Al Diamon

Al Diamon

Your problems will be gone

The campaign is almost over, so it’s time for me – a wise and experienced Maine political observer – to tell you – an obvious doofus – how to vote. You probably don’t believe you need my help in casting your ballot, but clearly you do, because of one or more of the following factors:

1. You have a homemade Donald Trump sign on your front lawn with his name misspelled.

2. You think ranked-choice voting will improve our electoral process, just the way public campaign financing and term limits have.

3. You’ve started getting paranoid, so you just went outside to check the spelling on your Trump sign.

4. You can’t wait to get to the polls to vote either for or against Paul LePage – even though he’s not running for anything this year.

5. You can’t name your state representative, your state senator or a single member of your local school board, but you can list every player on the New England Patriots roster and a dozen members of the practice squad.

6. You brag about being able to do that while drunk.

7. You just found an alt-right website that spells it “Trummp,” so that’s gotta be correct.

8. You’re voting no on Question 3 because you saw a sign on your neighbor’s lawn telling you to do that – although you’ve got no idea what Question 3 is supposed to do. Something about welfare, maybe.

9. You’re the sort of doofus who takes a selfie in the voting booth.

10. You actually are Paul LePage, and you claim the misspelling on your “Trummp” sign is the result of vandalism by out-of-state drug dealers. You don’t necessarily believe those creeps are black or Hispanic, but you’ve got evidence in a three-ring binder indicating there’s a 90 percent chance they are.

11. You think the election is rigged. You’re not sure by whom, but your best guess is black guys in a car with Massachusetts plates. Either that or radical Islamic terrorists.

12. Wait, it could be Russians.

Fortunately, no matter how many of these afflictions you suffer from, I’m sure I can help. Well, not if it’s number 10. Or any of the other ones with misspelled Trump signs. But most of the rest.

The problems facing this state are not, as most politicians claim, simple. They’re complicated, and the solutions to them are, likewise, complex. Liberals will tell you everything would be swell if we just expanded Medicaid, welcomed immigrants and ate more kale. Conservatives insist we could achieve a more perfect union by cutting taxes, creating more charter schools and jailing anyone who doesn’t stand up during the national anthem. Moderates are wedded to the concepts of civility, compromise and ranked-choice voting. All of them are wrong.

It took a long time for Maine to get into the economic mess it’s in, and it will take even longer to get out. Doing so will require patience (I think moderates are in favor of that), diligence (a solid conservative value), innovation (liberals are so down with that) and beer (everybody’s friend). Unfortunately, the solution isn’t sexy, the impact isn’t immediate, and the idea isn’t the least bit original.

Rather than dithering around with tax breaks for call centers and bond issues for nebulous research and development projects, the state should invest in bringing high-speed broadband to the underserved hinterlands. In time, that would attract all manner of entrepreneurs to parts of Maine devastated by loss of jobs and out-migration of young people, because those are places where rents are cheap, and the quality of life is high (if you happen to like trees and/or kale). This wouldn’t solve all the state’s problems. But over the next decade or so, it would put us in a position to address many of them. It would broaden the tax base, thereby allowing tax cuts. It could increase diversity, thereby making us … uh … more diverse. It might cause us to forget all about silly ideas like ranked-choice voting, but probably not.

So, when you go to the polls on Nov. 8, vote for anybody who’s in favor of this – which will be a lot like not voting at all.

And always use Spell Check on political signs.

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Time to leave

If you think there’s a housing crisis in Portland, your idea of what constitutes a crisis is seriously warped. Compared to a real shortage of accommodations, Portland is a home-hunter’s paradise.

For an example of a place where it’s almost impossible to find shelter, try visiting GOPville. Here are some nearly factual excerpts from Craigslist postings offering Republican rentals:
“If you don’t believe Obama is a Muslim, you won’t be living here.”


“Potential renters will be required to sign an affidavit stating they have evidence the election is rigged.”


“All windows must be covered by ‘Trump for President’ signs until election day, and aluminum foil thereafter.”


In contrast, Portland has newly refurbished apartments suitable for working-class families that can be rented for little more than a handshake and a promise to eventually pay the security deposit. Suburban houses with large yards on quiet, tree-lined streets are readily available for the price of a decent restaurant meal and a generous tip. Luxury condos with water views, indoor parking and illegal immigrants to handle the menial chores sell for monthly payments lower than the average annual income in Guatemala.
(All prices quoted in the preceding paragraph are for comparison purposes only, and are not intended to reflect reality.)


These days, the Maine GOP isn’t exactly a welcoming place – particularly for those who hold moderate views. Gov. Paul LePage, the nominal head of the party and a mildew-infected water balloon, has twice publicly stated he thinks advocates for a higher minimum wage should be jailed. LePage favors deterring drug dealers through racial profiling, since he’s convinced most of them are black or Hispanic. And the governor has suggested he’d like to shoot at least one legislator and one editorial cartoonist, which is well over the bag limit.
With few exceptions, Republicans have failed to repudiate these statements, and more than a few members privately agree with them, although they’ve been smart enough to avoid discussing that with Billy Bush. Overall, the party’s message is clearer than that of a Portland landlord who refuses to take Section 8 vouchers:
Anyone to the left of congressional candidate Mark Holbrook should consider relocating to the nearest homeless shelter.


This exclusionary attitude is likely to have serious consequences for the GOP, both immediate and long-term.


Let’s start with the morning after the Nov. 8 vote. While Democrats are convinced they’ll wake up that day having won control of the state Senate, the odds of that happening have been shrinking in recent weeks. In parts of the 2nd District, several seats that once looked shaky for Republicans have shifted from purple toward red (despite LePage’s claims of widespread voter fraud). Two experienced political operatives told me the GOP could well hold onto the Senate by a single seat.


Trouble is, that 18-17 margin will almost certainly include state Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton, a moderate who’s been a regular target of LePage’s venomous excretions. Saviello, who used to be an independent (and before that, a Democrat), has notified party leaders that unless they agree to rule changes designed to increase collaboration and compromise in the Senate, he’ll once again become unenrolled, leaving that chamber with no clear majority, and himself holding the balance of power.


Even more disturbing for Republicans is the increasing likelihood that the state’s most popular politician may leave the GOP.


U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, one of the few Republicans with the guts to repudiate Trump, has been considering a run for governor in 2018. One impediment to Collins’ plan is that she’d have to slog through an ugly GOP primary against one or more ultra-conservative challengers, most notably LePage’s commissioner of health and human services, Mary Mayhew. The easiest way to avoid engaging with the alt-right would be to run as an independent, an option Collins is said by several insiders to be giving serious consideration.
Defections by Collins and Saviello might embolden other disillusioned GOP moderates, leading to their eviction from their abodes, a move that could cripple Republican chances of winning statewide races for years to come.


That’s probably not enough of a threat to deter the party’s extremists. They’re all in on the idea of building an ideological wall.


Even if they have to pay for it.

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Illusion of progress

I usually don’t enjoy debunking what appears to be good news. So when my wife tells me we’re using less heating oil this year, I see no reason to mention it’s because the furnace is broken.

 

If she compliments me for only sipping a couple beers during a long Sunday of watching football, there’s no need to speculate that it might have something to do with those shots of bourbon I gulped whenever she left the room.

 

And if Maine Citizens For Clean Elections is elated that, thanks to public campaign financing, the amount of private money being donated to legislative candidates is down this year, it seems as if pointing out that those intrepid citizens are delusional would be cruel.

 

So, call me cruel.

 

In September, MCCE sent out a news release stating 63 percent of those running for seats in the state House and Senate are using taxpayer money to fund their races. Or is it 62 percent? The release used both numbers. But why quibble over a few thousand of your dollars.

 

Anyway, 60-something percent is a boost from the 2014 election, when scarcely more than half of potential legislators were sucking on the public teat. But it’s a long way from 2008, when over 80 percent got cash that otherwise could have gone to schools, highways or lower taxes.

 

The reason for the wide swings in participation has to do with federal court decisions that freed certain types of political action committees to spend unlimited amounts of “dark money” without having to reveal the sources of their cash. This made these super PACs more attractive to major donors with something to hide.

 

A decade ago, before the legal changes, these groups spent barely $16,000 on Maine elections. By 2014, that figure had increased ten-fold, and the total will almost certainly more than double this year.

 

For instance, the Associated Press reported a super PAC called Progressive Maine (a project of soon-to-be-ex-legislator Diane Russell) is using 50 grand it got from unknown sources in California to defeat Republican legislative leaders. Meanwhile, GOP Gov. Paul LePage is heading something called ICE PAC (early fundraising for a possible U.S. Senate bid in 2018), which has over $300,000 to spend attacking legislators who don’t support tax cuts (read: Democrats).

 

Meanwhile, according to the Portland Press Herald, political parties are pouring cash into close races. These “independent expenditures” amounted to nearly $500,000 by early October, significantly more than the record spending of two years ago. That figure also dwarfs the $160,000 decline in private donations to campaigns that MCCE is so excited about.

 

Obviously, the big money has shifted from contributions that can be monitored to super PACs that can’t.

Contrary to common sense, MCCE believes this change is due to a 2015 referendum that allowed publicly funded candidates to qualify for additional money if they’re targeted by outside forces. Instead of having to scuffle along with a mere $5,000 in taxpayer money, a state House candidate could pull in $15,000. On the Senate side, the maximum allocation could increase from $20,000 to $60,000.

 

According to MCCE, this modest adjustment was an unqualified success – depending, of course, on your definitions of “unqualified” and “success.” In a news release, MCCE executive director Andrew Bossie said, “Mainers want their elected leaders accountable to everyday people in their district, not wealthy special interests that can afford high-priced lobbyists and donors that make big campaign contributions.”

 

Maybe. But as long as rich folks can get more bang for their bucks if they don’t bother with piddling payouts to individual candidates, they’ll devote their resources to super PACs, where they don’t have to worry about limits on how much they give or reveal their names. Public financing does nothing to deter this shift into the shadows. MCCE’s celebration of the decline in private funding looks like a cynical attempt to justify taxpayer funding.

Or they could be naïve.

 

Sort of like when my wife gives me a peck on the cheek for picking up my dirty underwear. No need to shatter her illusions by revealing the dog dragged them out in the backyard and buried them.

 

Could that be a metaphor for something?


If you email good news to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., I promise not to rain on your parade.

System failure

Even Paul LePage, Republican governor and cloud of alien flatulence, knows referendums are bad. That’s because LePage keeps a three-ring binder showing 90 percent of Maine’s referendum questions are written by African-Americans and Hispanics from out of state, which explains why they contain words like “popo,” “bae” and “fleek.” That inner-city slang could only have been brought here by drug dealers from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.

 

Or, possibly, poseur white kids.

 

But that’s not why LePage, who insists he’s not a racist, opposes all five of the referendums we’ll be voting on this fall.

 

“I believe three of the questions on the November ballot are unconstitutional,” he wrote on a conservative website. “If they pass it will be impossible to uphold my oath of office.”

 

LePage is probably wrong about two of the three. Question 1, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use, conflicts with federal law, but not necessarily on constitutional grounds. Question 3, which requires background checks for private gun sales, has been litigated elsewhere and found not to violate the Second Amendment. As for Question 5, ranked-choice voting does appear to violate the state Constitution’s provisions requiring governors to be chosen by a plurality of the votes cast, and that municipal – rather than state – officials count ballots. If it passes, the courts will have a fine mess to sort out.

 

In addition, Question 2, which would hike taxes on the rich to pay for schools, attempts to bypass the legislative budget process, a shift that’s, at best, constitutionally problematic.

 

The bottom line: LePage is still right about legislating by referendum being wrong. As former GOP legislator Jonathan McKane put it in a recent newspaper op-ed, referendum campaigns result in “loose, oversimplified language [being] foisted on an unsuspecting public who are then bombarded with deceptive advertising.” If these measures pass, McKane said, we’ll see “more weakly drafted, unresearched, partisan and risky laws” in future elections, resulting in all manner of “disastrous consequences.”

 

McKane attributes the sudden surge in referendums to wealthy special interests. LePage claims liberals are behind these campaigns (everybody knows blacks and Hispanics are all left-wingers). They’ve both got it wrong.

 

The reason Maine is suffering from an infestation of citizen-initiated measures of dubious merit is because our elected leaders failed to do their jobs.

Maine’s referendum process, which requires organizers to gather signatures of registered voters equal to 10 percent of those who cast ballots in the most recent gubernatorial election, was put in place back in 1492 or maybe 1776, and was meant to provide the public with an outlet for their frustration on occasions when the governor and Legislature refused to deal with a pressing issue. For decades, these officials recognized that if they didn’t take some sort of action, voters might do so on their own. This possibility persuaded many a recalcitrant senator and representative to negotiate a compromise, rather than risk allowing normal people to meddle in matters they were incapable of fully comprehending.

 

But since LePage assumed office in 2011, the process of productive give and take has been largely absent from the State House. This governor doesn’t do deals. GOP legislators have sometimes backed LePage’s hardline positions, resulting in stalemates. At other times, Republicans have ignored the guv, thereby allowing certain issues to wither away. Democrats, realizing middle ground was nonexistent, saw no political advantage in offering concessions.

 

The result: Nothing happened.

 

Take for example, the minimum wage. The measure on the ballot calls for annual increases until the base pay reaches $12 per hour, after which it will be indexed to inflation. But two years ago, the governor and Legislature had every opportunity to pass a more modest hike to $10 per hour with no indexing. They refused to do so.

 

On gun control, there have been numerous chances ever since the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012 to pass a more limited background-check bill, but it never got traction.

 

Marijuana legalization? Education funding? Election reform? All issues on which lawmakers could have acted responsibly, but instead punted.

 

Into that leadership vacuum stepped – depending on your viewpoint – assorted disgruntled citizens, devious political manipulators, or suspicious characters from out of state named “D-Money,” “Smoothie” and “Michael Bloomberg.”

 

No wonder our system is more frazzled than fleek.

 

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Pot of gold

“Caregiver” is a lovely word. It conveys all that’s best about humanity, such as our capacity for compassion, selflessness and quality TV programming.

On the other hand, “dope dealer” is an ugly term, carrying connotations of greed, corruption and sports-talk radio.

Strangely enough, in Maine, caregivers and dope dealers are often the same people. It’s as if “Masterpiece Theater” was suddenly interrupted by audio from “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.”

As the state prepares to vote on whether to legalize pot for recreational use, it’s worth noting that a sizable percentage of the illegal weed sold here currently comes from what the law refers to as “medical marijuana caregivers,” a term that conjures up images of humanitarian volunteers sharing doobies with Ebola victims. In reality, this sort of “caregiver” often makes a significant portion of his or her income selling weed to folks who have no health-related excuses to be smoking it.

Caregivers manage to justifying their dope dealing. They’ve told me they only sell to people with medical problems for which marijuana isn’t legally recognized as a treatment option, such as opioid addiction. They’ve told me they consider it wrong to deny the kind bud to those who wish to use it for relaxation. They’ve even occasionally admitted they do it for the money, because care-giving may be heartwarming, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

There are about 3,000 of these caregivers in Maine, each of whom is allowed to grow pot for five patients. By exploiting a legal loophole of constantly rotating their client lists, many caregivers actually serve far more than that. But even this skillful juggling of the books may not be enough to keep up with the high costs of electricity, hydroponics and security systems. So for many, retailing some of the crop to the general public is a business necessity.

How many caregivers are also illegal dealers isn’t known, but estimates by several involved in the sleazy side of the business ranged from 25 percent to 75 percent. By any calculation, that makes caregivers a major player in the illegal drug trade. But despite the criminal implications, that doesn’t mean those involved lack standards.

“I don’t sell to kids,” one caregiver told me. I later witnessed him making a deal with a couple guys who appeared to be not much more than 18. Even if the referendum is approved in November, that transaction still wouldn’t pass legal muster, because the minimum age for pot purchases would be 21.

“If they don’t buy it from me, they’ll get it from somebody else,” another caregiver added. “At least my product is high-quality with no additives or other crap like you might get on the street. It’s the same stuff I sell my medical patients.”

Quality is certainly important, even in the gray market. Caregivers need positive word of mouth, because they can’t expect glowing online reviews on Zagat or Yelp.

Of course, most of this hypocrisy will go up in smoke if the voters decide on Nov. 8 to end the prohibition against pot. Caregivers can stop pretending they’re Florence Nightingale in gardening overalls and embrace their role as entrepreneurs. One caregiver/dealer told me he and others are already drafting business plans.

“We’ll be using the craft beer industry as a model,” he said. “The big guys will try to corner the market, just like Budweiser and Coors, but we’ll market ourselves as premium brands responsive to local tastes, like little breweries do with their tap rooms.”

It would appear that in the much-anticipated legalized future, less of the average caregiver’s business will be off the books. There’ll be semi-accurate spreadsheets for the tax people and dues paid to trade associations and local chambers of commerce. There’ll be marketing budgets and investor opportunities. And there’ll be an intense public relations campaign.

Because these budding horticulturists are going to need a new name for their occupation. “Dope dealer” reeks of criminality and prohibition-era politics. And “caregiver” isn’t going to cut it when it becomes obvious they don’t actually care for their customers or give anything away.

“Pot opportunist” gets points for accuracy, but I can’t see that getting approved by the PR experts.

How about “eco-hedonist”?

 

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When bad choices happen to good people

Here’s why you should vote Democratic this election:

 

1. Republican 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin hates campers. “These are not my kind of people,” Poliquin allegedly told the owner of a proposed campground in Phippsburg 15 years ago in justifying his opposition to licensing what he called “a trailer park” next to a high-end resort he was trying to establish.

 

2. GOP Gov. Paul LePage has been an excellent governor – from the neck down, which accounts for him making national news for racist remarks about drug dealers and Maine’s virginal white women. “It’s not just one issue there or one bad comment there,” Maine Democratic Party chairman Phil Bartlett told the Bangor Daily News. “We’re dealing with a situation that Maine’s image nationally is suffering. The governor at every turn has made the situation worse.”

 

3. Republicans in the Legislature have failed to hold LePage accountable, while squandering opportunities to advance a coherent economic agenda. Even the governor agrees with that latter contention, having campaigned against two incumbent GOP legislators during the primary, resulting in the defeat of one of them. He’s also urged voters attending his town hall meetings around the state to “throw the bums out.”

 

4. And obviously, Donald Trump.

Now, here’s why you shouldn’t vote for anyone on the fall ballot with a “D” after their name.

 

1. Democrats have no platform and haven’t had one since the days of Lyndon Johnson (the Great Society) and Ed Muskie (the Clean Water Act). Instead, Dems define themselves by opposing whatever Republicans support. So they’re in favor of dirty, smelly campers plopping trailers next to posh condos. But they’re against charter schools, affordable electricity, welfare reform and tax cuts for people who actually pay taxes. Oh wait, the Democrats’ plan for “A Better State of Maine” also calls for food hubs (whatever they are), infrastructure investments (is anybody against that?) and inducing young people to stay in Maine by making downtowns more trendy (a Whole Foods in Mattawamkeag?).

 

2. Democrats have no real leaders. Sure, the GOP has wimps like House Minority Sycophant Ken Fredette, but that doesn’t begin to match up with limp noodles like House Speaker Mark Eves, Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, congressional candidate Emily Cain, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci. None of them has proved a match for LePage, even at his looniest.

 

3. Democrats have no clue how to win major elections. Quick, name the last time a Dem not named Chellie Pingree prevailed in an important race (no, mayor of Portland doesn’t count as important). The answer is Mike Michaud in the 2012 contest for the 2nd District seat. Before that, it was John Baldacci in the 2006 governor’s race. The most recent Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat was George Mitchell back in 1988, when some voters in this election had yet to be born.

 

4. And obviously, Hillary Clinton.

In spite of these compelling arguments against casting a ballot for either major party, lots of seemingly normal voters will anyway, motivated not by partisan concerns (they’ve long since lost track of which side favors foreign trade agreements and have no idea who we’re supporting in Syria this week), but by a local issue of such overwhelming importance as to blot out all else.

Namely, guns.

 

Question 3 is going to turn out a lot of folks this November who might otherwise have opted to stay home and get stinking drunk. This measure requires background checks for private gun sales, and has motivated conservative, rural voters like nothing short of the opening day of deer season. The National Rifle Association  and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine have their members locked and loaded to vote no.

 

In spite of the big money from out of state supporting the referendum, the pro-gun crowd will almost certainly prevail, while incidentally delivering the 2nd District to Trump, legalizing pot and rejecting ranked-choice voting.

 

Smoking guns will also prove more potent than the odor of hygiene-deficient hunters after two weeks of boozing it up and occasionally looking for something to shoot. Whether Poliquin likes them or not, these deplorable campers will be voting for him.


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Can’t make me

I won’t be writing a column this week.

 

Not because I’m ill.

 

Not because I’ve been suspended for making inappropriate comments.

And not because there’s nothing going on in Maine politics worth ridiculing.

 

The reason I’m taking a sabbatical is the result of studying the management philosophy at the state Department of Health and Human Services. Which can be summarized as follows:

If we don’t feel like doing our jobs, we just don’t. But we get paid anyway.

 

In other words, the department’s leaders behave like a passive-aggressive 12-year-old with a Pokémon Go obsession and a Quaalude habit.

 

Consider these examples.

 

According to excellent reporting by the Bangor Daily News, DHHS has decided it doesn’t need the $1 million it’s been receiving annually under a five-year federal grant for a program helping teenagers and young adults with serious mental illness prepare to live independently.

 

After two years of accepting the money, the department abruptly announced it would no longer do so, because, according to a press release from spokeswoman Samantha Edwards, “[W]e cannot create a dependency on funding that could be gone tomorrow based on federal decisions.” Instead, Edwards said, some sort of replacement would be financed with state money from an unspecified source.

 

It’s surprising the department has an extra million bucks lying around, since as recently as June, Paul LePage, Republican governor and genetically modified pumpkin virus, instituted a hiring freeze at DHHS, claiming there wasn’t enough cash to pay for new programs approved by the Legislature.

 

Oh wait, maybe LePage and DHHS commissioner Mary Mayhew plan to use savings from turning the ASPIRE program, which helps welfare recipients get jobs, over to a private operator. Having a New York nonprofit handle that task should result in savings.

 

Except it doesn’t. ASPIRE currently costs the state about $63 million a year (in both state and those notoriously unreliable federal funds), and that’s how much the contractor will be paid. The sole advantage is DHHS won’t have to do any heavy lifting.

 

Nor is that the only case of the department deciding it’s no longer going to break a sweat. According to the Bangor Daily, DHHS has increased the number of requests for proposals to privatize services from an average of 30 to 35 each year to 100 to 125. And the department didn’t even bother to seek competitive bids before a program to help at-risk parents care for their new babies was sloughed off on a politically connected nonprofit called Maine Children’s Trust to the tune of over $9 million annually.

 

Net savings for taxpayers?

Uh … none.

 

But who needs extra money. LePage and Mayhew say they’ve found between $3 million and $5 million in DHHS’s current budget to build a 21-bed facility next to Augusta’s Riverview Psychiatric Center to house patients with mental illness who’ve committed violent crimes, about which they refuse to answer questions. Running such a secretive operation would be a drag, so the department plans to farm that task out to a private company, too.

 

Hiring public health nurses would be an even bigger bore, but Mayhew and LePage don’t bother. The Bangor newspaper’s investigation found that nearly half the nursing positions at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention are vacant, a number that’s been steadily increasing over the past six years. That’s saving some serious dough, at least until the next outbreak of tuberculosis or influenza.

 

Speaking of the CDC, it hasn’t had a director since May, and, according to Mayhew, won’t have one until after the state elects a new governor in 2018. In the meantime, a couple of underlings are running the show. Fortunately, the unspent money covered the cost of fines imposed on DHHS for serious safety violations at its Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory in Augusta.

 

The department seems to have learned nothing from its 2013 decision to turn over coordination of a program providing transportation for Medicaid recipients to medical appointments to a private company. That produced hundreds of complaints and cost an extra $5.4 million.

 

On the plus side, it made being on welfare even less attractive.

 

There’s probably a provocative column to be written about all that. But not by me.

 

I’m putting the job of reading emails sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. out to bid.

Breaking the habit

Must fight the urge to write – once again! – about Paul LePage’s idiocy.

 

Must resist the compulsion to pile more derision on Maine’s beleaguered Republican governor and giant decaying puffball. Must turn my attention elsewhere, even if it hurts.

 

I’ll (gasp, wheeze) try.

 

But like the opioids imported into this state by Massachusetts and New York drug dealers of questionable ethnicity, making fun of LePage is horribly addictive. I can’t quit cold turkey. Instead, I’ll need the journalistic equivalent of methadone:

Roxanne Quimby.

 

With the exception of LePage, no public figure in Maine elicits as toxic a reaction as the woman who co-founded the Burt’s Bees personal care product line, made millions of dollars when she sold the company, and since 2000, has devoted herself to acquiring thousands of forested acres east of Baxter State Park that she originally wanted to turn into a national park. Quimby alienated nearly all the locals by banning timber harvesting, hunting, fishing and snowmobiling on her properties. In an area that depended on forestry and outdoor recreation for its livelihood, she displayed a LePage-like propensity for saying the wrong thing. In Phyllis Austin’s excellent book “Queen Bee,” Quimby portrays herself as “an artist” and says anything that infringes on the “untouched natural landscape … is offensive.”

 

Translation: You blue-collar schmoes can kiss your jobs goodbye.

 

Unlike LePage, Quimby kinda, sorta recognizes her shortcomings. She recently told the Bangor Daily News she handed off the leadership role in the campaign to gain federal protection for the 87,000 acres of land to her son, Lucas St. Clair, because she finally realized she lacked the necessary political instincts. “I don’t have the social skill,” she said. “Given my background in business, I just didn’t have the patience for it. I’m used to being the boss.”

 

You could almost imagine LePage saying something similar – if he had a trace of self-awareness. And, possibly, a slightly lower blood-alcohol level.

 

Oops, sorry. Had a little relapse there. Checking myself into rehab as soon as I churn out another 350 words.

 

Back to Quimby. Late last month, she transferred ownership of her land to the federal government. Shortly thereafter, President Obama declared the vast tract the Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument, because it contains both woods and water, and from some parts of it, you can see Mount Katahdin. The National Park Service assumed control of the property and announced that hunters, fishers and snowmobilers would be allowed in certain areas.

 

None of this should have been a surprise. The possibility of presidential action has been considered likely for the better part of two years, with the only question being whether Obama would act before the November election or after. Opponents and skeptics (count me among the latter) have had adequate time to adjust their thinking to the new reality, however unpleasant they might find it.

 

Except a lot of them didn’t (don’t count me among those wingnuts). Like the anti-LePage mob (you know, folks like me), they just couldn’t accept such an unpalatable option. They sputtered on about how the feds had usurped local control, how the process lacked transparency, how nobody was considering the feelings of nearby residents (both of them). What they weren’t saying, but they were thinking, was that a national monument wasn’t going to mesh well with their secret plan for economic recovery.

 

Which consists almost entirely of wishful thinking about reviving the paper industry.

 

Which, in spite of my wife’s insistence on printing out every single document she deals with in her professional and personal life, isn’t going to happen. We’re probably only a couple years away from digital toilet paper, and then it will really hit the fan.

 

It’s time for the anti-monument crowd to admit defeat, and quit their petty protests, such as trying to get a park service information desk thrown out of the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum. You may not like Quimby (me, too), but she won and you lost. Get over it and move on. Find something else to gripe about.

 

Wait. My hands are shaking. I’m breaking out in a cold sweat. This Quimby substitute isn’t working. I need a big hit of LePage.

Quick, governor, say something stupid.

 

I’ll read emails sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. as soon as I go into remission.

Damage report

Who still loves Paul LePage, Maine’s poutine-for-brains excuse for a governor?

 

Criminal defense lawyers, that’s who.

 

On Aug. 26, LePage handed every person of color arrested for drug offenses in this state a gold-plated get-out-of-jail-free card. A black or Hispanic dope peddler could be driving up the Maine Turnpike in a van with “United Heroin Service” printed on the side and speakers on the roof blaring the Tubes’ “White Punks On Dope,” and this miscreant wouldn’t have to worry about being convicted of anything more serious than questionable taste in music.

 

Here’s how the governor did it. He told reporters during a semi-delirious press conference that he had no problem with law enforcement using racial profiling to identify drug dealers. “When you go to war,” LePage said, “if you know the enemy and the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, then you shoot at red. … You try to identify the enemy, and the enemy right now – the overwhelming majority of people coming in – are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”

 

LePage followed up three day later by telling a Boston reporter, “Meth labs are white. They’re Mainers. The heroin-fentanyl arrests are not white people. They’re Hispanic and they’re black, and they’re from Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts; Waterbury, Connecticut; the Bronx and Brooklyn. I didn’t make up the rules. That’s how it turns out. But that’s a fact. It’s a fact. What, do you want me to lie?”

 

There are a couple of problems with this line of (to use the term loosely) reasoning. First, all sorts of statistics – the population of drug traffickers in the state prison system, data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service – indicate the overwhelming number of dope dealers, both nationally and locally, are white.

 

So far, the only white person Republican LePage has suggested taking action against is Democratic state Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. The governor left Gattine an obscenity-laced voice-mail message on August 25 and later told reporters he wished he lived during a time when dueling was legal so he could shoot him “right between his eyes.” Gattine’s offense: He opposes many of LePage’s legislative initiatives. Legal experts suggest that under the U.S. Constitution, that doesn’t rise to the level of a crime meriting capital punishment.

 

The other problem with the governor’s blather is the courts have repeatedly ruled that racial profiling is unconstitutional. Since LePage is nominally the boss of the Maine State Police, any competent attorney could argue his comments constitute an order to the troopers to stop people on suspicion of drug dealing for no other reason than the color of their skin.

 

Unless the cops come up with something more rational to justify pulling over and searching random black and Latino drivers (“Well, your honor, after the Tubes song, his loudspeaker started playing ‘Heroin’ by the Velvet Underground, and I don’t think Hispanics even listen to the Velvet Underground”), cases like this are going to be thrown out by judges for lack of probable cause. Even if the car’s trunk turns out to be filled with bricks of smack, that evidence won’t be admissible.

 

There are rumors the Maine Society of Shady Shysters and Corrupt Counselors At Law plans to present LePage with a lifetime achievement award for making their jobs so much easier.

 

But lawyers aren’t alone in appreciating the more crazed LePage. He’s also proving to be a boon for tourism directors any place other than Maine. His statements have virtually insured that no blacks, Latinos or other sensible people will plan a vacation in this state so long as he’s in office.

 

And finally, LePage has earned the gratitude of Connecticut and New York drug dealers. Until his racist rants, these criminals probably had no idea that using black or Hispanic mules to transport their products into Maine was likely to attract attention. Now, they’ll be doing some racial profiling of their own by hiring only white people to smuggle their dope.

 

While law enforcement is surveying incoming traffic for dark skin, traffickers will slip by them disguised as people who look sort of like LePage.

 

Only smarter.

 

Give me the straight dope by emailing 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..

Staking out terrorists in Maine

I was keeping an eye out for terrorists. And what better place to do so than the tap room of a brewery on Lewiston’s Lisbon Street.

 

Also, I was watching for welfare cheats, since, according to Gov. Paul LePage, they’re much the same thing.

After recent news reports revealed that an Iranian refugee who once lived in Maine had been killed in Lebanon last year while fighting for the Islamic State, LePage announced he was launching an investigation of immigrants who receive some form of state aid to see if they’re misusing that money. Apparently, the dead guy and his family had been on the dole for at least part of the time they lived here, which is all the evidence we need to suspect anyone of being an Islamic extremist.

 

I was doing my part in being vigilant – while also supporting the local brewing industry – by using my vantage point at the bar to scrutinize passers-by.

 

I observed a Somali woman covered head to toe in colorful fabric. No way to tell if she was carrying explosives or food stamps.

 

A Somali man with a fez on his head soon followed. His long coat prevented me from spotting guns, knives or EBT cards.

 

Two people who could have been tourists from Massachusetts sauntered along, wearing an unfortunate combination of souvenir t-shirts (“Rumford is for Lovers”) and cargo shorts. They were white and speaking English, so I paid them no mind.

 

Then there was a suspicious-looking guy, who turned out to be a Democratic state representative, a group Republican LePage finds even more offensive than foreigners. But he was able to prove he was in this country legally.

 

I had finished my second beer, and the closest I’d come to spotting a terrorist was a teenage litterbug.

 

I moved on to another tap room in an old mill, where I thought I’d struck pay dirt. The bartender virtually confessed to his un-American heritage when he admitted his grandparents were immigrants – from Quebec. Could they have been Catholic extremists?

 

At a nearby restaurant, I finally encountered exactly what the governor has been warning us about. A woman in a burka sat at a nearby table armed to the teeth. Literally. She was brandishing a steak knife supplied to her by her willing accomplice, the waitress, who looked suspiciously Scandinavian. Wasn’t that guy who sent emails threatening to kill Portland police from Norway? It was all starting to come together.

 

In my haste to dial 911, I almost spilled my Manhattan.

 

As the SWAT team dragged the woman away (hard to believe she could afford to eat in this place, anyway, unless she was misusing TANF benefits), I resolved to do even more to protect this state from the ravages of evildoers. A quick Google search revealed that although Maine has no known branches of ISIS or Al Qaeda, it does, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, have an active chapter of the Militant Knights Ku Klux Klan.

 

It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to imagine that underneath those white robes (similar to the dress of Somali refugees) these KKK members might be harboring general assistance checks to which they aren’t entitled.

 

But wait. In 2014, the SPLC also noted that Maine was home to a branch of the National Socialist Movement, described as “a Neo-Nazi group that specializes in provocative protests such as dressing in full Nazi uniforms.” You’d think those creeps would be as easy to spot as immigrants trying to use their welfare cash to pay at strip clubs and casinos. So, I’ll soon be staking out those locations in order to defend the sanctity and integrity of our precious democracy.

 

The fact is that Maine harbors a wide assortment of dangerous weirdos, although most of them are native born and of pale complexion. These scumbags operate meth labs. They perpetrate telephone scams on the elderly. They commit arson, burglary, domestic abuse and opiate dealing. A few of them are even welfare cheats.

 

Nobody calls them terrorists, but maybe we need to reconsider our definition of that word. And while we’re at it, maybe we ought to be refocusing our attention on real problems.

 

Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have suggestions for other terrorist-spotting locations (must have liquor license).

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