The Portland Phoenix

Politics & Other Mistakes: Overlooked races

The thing I hate about big disasters – climate change, the death of a U.S. Supreme Court justice and her possible replacement by a religious fanatic, a pandemic that’s killed more than 200,000 Americans, the inability of the president to connect with reality – is they distract me from the little disasters that can have significant, and even nastier, effects on life in Maine.

How am I supposed to figure out whether it makes sense to launch another referendum to stop Central Maine Power Co.’s plan to cut up western Maine so it can deliver Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts when my attempts to focus on that rather parochial issue are disrupted by the opioid crisis, not to mention terrorism, homelessness, racism, government corruption, and the weird format for the Major League Baseball playoffs?

One immediate consequence of all these national and international concerns is they seem to be causing me to write much longer sentences than I would ordinarily produce, possibly because I’m too stressed out to hit the period key, or perhaps I’m just in a rush to fulfill my word count before Armageddon arrives.

That’s unfortunate because some local issues only require a line or two to point out their importance.

I took a deep breath (and several swallows of beer) before I wrote that last sentence. It seems to have helped control the excess verbiage. Except “excess verbiage” is redundant.

In November, we’ll have the opportunity to vote not only for president, U.S. senator, and Congressional representatives, but also for all 186 members of the Maine Legislature. That last group, the alleged leaders we choose to send to Augusta for the next two years, will have the opportunity to profoundly impact our state’s response to far more than that CMP power line. Given what might happen in Washington, our state senators and representatives could also set policy on mildly controversial issues such as abortion, gun control, transgender rights, quarantine rules, and impeaching the governor.

As Gideon J. Tucker, a New York lawyer and politician, wrote in 1866, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe when the Legislature is in session.”

Tucker made local lawmaking seem almost as dangerous as nuclear war, asteroid collisions, or that other Tucker, the Carlson one.

Despite the ability of the state legislative branch to inflict all manner of damage upon society, most people would be hard-pressed to identify even one of their legislators. Fewer still could dredge up the names of their challengers. In 34 Maine districts, that’s impossible this year, since one party or the other has failed to find so much as a crash-test dummy to place on the ballot.

How North Korean of them.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in one of the 152 remaining places where there’s some sort of contest for a legislative seat, you’d be wise to educate yourself about your choices. Where do these would-be arbiters of your fate stand on taxes, business regulation, environmental protection, and take-out cocktails? No doubt, the local news media will be an enormous help in determining how their positions align with yours.

Just kidding. The local news media have neither the staff nor the inclination to probe the quirks, qualifications, or opinions of legislative candidates. The most you can hope for is some sort of generic query, such as “What are your top priorities?” The answer from both conservatives and liberals is always some variation of this: “Good jobs, a strong economy, and good schools. Maybe a clean environment if it’s not too much trouble.”

What this means is you’re going to have to sort out this mess yourself. Call your candidates (you can get names and phone numbers from your municipal clerk) and ask them for real answers about the issues you care about. You’ve already watched everything on Netflix, so you’ve got an hour or so to spare to decide the fate of the state.

You can then take some comfort in knowing you did what you could to keep Maine from going to hell. At least until the big events kill us all.

Before you expire, email me at

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