why?

Excellent question, for which there seems to be no good answer. In theory, the law against bargain milk guarantees that dairy farmers receive enough return to remain in business, thereby propping up a traditional rural industry and preserving open space for future generations, who will neither be able to afford nor appreciate it.

How’s that worked out?

Not well. In 2001, the state had 645 commercial dairy farms. That number has declined nearly every year since then, until today there are fewer than 250. While the average farm is considerably larger than at the turn of the century, that hasn’t resulted in an improved bottom line. Most of them are struggling to survive. While milk production is up (those damn cows have no grasp of economics), profits are down due to a glut on the market.

To combat that trend, farmers have tried a couple of approaches. They offered organic milk at a premium price (remember, Maine rule-makers let them charge more, just not less). Unfortunately, the recent recession and the lack of large numbers of consumers willing to pay extra for something that’s not demonstrably healthier than the out-of-state, industrial-dairy milk from Cumbies has left that marketing effort in disarray. Another attempt to increase profits by allowing wider sales of raw milk has failed at least three times in the Legislature and a few other times in court. Add in all the incomprehensible interference from the 2014 federal farm bill, and it’s small wonder the dairy industry is in udder despair. (I swear the editor made me use that cow pie of a pun. Complaints should be directed to that cud-chewer.)

There is, however, a bright side to all this overregulation. Cow-control officials collect fees from the dairy industry and also receive cash from the state budget, with this money set aside to help farms in distress. Which, as previously noted, is nearly all of them.

In the past two years, this fund has given out $32 million to offset farmers’ losses (a sum that would no doubt have drawn the ire of state welfare bureaucrats if it was discovered that any of these recipients were immigrants from terrorist-plagued nations). That’s a lot of money to prop up a dying industry. Although, it’s probably less than we’ve wasted trying to salvage all those shuttered (and soon-to-be-shuttered) paper mills.

Maybe it’s time to put our efforts into promoting a form of economic development that’s more likely to be profitable, even without a continuing infusion of public funding. And maybe it’s possible to accomplish that without any loss of agricultural jobs and while maintaining a reasonable facsimile of the rural lifestyle.

Maybe it’s time to seriously consider that other “m” word:

Marsupials.

You know, like kangaroos. There’s got to be some kind of market for them. And the only competition is Australia. We could own this deal.

OK, kidding.

The real “m” word is marijuana. Any dairy farmer who isn’t thinking about putting in a pot crop should be stuck in the butt with a cattle prod.

 

I figure I drink less milk in a year than beer on an average Sunday afternoon. Other significant statistics can be mailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Everybody is freaking out about fake news

Stop the freak-out. Everybody should relax. Fake news is a big improvement over real news.

Let’s consider some examples.

Real: “Maine Democrats announce a new plan to address the state’s economic and social problems.”

Fake: “Maine Democrats admit they are a bunch of hopeless wusses, who’ve been trying to conceal the fact they have no clue how to deal with difficult issues.”

Oddly enough, what’s technically fake comes uncomfortably close to being the truth. Over the years, the Dems have unveiled numerous ambitious proposals for doing something or other, all of them either unrealistic, unworkable or unaffordable. This didn’t concern party leaders because they never had any intention of implementing these plans. But as the public gradually began to catch on to this scam, the donkey party’s influence waned to the point where it’s now firmly in control of nothing except parts of Portland, Brunswick and a few scattered enclaves of aging hippies.

Real: “Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin dodges questions about his positions on controversial issues, saying such matters have nothing to do with the important stuff he’s dealing with in Washington.”

Fake: “Poliquin admits the only issue he cares about is whether he wins the next election, and he’ll say (or not say) whatever it takes to accomplish that.”

The only part of this that’s fake is that Poliquin would make such an admission.

Real: “Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling promises to work more closely with city councilors and the city manager to avoid controversies.”

Fake: “Strimling kidnaps his political opponents and works them over with a rubber hose until they bend to his will.”

Ha ha, nobody in their right mind would buy that story – ow! – hey – ow! – stop – ow!

Real: “Newly elected legislators promise to work in a respectful and open-minded manner in order to make this session the most productive in recent Maine history.”

Fake: “An Augusta gun shop owner reports a huge increase in sales of assault weapons coinciding with lawmakers’ return to the capital.”

You know that’s fake, because most legislators couldn’t pass the background check. They buy their weapons through unregulated private sales.

Real: “In his weekly radio address, GOP Gov. Paul LePage said, ‘All elected officials must respect the will of the people.’ LePage then called for massive changes to two referendum questions — a minimum wage increase and a tax on rich people to pay for schools — approved by the voters in November, saying the public didn’t understand what it was supporting.”

Fake: “LePage says any referendums with which he disagrees should be shot between the eyes, hung up by the hind legs, gutted and left to rot on the State House lawn as a warning to liberals not to take this democracy thing too seriously.”

In reality, a hearty eater like LePage would never waste all that meat.

Real: “Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins might run for governor in 2018.”

Fake: “Collins might be running a child sex ring out of the basement of Simones' Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston.”

Does Simones' even have a basement? If not, Collins is probably using Dysart’s in Bangor.

Real: “In the past two years, state Sen. Troy Jackson has transformed himself from a conservative Democrat with a focus on issues affecting rural Maine to a populist leftist with a focus on getting himself elected to some higher office than Senate minority leader.”

Fake: “Space aliens have abducted Jackson and substituted a pod person. Notice how much more articulate he is. It’s a dead giveaway.”

What-you-mean? Him-seem-normal-to-me.

Real: “GOP state Rep. Larry Lockman of Amherst spouts extremist nonsense. No one pays attention.”

Fake: “Rep. Lockman receives awards for humanitarian service from women’s groups, LGBTQ organizations and Sen. Troy Jackson, who said, ‘Him-a-lot-like-me-only-uses-gooder-grammar.’”

Alt-right ain’t alt enough for Lockman. Or right enough, either.

Real: “LePage gives a speech filled with misstatements about immigrants, welfare, drug dealing and 'the ziki fly,' while launching scurrilous attacks on politicians with whom he disagrees.”

Fake: “LePage sticks to facts in his latest public address, while characterizing his opponents as people of good will with whom he hopes to find grounds for compromise.”

In this instance, the real news is a lot more interesting than the fake stuff.

I’m not lying when I say you can email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Questionable fidelity

I may have voted illegally.

On election day, I tried to do everything strictly by the book but apparently, I screwed up. I went to my town hall on Nov. 8 and cast my ballot in the usual fashion, after which I helped myself to the delicious coffeecake the town clerk bakes for these occasions.

I only had two pieces. OK, maybe three. But my wife didn’t have any, so it almost averages out.

Nevertheless, I felt comfortable with my civic participation until I learned the entire system may have been corrupted. I discovered this when Republican Gov. Paul LePage sent a letter to newly elected legislators calling them into session on Dec. 7. This is a routine communication that all governors (even crazy ones) employ as part of their official duties. What wasn’t routine was LePage claiming he had “strong concerns regarding the integrity of Maine’s ballot and the accuracy of Maine’s election results.”

So is the guv saying Donald Trump didn’t win Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and doesn’t deserve one of the state’s electoral votes?

Is LePage claiming the GOP cheated in order to hang onto its majority in the state Senate and to narrow the Democrats’ edge in the House?

Is he intimidating the voters who cast ballots against the referendum requiring background checks for private gun sales finagled the returns to defeat the proposal?

Or is he just annoyed that college students can legally vote where they go to school, immigrants who’ve become citizens are allowed to participate in the process, and the rest of us don’t have to show government-approved identification before casting ballots?

LePage attempted to clarify his position by issuing a statement demanding “100 percent certainty” that no ineligible person voted, adding, “if even one vote was counted improperly,” the election was essentially invalid.

In the wake of this outburst, my vote now feels sort of illegitimate – like I somehow pulled off a scam I didn’t even know I was attempting.

To step away from LePage for a moment and return to the real world, it’s worth noting that voter fraud in Maine is extremely rare. Even if you haven’t been all that careful with your chainsaw and are missing a few digits, you probably have enough left over to count all the instances of ballot manipulation in this state in the last several decades and have fingers left over. According to the Portland Press Herald, there has been exactly one case reported to the attorney general this year. No election of any consequence was decided by that slim a margin.

Nevertheless, the myth of rampant voter fraud persists.

In 2011, Charlie Webster, then chairman of the Maine Republican Party, announced he had a list of over 200 college students who should be investigated for voting illegally. Webster later admitted he couldn’t find any evidence to back up his claim.

That same year, Republicans passed legislation abolishing voter registration on election day, only to have it overturned by a people’s veto. But as our guv and prez-elect have noted, the system is “rigged,” so how can we trust those results?

After the 2012 election, Webster told WCSH6-TV, “In some parts of rural Maine … dozens of black people … came in and voted on election day. Everybody has a right to vote, but nobody in [these] towns knows anyone who’s black.” Webster later told the Press Herald, the Moorish hordes of illicit voters amounted to “hundreds,” but no municipality where these invaders appeared was ever identified, perhaps because town clerks were too busy baking coffeecake to notice.

To combat these intrusions, GOP legislators repeatedly introduced bills to require photo IDs for all voters. During debates in 2015, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason said, “It is incredulous that we would claim that there is no voter fraud in Maine.” It is, however, fairly credible to say there isn’t much evidence of it.

Nevertheless, the state should err on the side of paranoia. Clearly, my ballot ought to be declared invalid. I’m writing to the secretary of state to demand I be disenfranchised.

Everyone else should do the same because the only way to ensure fair results is to reduce the turnout to zero.

Will that mean I don’t get coffeecake? Legal opinions may be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Beautiful Losers

Maine Democrats need to find some really lousy candidates for major offices. Otherwise, the Dems could end up helping to elect Republicans like Paul LePage to the U.S. Senate and Bruce Poliquin to the governorship in 2018.

Fortunately, the donkey party is loaded with lame contenders. But before I pick through that sludge pile, let me explain why Democrats need to field a slate of hopeless cases in the next election.

If Gov. LePage follows up on his threat to run against independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, the guv would be a clear underdog. LePage’s favorability rating has never nudged much above 40 percent, while King’s always sits comfortably in the mid-60s. In a two-person contest, LePage would lose in a landslide.

Of course, the 2018 contest won’t be limited to two people. The Green Independent Party may field a feeble candidate who’ll draw off 3 or 4 percentage points from King. The Libertarian Party might offer a Gary Johnson clone, who’ll take two votes from the sitting senator for every one he or she costs LePage. Add in a Democrat of unassailable mediocrity, and another 15 percent of King’s lead evaporates.

Suddenly, the race is a dead heat, and the enthusiasm of LePage’s deplorable supporters would give him a distinct edge over the laidback elitists who favor King.

Likewise in the next gubernatorial race. GOP U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is seriously considering a bid for the Blaine House, but doesn’t want to get bogged down in an ugly primary in which her refusal to support Donald Trump’s presidential bid becomes a major issue. To avoid that, Collins is said to be thinking of dropping her Republican affiliation to run as an independent.

If that happened, there’s little doubt Poliquin, currently the congressman from the state’s 2nd District, would seek the GOP nomination. In the primary, he’d be a clear frontrunner over state Senate President Mike Thibodeau, state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason or Health and Human Services commissioner Mary Mayhew, all of whom have expressed interest in the office.

Of course, Collins would clobber Poliquin or any of the others in a nice, clean head-to-head fight. But, as with the Senate race, it won’t be that simple. The Greens and Libs could cloud the picture, and the Democrats, who haven’t won a Senate seat in Maine since shortly after the invention of the TV remote control, aren’t about to let such an opportunity slide by uncontested. What should be an easy win for Collins would suddenly become problematic, even if the Dem nominee drew something less than 20 percent of the vote.

Assuming the vast majority of Democrats would prefer to surrender these offices to Collins and King rather than risk them falling to Poliquin and LePage, the only solution is to offer up nominees so utterly unelectable as to guarantee they can’t play the spoiler. Those Dem voters will be pleased to learn their party’s bench is deep with candidates of surpassing shallowness.

Keeping in mind that Democrats need not just nominees who can’t win, but ones who can’t even contend, the party should immediately reject Attorney General Janet Mills, whose gubernatorial ambitions might attract support from middle-of-the-road independents. Mills’ candidacy would cut into the very bloc Collins must hold to beat Poliquin.

Instead, the Dems must turn to a proven non-starter. While it would be tempting to consider unsuccessful 2014 nominee Mike Michaud, he’d likely be just strong enough to hand victory to the GOP. Better to go with losers waiting to be proven like House Speaker Mark Eves, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap or soon-to-be-ex-state Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, all of whom have more ambition than common sense, and none of whom would attract enough supporters north of Augusta to fill the cast of an amateur production of “The Last Hurrah.”

For Senate, there’s Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, perennial congressional candidate Emily Cain, Judge of Probate (and previous loser for governor and senator) Libby Mitchell, and anybody named Baldacci (except maybe the one who writes those thrillers).

And let’s not forget failed 2012 Senate nominee Cynthia Dill, who last I checked was writing a political column for a newspaper.

Can’t get much lamer than that.

Got a better (by which I mean worse) choice? Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Take it to the streets

I've never considered vacationing in Lincoln, Neb. For good reason. According to Wikipedia, the major tourist attractions in the capital of the Cornhusker State (Really? That's your nickname — really?) include the Frank H. Woods Telephone Museum, the University of Nebraska's "dairy store" and the fact it's the hometown of Zager and Evans, whose 1969 hit "In The Year 2525" is still listed by the International Court of Justice as a war crime.

But I may have to reconsider.

Lincoln is one of a handful of U.S. cities that allows public drinking. Visitors can go into bars in the trendy Railyard district, buy a plastic cup of their favorite adult beverage and consume it in the streets. According to Stateline Daily, Lincoln legalized boozing on the boulevards in 2013 in an attempt to deal with a demographic problem Maine has been trying to solve for years.

"The question was how do we keep young people in our city," Tessa Warner, business manager of the district, told Stateline. "We set out to make it not a place for more people to drink more alcohol, but a place where people can come and congregate and socialize, and have a drink if they want."

Lincoln isn't alone in attempting to attract youthful imbibers. Canton, Ohio, in addition to being home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (motto: Concussions Are Junk Science And We Can Prove It), allows alcohol to be consumed al fresco in a designated neighborhood. Other cities in the Buckeye State (all the non-ridiculous nicknames were already taken, I guess) have followed suit, including Lancaster and Toledo. In Mississippi (the Septic Overflow State), Biloxi and Gulfport have joined the trend. In Alabama (the Rabid Bat State), it's Mobile. And in Tennessee (the Slurred Speech State), Nashville allows to-go cocktails near the Country Music Hall of Fame.

To assess the impact of these laws, I recently visited New Orleans, where both drinking in the streets and government corruption have always been legal. In traveling the colorful byways of the Big Easy (note the higher quality nickname), I encountered a wide range of people taking advantage of this libertarian-leaning toward libations. There were boomers in unfortunate Bermuda-shorts-and-sandals combinations, nursing Old Fashioneds. There were Gen-Xers pushing strollers and trying not to spill their rum concoctions. There were millennials who didn't appear to care whether they sloshed beer on their skinny jeans. They all seemed pretty happy.

Of course, there were also drunken louts on Bourbon Street, but Bourbon Street is an environment expressly designed for drunken louts.

In part, the crowd's genial attitude probably stemmed from the city's atmosphere. Beneath wrought-iron balconies adorned with bright flowers, music spilled from club doorways, competing with tunes from street musicians. Artists set up their easels on sidewalks. Horse-drawn caleches evoked an era devoid of internal combustion engines (but not external combustion politicians).

It's that combination that experts in urban planning say is necessary to keep outdoor drinking from becoming a public nuisance. "If it gets to be all about the alcohol, that's not good," Jim Peters of the Responsible Hospitality Institute (partly funded by the booze and beer industries) told Stateline. "You want vibrancy. You don't want chaos."

In general, municipalities that have tried this experiment have reported few problems. In some cases, a surcharge of a dollar has been levied on to-go drinks to fund additional police coverage. In a couple of instances, the areas where outdoor drinking is allowed have been altered to protect residential neighborhoods. But overall, the numbers show an increase in tourism and a negligible rise in misbehavior. Despite a shooting last week on Bourbon Street that left 9 people wounded and 1 dead, the French Quarter is generally considered safe. 

Would it work in Maine?

In places like Portland's Old Port, it might actually calm things down, since rowdy revelers would have to restrain themselves to avoid spilling their drinks. Ritzy resorts like Ogunquit and Kennebunkport attract sophisticates, who only get obnoxiously drunk in private. Bangor's waterfront, Bar Harbor's downtown and much of the midcoast have the necessary amenities. And Carrabassett Valley already has plenty of public boozing.

Legalizing outdoor drinking seems like a good fit. But it's difficult to imagine it happening in a state where there hasn't been an innovative idea since we came up with Prohibition.

I'll keep putting mine in a sippy cup. Got a better idea? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

25 Years of Fuzz and Fury

“As a young man, I put cleverness above respect for others. As a mature person, I hope that I wouldn’t do that … anyway I wouldn’t do it in writing about baseball. I might do it if I was writing about politics.”Bill James, baseball analytics guru

People often ask me if I regret any of the snarky things I’ve written about politicians in 25 years of churning out this column (as of last week).

The short answer is no.

The slightly longer answer is if I had it to do over, I’d be even nastier.

The longwinded answer is our political leaders get far too much uncritical adulation and not nearly enough derision. The more years they hang around, the more likely they are to be portrayed by their cult followers as bold figures dedicated to public service, when they’re actually Trumpish sociopaths. Longevity has a way of smoothing rough edges, blurring memories of ill-considered outbursts, exaggerating triumphs and obscuring failures.

In the long term, everyone looks like Mahatma Gandhi – even if, in the short term, they resemble Paul LePage.

What’s needed is not more insults, but more enduring insults, the sort of mud-slinging that sticks even on polished marble busts and gilt-framed oil portraits.

All the iconic images of Maine’s political giants are mostly products of fuzzy recollections and fawning acolytes. Take, for example, the late Republican U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith.

There’s no doubt Smith paved the way for more women to enter politics. But in terms of her impact on legislation, she was a marginal figure. In Patricia L. Schmidt’s biography, “Margaret Chase Smith: Beyond Convention,” she writes, “For many of her most ardent supporters, Margaret was the epitome of the gracious lady. Their highest praise cast her not as a policymaker or leader but as the gracious Grand Duchess – of the blood royal, but not in line of succession.”

The reality of Smith’s tenure in Congress is she was mostly a back-bencher, ignored by her male colleagues both because of her sex and her lack of interest in crafting significant legislation. Revisionist history defines her denunciation of Joe McCarthy as a pivotal moment, but that wasn’t exactly the case. “Margaret had led a charge that no one followed,” Schmidt wrote. “Her effort did little to stop McCarthy or demystify the man.”

How about the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Muskie? He restored the two-party system in Maine. He championed the Clean Water Act. He was so medicated with a rare South American drug during his 1972 vice-presidential campaign that he was nearly catatonic, according to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson also swore Muskie’s campaign manager once told reporters, “My instructions are that the senator should never again be put in a situation where he has to think quickly.”

Is this literally true? Probably not

Is it poetically accurate? Pretty much.

The longer his career dragged on, the more Muskie mumbled through interviews, rambled through speeches and seemed lost in his surroundings. The Maine media pretended not to see it, fearful of tarnishing his legacy.

Bill Cohen? The former GOP U.S. senator spent his tenure as secretary of defense under Democratic President Bill Clinton refusing to sleep on military bases and instead demanded accommodations in four-star hotels. Immediately upon leaving office, he cashed in on his years of public service by starting a lucrative defense lobbying and consulting firm.

George Mitchell? As the Democratic Senate majority leader, he was revered for protecting the environment from attacks by Reagan-era Republicans. But Mitchell’s support of Reagan’s tax cuts and Wall Street-friendly policies was so ardent, it might make even Congressman Bruce Poliquin blush.

Surely Gov. Joshua Chamberlain, he of the victory at Little Round Top during the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg, maintains his heroic reputation more than a century and a half after saving the day for the Union.

Actually, Chamberlain’s role is almost entirely a myth created by Hollywood. According to historian Martin Pengelly, his triumph over the Confederates was of little consequence in the battle, and was due, not to brilliant tactics, but to “chance, circumstance and human error.”

That legacy endures in our era of Trump and LePage. Somebody needs to keep pointing it out.

Nasty comments can be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Can't Accept It

Paul LePage, Maine’s Republican governor and vocalizing blockage in our plumbing, has some new problems. In the Nov. 8 election, voters approved several laws LePage opposes, and unless he decamps to Washington for a job in the Trump administration (secretary of racial profiling?), he’s going to have to enforce them.

Or maybe not. LePage has never felt any great compulsion to follow the will of the people, as shown in his repeated refusals to issue public-lands bonds that were approved at the ballot box by substantial margins. So if he doesn’t want marijuana legalized for recreational use, a higher minimum wage, increased taxes on the wealthy to pay for schools or elections decided by ranked-choice voting, he might use the authority vested in him by … I dunno, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, maybe … to block their implementation.

Take legal pot, for instance. The rules governing how it’s to be grown and sold are supposed to be drafted by LePage’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (motto: Bringing Farmers, Tree-Huggers and Lumberjacks Together In Bureaucratic Harmony). But even before the referendum earned the narrowest of victories, DACF commissioner Walter Whitcomb told Maine Public Radio, “We’re simply not set up for that.”

If LePage resembled a normal governor, he’d tell Whitcomb to relax, inhale, hold it, hold it a little more and exhale. Once the commissioner felt better, he’d find a way to muddle through the process of regulating weed wholesaling and retailing. After all, that can’t be much more complicated than deciding how many trees to cut down (all of them) or how much habitat for endangered species to preserve (none of it).

But LePage isn’t normal, so it’s all but certain he’ll do everything in his power (and a few things that might not be) to block legal marijuana. In speeches last month, he claimed that if he did what chief executives in several states that have legalized the sticky icky have done and facilitated the creation of a new industry, he’d be breaking federal law and could be impeached. Apparently, he hasn’t noticed that the other governors haven’t had that problem.

Instead, LePage has promised a lawsuit to block ganja sales. While that futile measure drags on for months, Massachusetts and other pro-pot states will be stealing all that psycho-active business – and the accompanying taxes – that could have stayed in Maine.

Speaking of taxes, the referendum imposing a 3 percent surcharge on rich people’s incomes to pay for better schools has exactly no chance of finding its way into the governor’s next budget. While Democrats in the Legislature might try to insert the measure in the spending plan, nearly unanimous GOP opposition would make passage all but impossible. An intense partisan standoff over the issue could easily lead to a state shutdown, just in time for next tourist season.

Before Mainers got around to voting on a minimum wage increase, LePage’s opposition had already slipped the feeble bonds of rationality. He told a Lewiston audience the leaders of that effort “should be sent to jail” for crimes against the elderly because the measure would increase their cost of living. Among the problems with LePage’s idea is that the only way there’d be enough room in the corrections system for all those liberal political activists, is if the state stopped filling up jail cells with pot dealers.

While the guv ponders that conundrum, he can take heart in knowing he has an unlikely ally in his efforts to prevent the state from electing his successor using ranked-choice voting. Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills (who wouldn’t mind being that successor) has stated that using an instant runoff system violates the state constitution, which appears to require winners in races for governor to achieve a mere plurality. A lawsuit seems a certainty, but LePage need do no more than sputter pointlessly, while leaving Mills to do all the legal heavy lifting.

The referendum process is an important part of our democracy because without it the governor could find himself with a shortage of controversies to occupy his days. If that happened, he might have to do some real work or spend more time lobbying for that job in D.C.

Ignore new laws if you must, but don’t ignore me. My email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Subscribe to this RSS feed