The boys of summer

canvassI remember it well.  It was the summer of 1985.

I was 21 years old and working for the Maine Peoples Alliance, a progressive, citizens action organization that was then working to raise public awareness about a proposed Community Right-To-Know law that would require small and large companies to publicly disclose to their neighbors what types of hazardous chemicals they were using.

That didn’t matter much to me. What mattered was that I needed a job, and the gig paid $240 per week.

I was hired as a field canvasser. Basically, my job was to go door-to-door in targeted communities and try to raise at least $90/night (quota)  in order to support the financing of our good deeds.

Each day, around 2:30 in the afternoon, me and roughly nine other young and eager do-gooders convened at the MPA’s Portland office to go over our assignments for the evening. Then, we all piled into a Chevy Suburban and were driven to a selected community, where we would receive our individual “turf” assignments.

It was not a bad job for college kids in the summer. The weather was generally cooperative, and the communities were generally the more affluent type.

Before hitting the bricks, we generally were dropped at a local “house of pizza” to gain some nourishment and play epic games of hacky-sack while the canvass director scouted turfs.

Armed with only clipboards, our award-winning smiles and enthusiasm,  we were each set loose in our respective turf to begin hitting every house on the block for signatures on our petition and a pitch to donate.

Sure, I had a lot of doors slammed in my face, but  I could also tell you more funny stories about canvassing than what you would want to hear.

Know this, however: I hit or exceeded my $90 quota every night.

I also fell madly in love with a co-worker. It was an awesome summer, but she broke my heart on the same weekend that Hurricane Gloria hit Maine. I remember it well.

Hurricane Gloria’s damage could not compare to the damage done to my then bleeding, anti-corporate, progressive heart.

Go ahead, blame her for making me a Republican. She was an art student.

Go figure.

And these children that you spit on . . .

Flash forward almost 30 years to Monday night.

Laura and I just returned home after walking the dogs, and we spotted a canvasser at our neighbor’s house.

Laura ducked in the house quickly. She avoids confrontation.

The canvasser spotted me and sized me up as he began walking toward our driveway.

“Can I help you,” I asked, deadly curious about who he was and who he was working for.

I thought about that art student from three decades before. I thought about all the doors slammed in my face. I thought about all the funny stories I accumulated that long ago summer.

This kid . . . this snot-nosed punk . . .  had no idea what was in store for him.

“I’m looking for Laura or Timothy.” he said, glancing at his smartphone.

We never had smartphones.

“Laura is my wife and Tim is my son,” I told him. “Can I help you with something,” I repeated, wondering why he didn’t want to speak with me.

Maybe it was because we were his last house for the evening, or maybe he was just being polite. “Sure, I can talk to you,” he replied, glancing again at his smartphone and instantly pulling up my real first name. (Hint: It’s not Randy, Randall or Randolph)

He asked who I was planning to vote for in Maine’s upcoming gubernatorial election. I gave my answer, and his response was flat. This kid must be a good poker player.

By now, Laura has emerged from the house, and I told the canvasser to ask her the same question. Unlike me, there was no hesitation in Laura’s voice. Her answer was clear and purposeful: Republican Paul LePage had earned her vote, she said.

Trying to mess with his head, I muttered something about Eliot Cutler.

That remark got Laura fired up. “Are you kidding me?” she asked incredulously. The canvasser seemed to be enjoying himself.

So, the three of us spent the next 15 minutes or so talking politics, including Laura setting him straight on the issue of fraud investigators, right there on my front lawn.

This kid was working for the Maine Democratic Party, but he seemed more interested in genuinely hearing our concerns and frustrations than he did about trying to sway our opinions.

He came across as smart, polite and respectful. He held his ground perfectly. He was a good ambassador for his party.

Eventually, his ride arrived and we bid adieu to our new friend.

As I closed the front door, I began to wonder why we usually can’t debate politics with such civility on social media outlets.

The worlds of communication and political strategy are rapidly changing, but Monday’s experience reminded me that there is still tremendous value in knocking on doors and having face-to-face conversations.

 

 

Talking in your sleep

Angry-Computer-GuyOftentimes, it’s not so much what you say but rather how you say it.

It’s an important lesson for all of us, but especially important for those who aspire to be our leaders. Think: “Social Security is Welfare

Earlier today, I was interviewed for a locally produced talk show in my community. I was pitched for this idea several weeks ago, and my first instinct was to decline the invitation. But the host was persistent, and he wanted to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: strategic communication.

As I prepared for the 25-minute taping, I paused to think about some words that I routinely take for granted.  After all, I am a strategic communications consultant; my job makes sense to me but I wondered if it made sense to anyone else.

stra-te-gic \strƏ-tē-jik\ adj 1. of, relating to, or marked by strategy. 2. necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct or completion of a strategic plan.

com-mu-ni-ca-tions\ kә-myὕ-nә-kā-shәns\ n. 1. an act or instance of transmitting; 2. process by which information is exchanged between individuals.

con-sul-tant \kәn-sәlt-nt\ n. 1. one who gives professional advice or services: expert

Thinking more deeply about those words led me to a basic conclusion: Despite the rapid and sometimes overwhelming advance of technology, the basic fundamentals of good communication skills haven’t changed much.

In fact, I quickly recalled a lesson that my late uncle drilled into my head during my teenage years: God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.

Human beings have always had the need and desire to communicate. Our ancestors used hieroglyphics (an earlier version of SnapChat) before sharing stories around campfires and passing those tales and lessons from one generation to the next. From there, we moved on to the invention of the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, television  – – all the way into our brave new world of Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

But as the speed of our communication increases exponentially, it becomes increasingly important to remember my uncle’s Golden Rule of Communication: take the time to listen and think before you speak, post or tweet.

If you want to learn a little bit more about my professional life (how I feed my family): check out this relatively short video clip.

In the meantime, remember that social media tools are power tools and require caution and a firm understanding of the consequences of making one wrong move that can happen in an instant without warning.

As always, I encourage your feedback. You can contact me by clicking this link.

 

 

 

 

Back to the future

image022There is no denying  a new energy in the city of Biddeford.

This looming sense of optimism and a sense of renewed vibrancy in the city’s downtown core is visible to visitors and residents alike.

Sadly, however, despite the abundance of new energy pouring into the city,  an iconic fixture of Biddeford’s past glory sits on the ground, rotting into oblivion.

It is a timepiece that no longer keeps time. Instead, what remains of the Lincoln Mill Clock Tower is running out of time.

How the clock tower ended up on the ground is a complicated story that I detailed previously.

But the good news?

Thanks to a dedicated group of Biddeford High School students, there is a renewed interest in preserving and restoring this iconic piece of Biddeford’s history.

Check out their video:

To make this happen it will only cost $5.

That’s right: just five bucks, so long as every resident of the city would kick in $5 (the cost of an extra-large coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts)

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Just imagine; for only $5 you can play a role in history. If you choose to ignore this opportunity, just remember that once it is gone, it is gone forever.

Dou you throw away or discard old family photos? Of course not, because we save what we value.

If this latest fundraising effort falls short, what remains of the clock tower will be demolished.

Imagine burning a family scrapbook.

We save what we value.  Play a part in history. Show the world what Biddeford Pride means.

Please visit this link to make your $5 donation (or more) today. Because time is running out.

Side note:

For decades, Paul MacDonald of Saco made a weekly climb every Sunday into the belfry of the Lincoln Mill Clock Tower to set and maintain its clock work gears.

Paul’s son, Fred, recently shared some photos of the now missing clock works with me, and I’m sharing those photos with you here.

 

Cutler: On the defense, or on the move?

camplogo3With less than six months to go before the November election, all three of Maine’s gubernatorial candidates seem to be picking up the pace of their campaigns.

In traditional Maine politics, this sort of ramping up usually comes toward the end of summer, just ahead of a Labor Day surge that leads to an October sprint for the finish.

The early nature of this ramp up is likely tied to the results generated by two recent statewide polls, both of which show Democrat Mike Michaud and Republican Paul LePage in a statistical dead heat. Both polls also show Independent candidate Eliot Cutler in a distant third place.

The numbers from polling conducted by Rasmussen and Pan Atlantic SMS Group had to be disappointing news for Cutler and his team.

Video killed the radio star

Apparently, despite the dismal poll numbers, there is still some concern that Cutler could repeat the 2010 election results, by once again drawing from Democratic voters and giving LePage a second term with a plurality victory.

Cutler, with nothing much to lose, recently unleashed a campaign video to explain why he is NOT splitting the vote.

The video was captured during one of his campaign events in response to a question from a very young voter.

Releasing the video was a very smart move,  and it was a very dumb move.

It’s a smart move because Cutler uses video to portray confidence, leadership.

It’s a dumb move because it makes his campaign appear on the defensive some six months before the election.

 

Regardless of how you feel about Cutler, his campaign or the video, one thing is clear: video is an effective communication tool, especially when it comes to social media. Blogs are read, but videos go viral.

A study conducted in the United Kingdom last year showed what most of us know intuitively, yet what so many of us fail to recognize: A picture is worth a thousand words, but a short video is worth a thousand pictures.

The study showed that consumers are 27.4 times more likely to click-through online video ads than standard banners and almost 12 times more than rich media ads.

But here in Maine politics, the gubernatorial campaigns have yet to do very much in the way of integrating videos in their social media efforts.

As of this writing, the above video from Cutler (posted two days ago) has received 115 views. That does not sound good, right? Well, wait til you hear from the competition.

Mike Michaud’s campaign last released a video four weeks ago and it has received 63 views.

Paul LePage’s campaign released its last video roughly six months ago, but it generated 300 views.

Apparently, all three campaigns could use some work on producing pithy, yet compelling videos.

Another look at the numbers

On a final note, all three campaigns experienced a rather shallow 2 percent increase on their respective Facebook pages, but Michaud’s team scored an 11 percent increase in Twitter followers( 1,7111) during the past month, compared to 3 percent for LePage (1,754) and four percent for Cutler (1.377).

A little help from my friends

And just for the fun of it, I decided to see where my Facebook friends land when it comes to liking the campaigns.

I have 801 Facebook friends (though several do not live in Maine). Of those, 93 of my friends “like” Mike Michaud; 97 “like” Paul LePage; and 154 “like” Eliot Cutler.

 

Primary Colors

empty-pollsAllow me to make a bold prediction.

Voter turnout for Maine’s 2014 Primary Elections on June 10 will be absolutely dismal.

Taxpayers across Maine will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for an absolute non-event; an utter waste of time and resources, all in the name of a Democratic process that doesn’t work without a contest.

In fact, we will be lucky to see voter participation that exceeds the June 1996 state primary, when only 12 percent of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.

Think of it this way, it will be like buying a ticket to watch the Boston Red Sox play the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The winners have already been determined.

Unlike the June 2010 Primary four years ago, the gubernatorial candidates for each political party have already been chosen. If only one Democrat goes to the polls somewhere in Maine, Mike Michaud will clinch his party’s nomination in a landslide.

But in 2010, voters of both parties had lots of choices. There were four candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination, and no fewer than seven candidates seeking the Republican Party’s nomination.

More recently, in 2012, six Republicans and four Democrats fought in the primaries for a chance to fill the shoes of U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe.

This year, Republican Susan Collins has already won her party’s nomination and Shenna Bellows is assured of being the Democratic Party’s sacrificial cow.

But what about the Maine Legislature and the crop of fresh faces ready to head off to Augusta?

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

In fact, you may want to cry because you and all of your neighbors will be funding an entire day of using municipal clerks and voting officials to collect ballots that hardly matter.

Of Maine’s 35 state senate seats, only four will face a primary challenge (three Democratic primaries and one Republican primary)

It’s not much different for the process to fill the 151 chairs in the Maine House of Representatives, where only 19 of the 151 races will see a Primary challenge (8 Democratic primaries and 11 Republican primaries)

In 132 of 151 House Districts in Maine, it doesn’t matter a bit  if you go to the polls on June 10. The races for the Blaine House, the U.S. Senate and the Legislature have been pre-determined.

Please do not disturb the slumber of your municipal clerks or voting officials.

 

 

Eight days a week

1712_001I am simultaneously annoyed and grateful.

It’s that time of year again, and I still want to ignore it. I still want to wish it away, block it from my reality.

But this will be the fifth consecutive year of having family and friends gather for a walk in nearby Kennebunkport.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, what would we be doing on Saturday if Laura didn’t have this fucking disease, this disease I try to ignore?

So instead of yard work, shopping excursions or puttering around the homestead, a group of us will drive –caravan style — to the Consolidated School and register for the annual MS Walk.

On that day, I am surrounded by people with MS, and it is impossible for me to deny that the disease is also eating away at Laura, my wife . . .my best friend, my advocate.

Laura has her own system of denial. She is not as good as me, but she does a pretty good job of keeping the disease hidden from public view.

You almost can’t tell… unless you watch a climb a set of stairs.

Right here, right now

According to the National MS Society, more than 2.1 million people have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

We are luckier than most of these people. We have good health insurance, and Laura still has most of her mobility. She is not in a wheelchair.

Not yet.

And that’s the part that gets me: knowing that it’s just going to get worse; knowing that every day I lose just a little bit more of the person I love most in the world.

We generally don’t talk about MS or the way it impacts our boys, our marriage . . . our lives.

But each year — even if it’s for just one day — we tackle this disease head on by participating in the annual MS walk, an event that raises funding for continued research and the ongoing search for improved treatments or maybe a cure for MS.

Laura was diagnosed with MS a little more than five years ago, and each year we have been blessed by watching Team Seaver grow in number and spirit. It is encouraging to see other families living with MS; to witness their courage and determination.

But it is also haunting to see so many other people dealing with MS in their own families, especially when their loved one’s illness has progressed so much more. It’s sort of like seeing your own life 10, 20 or 30 years into the future.

I cannot afford to worry about the future, nor mourn the past. Thus, I have to focus on what can be done today . . . right here, right now.

So, at the risk of annoying friends, acquaintances and colleagues, I offer this link to the Team Seaver page. Here, you can make a small donation to help fund ongoing research and support for people with MS.

No gift is too small, and all are very much appreciated. Thank you.

Third time is the charm?

Perry Aberle... Sun Chronicle Photo

Perry Aberle… Sun Chronicle Photo

While most people were picking out green outfits, drinking lots of beer or otherwise wasting time on St. Patrick’s Day, one select group of folks were bracing for potential fame and fortune as hopeful members of the 2015 Maine Legislature.

The deadline for wannabe state representatives and state senators came and went at 5 p.m. on March 17.

Given the impacts of last year’s legislative redistricting and Maine’s term limits law, voters will be faced with a healthy crop of fresh faces.

But you can always count on a few perennial candidates: those who think the next campaign will be the magic campaign, the Wonka Golden ticket that will admit them into the strata of being really important and somewhat relevant.Such is the case in Biddeford, where Perry Aberle — undaunted by two consecutive and somewhat epic campaign failures — has once again tossed his hat into the ring. Hopefully, someone will toss him back a working razor.

Aberle won his last election nearly two decades ago, when he was still in high school and was elected to serve one term on the Biddeford City Council. Since then, his campaign skills have deteriorated apparently.  He ran for the seat two years ago and was crushed by incumbent Paulette Beaudoin, the proverbial little old lady who cleaned Aberele’s clock by garnering nearly 64 percent of the vote (2,585-1,471).

A year later, Aberle brushed himself off and decided to challenge Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant. Despite a much larger pool of voters in a city-wide election, Aberle’s vote total shrunk by more than half, and he finished a distant third in a three-way race that also included former mayor Joanne Twomey. Casavant easily won re-election with 2,377 votes, compared to 720 for Aberle.

Today, Aberle is running as a Republican for the Maine House of Representatives in District 12, which includes the central and downtown portions of the city. He will face Biddeford businessman Martin Grohman, a Democrat, in the general election.

Will the the third try be the charm for Aberle? Don’t bank on it, would be my advice.

Over in District 11, which includes western portions of the city, Democrats Ryan Fecteau and David Flood will duke it out for their party’s nomination. The winner of that contest will face political newcomer Debi Davis, a Republican, in the November general election.

In the District 32 State Senate race, Democrat David Dutremble will once again bank on his family’s political legacy and last name recogntion to hold onto his seat for another term. Dutremble will once again be challenged by Arundel businessman James Booth who ran for the seat two years ago as an Independent. This time, Booth is running as a Republican.  Anything is possible, but Booth is facing an uphill battle in a district that historically favors Democrats.

Silver and Gold

WP_20140301_18_36_50_ProI don’t know what metric you use to measure your life, but I learned something valuable last night as the hours counted down toward my 50th birthday.

Despite all the material benchmarks and the conventional wisdom about what a man should accomplish in the first 50 years of his life, there is no better metric to determine success than to experience the love and companionship of friends and family.

Apparently, when you celebrate the silver anniversary of your life, you are rewarded with bundles of gold.

Given my self-destructive tendencies, the Vegas line on my getting to 50 has always been a bit dicey. But the payoff when I got there was beyond compare.

How incredibly blessed am I?

WP_20140301_18_33_15_ProAs the clock refused to slow, I was surrounded by the most incredible (and diverse) group of people. If I ever doubted my success, I no longer have the luxury of doubt.

We are reckless in our use of the lovely word, friend, said Romain Rollard; and I agree.

How do you measure success in your career? when former and current colleagues are willing to drive more than 100 miles just to sip beers and eat pizza in celebration of your birthday. When former and current professional competitors walk into that same room with smiles and a warm embrace.

How do you measure your success as a husband and a father? When your teenage sons voluntarily give up a Saturday night just to hang with you and other “old people.” When your wife spends weeks coordinating and planning a party to celebrate your birthday, baking cupcakes into the late hours of a work night.

WP_20140301_18_51_43_ProHow do you measure success among your peers? When you can count friends you have known since the Carter Administration, and newer friends who would gladly answer the phone at 4 a.m. if you really needed them.

That so many people wanted to be there, and so many others — limited by geography and the other constraints — sent warm greetings, affection and regret.

As I fell asleep, it occurred to me that I have exceeded my own expectations; that I am wealthier than I could possibly imagine; that I am fortunate beyond belief.

As a species we celebrate our common benchmarks (weddings, funerals, anniversaries and birthdays) because it is the stuff that makes the day-to-day drudgery worthwhile. We are all in this together, and it’s always so much better with companionship and the gift of friends.

WP_20140301_18_22_45_ProThank you so much!

Hair of the dog

cvs-storeYou probably heard that CVS, one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, made news by announcing it will no longer sell cigarettes.

While a majority of pundits and health advocates were quick to heap praise upon the retail giant for its “bold and principled” move, some lingering questions remain about the decision and its fallout.

Depending on your perspective, one of the following things precipitated Wednesday’s announcement:

A: the CVS board of directors decided that their good conscience should prevail: selling tobacco products is in direct conflict with their company’s core value of promoting healthy lifestyles, and they made a “principled” decision; or

B: the CVS board of directors violated several regulations of the Securities Exchange Commission by willingly turning away an estimated $2 billion in annual revenue generated from the sale of cigarettes at its stores, and was thereby willing to accept a loss in profits for its shareholders because of principles; or

C: the CVS board of directors knew exactly what they were doing, and this was little more than a calculated and strategic move that would 1.) attract new customers; 2.) provide a significant public relations and marketing boost to a company that is constantly battling with fierce competitors; and 3.) most importantly, open up new sources of revenue and cost discounts with the chain’s affiliated vendors and health partners, including health insurance companies.

Which of those scenarios do you think is most plausible?

If you chose A, you are what people in my profession call completely gullible. If you chose B, you should probably get back to promoting your own grassy-knoll theory.

The right answer, of course, is C.

Allow me to explain. There is no defense for smoking cigarettes. It’s a terrible and nasty habit. But CVS is relying upon a questionable talking point here, especially when considering all the other products that are stocked on its shelves.

The last I heard, the United States is dealing with an obesity epidemic that is costing taxpayers and insurance ratepayers billions and billions of dollars each year. Yet, CVS, the self-proclaimed bastion of good health and righteous moral principles, has yet to announce that it will no longer sell soda, potato chips or candy at any of its stores. Why?

Every once in a while, I enjoy a cold beer, a nice glass of wine or a soothing shot of bourbon. Alcohol, however, is a known toxic. Many people are unable to consume alcohol responsibly. Alcohol related deaths are skyrocketing. Alcohol abuse can be found at the root of many social problems, including crimes that range from inxtoxicated driving and domestic violence to robberies and assault. Loss in workplace productivity related to alcohol consumption is staggering. The impacts of alcohol on our nation’s health care system is extraordinary.

smokingWill CVS sell wine or beer at any of its stores?

I am a free-market capitalist. I am tickled pink that CVS made its own decision. The government did not pressure the company. The market did. That’s the way it should work.

But for CVS to single out just one of several products its sells for profit earns them my Hypocrite of the Year Award.

And for health advocates to call this a “move of principle” is a joke because they conveniently (for now) ignore some much larger issues.

Today, it’s the smokers. And eventually, smoking will be eliminated. But then what?

Do you really think it will stop there? Do you really think that they won’t come after your food, your beverages, or any of your choices?

Attempting to create a physically fit, morally upright citizenry has been attempted before. Maybe some day, we will get it right.

For the love of God, can we just abolish the State of the Union Address already?

Randy Seaver:

Is the SOTU overrated and little more than a circus for the masses? Matt Walsh makes a compelling case for getting rid of the bling and getting back to business.

Originally posted on The Matt Walsh Blog:

00bama2

Last week, if you tuned into the Grammys, you were treated to a gaudy spectacle of pretentious elitists, wealthy drug addicts and godless Satanists patting each other on the back and congratulating themselves for another year spent dumping toxic waste directly into America’s soul.

If you watched the State of the Union address tonight, you saw the exact same sort of thing all over again. Except with less dancing. And more clothing (thank God).

America, I know you are bored by the State of the Union Address. It’s long, pointless, bland, and utterly hollow. The rhetoric is stale and the pageantry overwrought. Yes, you ought to be bored. But do you realize how insulted you should be?

It wasn’t always this way. George Washington delivered the first SOTU Address, and it was all of about 1,000 words. He offered a basic outline of his administration’s plans for the year, and wrapped it up…

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