The Portland Phoenix

Politics & Other Mistakes: The not-so-smart set

For some reason, neither Gov. Janet Mills nor 2nd District Congressman Jared Golden has been invited to participate in the annual Battle of the Massive Intellects sponsored by Mensa International.

That’s not to say Mills and Golden are stupid. They can both dress themselves and use words of more than two syllables. It’s not like they’re Portland city councilors or something.

But they’re engaged in one of the dumbest rounds of political squabbling among Democrats in recent years that didn’t involve either state Senate President Troy Jackson or former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling.

Golden appears to have a slight edge.

Earlier this year, he introduced a bill in Congress that would allow the Wabanaki, Maine’s Native American tribes, to enjoy a right every other tribe in the country already has. If it passes, it will make the Penobscots, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseets eligible to receive any future federal benefits that might become law. It’s a simple legal change that would correct a flaw in the 1980 Indian Land Claims Settlement.

That agreement gave the Wabanaki millions of dollars in return for dropping their (probably legitimate) claims to about two-thirds of Maine’s land. But it also said the tribes were ineligible for any changes Congress might later approve granting new rights to Native Americans.

We could speculate on what kind of idiot agrees to terms like that, but we have more recent idiocy to deal with.

The feds have since given tribes elsewhere control over gambling, criminal prosecutions on their land, and other trappings of sovereignty. But the Wabanaki remain stuck in the late 20th century, ineligible for any increased control over their lives that isn’t expressly approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

Any easing of restrictions has been infrequent, until this year, when lawmakers approved a bill granting the tribes full sovereignty. Mills (remember, she’s not all that stupid) pushed through her own measure giving them a few minor concessions (online sports betting) but warned she’d veto both bills if the full-sovereignty legislation wasn’t withdrawn.

The governor got her way. The tribes got screwed again. Golden’s bill would, at least, prevent future screwings.

Mills was furious that a mere congressman would have the audacity to attempt to counteract her mistakes. She had her lawyer fire off a letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee asking them to delay Golden’s bill to allow more time for negotiations between the state and the Wabanaki.

Because 40-odd years hasn’t been enough.

Golden responded by issuing a statement saying this was “a matter on which Congress has principal authority.”

Translation: Stuff it, governor.

Golden and his co-sponsor, 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (a B+ student, so maybe this was her idea), then pulled a fast one. They had the bill attached to the $839 billion National Defense Authorization Act, and it sailed through the House before Mills could sort out all the big words.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where Maine’s senators have so far been noncommittal, mostly because they don’t want to piss off a powerful special interest. The forest-products industry (motto: Numb as a Log) doesn’t want the Indians exerting more control over their land and is pushing to get independent Angus King and Republican Susan Collins to gut the measure.

Meanwhile, Golden is also attempting to insert the bill into the budget for the Department of the Interior, just to make it more difficult for King and Collins to mess with it. If that doesn’t work, maybe he’ll attach it to the budget of the Commerce Department. Or the Justice Department. Or NASA.

All this maneuvering is over a bill that doesn’t alter the status quo one bit. Unless Congress gives Native Americans some new rights, nothing changes in Maine.

But this fight does give Golden (he can tie his own shoes) some brownie points with liberals, a group he sorely needs if he’s going to win reelection. At the same time, Mills (can’t download apps) is hurting herself with left-wingers, a bloc she also desperately needs if she wants another term.

It’s easy to see which of these lame brains has an IQ higher than room temperature.

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