A hidden message

Maine_Capitol_Building_ba9aaba7950196e822e4_1My friend Alan Caron has some sage advice that each and every newly elected member of the Maine Legislature should read.

Alan’s column regulary appears in the Portland Press Herald, and an excerpt of his latest piece  ( Last election had a hidden message for Maine’s leaders) can be found here:

“Given the many challenges Maine faces today, nothing is more critical to our future than a nonpartisan, commonsense economic plan.

We’re a small state with limited dollars that’s in bad need of new economic energy. We spend more on government, as a percentage of our incomes, than just about any other rural state in America.”

If you want to read the full piece, you can find it here.

Just another new kid in town

Nate Wadsworth

Nate Wadsworth

Last week, I introduced two new legislators who are both Democrats from Biddeford.This week, we take a trip to the other side of the political aisle and the town of Cornish to meet Nathan Wadsworth, a young man who has been an acquaintance of mine for almost a decade. Nathan’s father, Jack, owns and operates Wasdsworth Woodlands, a family owned and operated company. I first met Nate and his dad while working various stints in the Natural Resources Building at the Fryeburg Fair year.

Now, the younger Wadsworth will be spending much of his time in Augusta as yet another rookie legislator.

He was gracious enough to answer my short survey about his hopes and goals for the next legislative session.

What are your top three priorities as a freshman legislator?

1) Vote for our economy first, especially any legislation affecting jobs, growth and taxes

2) be visible with my new constituents by attending functions in my five towns.

3) figure out how I can help best.

What is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?

Currently, our economy is the biggest issue facing [the state]. The governor has brought us back from the abyss but there is still a lot more work to do.

What, if anything, can the Legislature do about it?

The legislature can do a lot about this issue with bills focused around tax relief, energy policy and job growth.

Do you support limiting the number of bills that a legislator can submit during a session?
I’m new to the process here so I’m not sure if the number of bills need to be limited. I do know if someone has 30 bills they internalize those costs by trying to promote all of them and it would be a difficult job. If were still in session in July then I will probably say there should be a limit.

How important will bipartanship be during the upcoming session?

Cooperation is going to be everything with a very evenly divided legislature. I have libertarian leanings so I should be able to find common ground with the other side of the aisle.

 

We were only freshmen

Democrats in Maine and across the country took a drubbing during last week’s elections, but there were a few bright spots, including the city of Biddeford, where State Senator David Dutremble easily fended off a challenge by Republican James Booth; and where two political newcomers held their party’s seats in the Maine Legislature.

In fairness, it’s not especially hard for Democrats to win elections in Biddeford.

In the western part of the city, voters overwhelming chose Ryan Fecteau over Republican Debbie Davis to represent them in the House of Representatives, holding the seat that is currently occupied by Democrat Paulette Beaudoin, who was barred from running again by term limits.

And Democrat Martin Grohman easily won a three-way race in the central part of the city to hold onto the seat that is now held by Megan Rochelo.

Fecteau and Grohman will both be sworn into office in December, joining several other freshman legislators from both sides of the political aisle.

We asked Fecteau and Grohman to tell us about their priorities. The following are their un-edited e-mail responses.

Ryan Fecteau

Ryan Fecteau

Ryan Fecteau

What are your top three priorities heading into your freshman year?

1. Focusing on ways to encourage and support the return of young people to Maine and also retain those that are still living here/going to school here.
2. Pulling Maine out of nearly dead last (currently 49th) as it concerns homes heated by natural gas (only 4 percent of Maine households) – careful attention to seniors who are especially vulnerable of fluctuating energy costs.
3. Pushing to fund education at 55 percent as mandated by voters. Currently, the failure to meet this mandate pushes the burden to the hyper-local level: property tax payers.
What do you think is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?
Losing young people and families to neighboring states. Thus losing a skilled work force (in turn deterring businesses from locating here), future entrepreneurs, innovators, and a means to expanding the tax base.
What can the Legislature do, if anything, about that issue? 
We must set ourselves from neighboring states by providing incentive to move to Maine. Whether it be a program to assist in paying off student loan debt or creating /funding incubators for the creation of start-ups, the programs must be aggressively advertised across the country. Young people are burdened by student loan debt, they are mobile, and they are looking for opportunities!
Would you favorably consider a bill that would limit the number of bills a legislator could introduce?
I am not sure. Have not experienced or heard of any troubles with the number of bills introduced. The length of the legislative session is obviously a tight window for presenting and passing legislation; it would seem understandable for there to be a density of legislation despite the number of legislators. More focused on legislation that will positively impact people.
How important is bipartisan cooperation going to be during the next session?
It will be critical. Folks did not cast votes on Tuesday for gridlock; they voted their frustrations. They want results. A do-nothing legislature, gridlocked by partisanship, will not deliver the results that people are looking for. We need legislative leadership from both parties who are willing to work together for the best interests of Mainers.

Martin Grohman

Marin Grohman

Marin Grohman

What are your top three priorities heading into your freshman year?

Probably just to do the best job I can to represent Biddeford well.  Residents are interested in property tax relief, road and bridge infrastructure, and education.  And of course I’m a business guy – I want to see businesses grow, careers grow.

What do you think is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?
I’m really interested in expanding access to health care.  Let’s think about a hypothetical parent, a single parent, mother of four, let’s call her Linda Smith.  Now if we cut her off of health care, you might think we’ve saved the State money.  But if she shows up at the ER, one of her kids shows up at the ER, we’re all going to pay for that one way or the other.  And in a world of epidemics and communicable viruses like Ebola, I don’t think having sick people without access to health care is going to work.  Plus, denying access to health care for ideological reasons just doesn’t make business sense to me – as I said, I’m a business guy.  Anyone in the health care business will tell you getting ahead of the problem saves money.
What can the Legislature do, if anything, about that issue? 
Man, I have no idea!
Would you favorably consider a bill that would limit the number of bills a legislator could introduce?
Probably not – I’d have to study it.  I think coming up with rules and regulations in reaction to a single case or a moment in time tends to cause problems.  But I’m willing to listen.
How important is bipartisan cooperation going to be during the next session?
Look, I’m new.  I’m a rookie.  I’ve served on a lot of boards, done some fairly high level stuff, national, international.  But I’ll have to learn the ropes.  That said, I kind of doubt I’ll just cast every vote along party lines, and hopefully my colleagues will value my viewpoint as I value theirs.

Take Five

LePageMy wife, Governor Paul Lepage, Bill Nemitz, a charity auction and the in-patient psychiatric unit at Maine Medical Center.

How did these random things become connected last week, causing a bit of a stir on my Facebook page last night?

Let’s start at the top.

Last week, just days before the election, Governor Paul LePage joked that Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz should be placed on a “suicide watch,” speculating that he was going to win his re-election bid and his nemesis might jump off the Penobscot Narrows Bridge as a result.

Boom! Instant controversy. Once again, the governor found himself in familiar territory with his foot in his mouth.

The governor’s critics (Democrats) went wild, talking about how insensitive the governor is to issues regarding mental illness.

Reportedly, some people who have lost loved ones to suicide were also  angry and upset about the remarks.

Other folks (Republicans) said the governor was joking and the comment was no big deal, pointing out that many in society make lighthearted jokes on similar topics.

Stop and think if you have ever said “I’m going crazy.” “That is a crazy idea.” “That guy is a nut job.” Have you ever laughed when hearing a joke about hearing voices? Late night talk show hosts had plenty of fodder more than a decade ago when actress Margot Kidder was found partially clothed, hiding in the bushes of an LA suburb.

The subject of mental illness makes us nervous. We laugh about it as a relief valve for our own anxiety and fear. But can you take it too far?

Who’s saying what

My wife  has multiple sclerosis. It is a progressive illness with no cure. She often makes jokes about her illness, speculating about when she will need a wheelchair and telling me we will need to completely renovate our home to accommodate her decreasing mobility. She laughs about these very real topics, appearing on the surface light-hearted.

Her jokes about MS really bother me. They trigger a rush of feelings and incredible anxiety. I know that her jokes are just part of her coping methods, but still I cringe when she talks about putting “bling” on her cane.

When Laura jokes about her MS, I try to give her a pass because she has MS, not me. It is her coping strategy.

It’s sort of like the “N” word. An African-American man can use that word in public without recrimination and make jokes about its connotation and meaning.

If I did the same thing, I could possibly lose my job, certainly many friends.

Society draws a line. If you got it, you can talk about it. Otherwise, keep your trap shut.

Unless it’s Hollywood or the media , and then all bets are off, especially when it comes to mental illness.

In the days following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, “Nightly newscasts reported “no known motive” and focused on the gunman’s anger, sense of isolation, and preoccupation with violent revenge. No one who read or saw the coverage would learn what a psychotic break looks like, nor that the vast majority of people with mental disorders are not violent. This kind of contextual information is conspicuously missing from major newspapers and TV,” wrote Richard Friedman in “Media and Madness,” an article published in the June 23, 2008 issue of The American Prospect.

Friedman goes on to explain that “Hollywood has benefited from a long-standing and lurid fascination with psychiatric illness,” referencing movies such as Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Fatal Attraction.

According to Friedman, “exaggerated characters like these may help make “average” people feel safer by displacing the threat of violence to a well-defined group.”

Since the 2011 Tucson shootings, I have been an out-of-the-closet consumer of mental health services. I have testified before the legislature, published an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, spoken at community forums.

My mission is to show, in a tangible way, that mental illness is generally not scary and more often than not impacts everyday people: your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors and even your social media contacts.

My life-long struggle with mental illness is not particularly funny, but I do make jokes about it. Have you ever tried to eat a chicken cutlet with a spork? (They don’t give you silverware on the psychiatric unit. )

Did you know that nine out of 10 psychiatric units have aquariums? Fish, apparently, relieve anxiety and stress.

I make these jokes and others when speaking publicly because humor helps break down communication barriers.

I got in trouble

p6On Friday evening, Laura and I attended the Biddeford-Saco Chamber’s annual holiday auction and dinner. By pure coincidence, my bidding paddle was labeled P-6,  the abbreviation of Maine Medical Center’s in-patient psychiatric unit (located on the sixth floor of the Pavilion wing.) I held up the photo and had Laura take a shot of me and my label.

I posted that picture on Facebook.

Some people thought it was funny. Other people did not, questioning why I could joke about mental illness but Gov. LePage could not.

The tricky thing about humor is its intent.

For the record, I chuckled when LePage said Nemitz should be placed on a suicide watch. The two men have been battling for four years, and frankly, I’m not sure who hates who more.

But either way, I think humor is okay, so long as its intent is somewhat calculated and not malicious in nature.

As someone with severe and chronic mental health issues, it’s not up to me or anyone else to tell you what you can joke about. All I ask is that you think about the consequences and lighten up just a tiny bit.

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Down to the wire

campaign workersThis is the best time to be a campaign worker, and this is the worst time to be a campaign worker.

It’s the final push, and fewer than 100 hours now remain before the last votes are cast when the polls close.

Most people want the commercials, the lawn signs, the mailers and the phone calls to end.

For a political junkie like me, however; Election Day is sort of like the World Series and the Superbowl combined. But even the most ardent political junkie finds themselves exhausted and ready for it to be all over at this point in the game.

We try to tell ourselves that life will go on, regardless of the results.

But still the pit in my stomach is consumed with anxiety and speculation.

I have been working on campaigns, professionally and as a volunteer, since 1984.

When it comes to my professional campaigns, I will either be 11-2 or 10-3 on Wednesday, Nov. 5.

My fellow campaign workers are no frantically, desperately in GOTV (Get-out-the vote) mode. Our families know that this weekend is a wash. We won’t sleep much, we won’t allow ourselves very much fun. 96 hours and counting. What did I miss? When is the other shoe going to drop?

We watch the weather forecasts, and we loathe the late letters to the editor. We lurk or ague on the #mepolitics feed on Twitter.

 

 
Visions of spreadsheets dance through our heads. What are the latest polls saying? That can’t be right.

I know what it feels like to win, and I know what it feels like to lose.

I ran a campaign that won with 83 percent of the vote. That felt good, but not nearly as good as winning another campaign with 24 votes.

I’ve lost campaigns, but none hurt as bad as a local referendum question in Old Orchard Beach that failed by fewer than 90 votes.

In all those cases, life went on and new battles loomed on the horizon.

Just like you, the campaign workers and the political junkies are ready for it to be over. They are more than ready to drink some Champagne or cry in their beers.

The unsung heroes

Campaign workers are among the unsung heroes of the political season.

The candidates or the issues get all the media attention, but they would be nowhere without the army of dedicated and exhausted volunteers and staffers who actually drive the campaigns. The paid staffers are generally more seasoned and experienced than the volunteers, but they generally work for peanuts. They are driven by passion and their ideals. They take it personally.

But there are many other unsung heroes in this process, most notably the city and town clerks who find themselves working overtime to keep up with the demands of the process: printing ballots, absentee voting and ensuring that the process remains fair and accessible to all voters.

And then there are the countless volunteers who give up an entire day to work at the polling places, helping voters get and cast their ballots. These people are generally rewarded with little more than complimentary donuts or pizzas.

So, when you go to vote, please make sure to say thank you to the wardens and clerks who keep the system running smoothly.

And finally, there are the candidates.

Regardless of your political leanings, we should all thank each of the candidates for sacrificing so much of their time and energy in order to serve in public office. Beyond the big-ticket races for governor, the U.S. Senate and U.S House of Representatives, hundreds of candidates are running for seats in the Maine Legislature. Many voters will also choose district attorneys, sheriffs, school board members, town councilors and other candidates seeking inglorious jobs such wastewater trustee.

So if you’re sick of the ads and the phone calls, take a deep breath and say thank you to all the people who are willing to work on your behalf; and then thank God that you are not working on a political campaign because this is the best time to be involved in the process and the worst time to be involved in the process.

 

 

My election predictions

With nine days remaining before the Nov. 4 midterms, I offer my predictions for several races here in Maine.

These are not necessarily the results I am hoping for, but they are the results I am betting on.

Common Cause CaseMaine’s Gubernatorial Race:

I am reluctantly calling it for Democrat Mike Michaud in a squeaker (41.6 percent); Republican Incumbent Paul LePage will garner 40 percent and Independent Eliot Cutler will round out the pack with 18.4 percent of the total votes cast for one of the three major candidates.

U.S. Senate Race

Incumbent Susan Collins will easily retain her seat with 61.3 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows (38.7 percent)

Maine CD 1

Incumbent Chellie Pingree (D) will breeze to victory with 68.4 percent of the vote in this three-way race. Independent Richard Murphy will pick up 19 percent; and Republican Issac Misiuk will get 12.6 percent.

Maine CD 2

In another three-way race, Democrat Emily Cain will pull out a razor-thin win, capturing 45.5 percent of the vote over Republican Bruce Poliquin (43 percent) and Independent Blaine Richardson (11 .5 percent).

Question 1 (Bear Referendum)

Once again, my prediction is that a referendum to change bear hunting practices by banning the use of bait, hounds and traps will fail just as it did in 2004.  YES (44 percent) and NO (56 percent)

In Biddeford

Here in my hometown of Biddeford, I believe Incumbent Democrat David Dutremble will hold onto his senate seat with 68 percent of the vote against Republican challenger James Booth (an Independent two years ago).

In the State House District 11 race, I also predict political newcomer Ryan Fecteau (D) will trounce his Republican opponent Debbie Davis in a landslide, 78 – 22.

In the State House District 10 race, Democrat Marty Grohman will easily win his first bid for office (58 percent) over perennial candidate Perry Aberle (R) (22 percent, and Independent Barbara Thompson (20 percent).

Being “rich” in Maine

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

Governor Paul LePage

Last night, during one of the debates, Governor Paul LePage said that people earning $100,000 per year “are not that rich.”

I have to agree with the governor, but I would have disagreed with him if he made that statement in 1998.

In 1998, I accepted a job as a reporter that paid $9 per hour or $18,720 per year before taxes.  A few weeks prior, I had paid $500 for a 1988 Subaru Loyale that featured duct tape and a leaking oil pan. I lived in a third-floor apartment above a Chinese restaurant.

Every piece of clothing I owned reeked of Moo Gai Pan.

I was 34 years old and earning roughly 60 percent less than I was just a few years earlier.

It’s a long story.

But back in 1998, I would have considered anyone earning $100k as wealthy. I wanted to earn $100k, but I thought it was impossible.

So, what happened?

Basically, I worked my ass off. My work became my life. Within a few months, I got a raise. I replaced the Subaru with a 1993 Ford Escort station wagon that desperately needed a new exhaust. I bought an air conditioner.

The future seemed bright.

A few months later, I was promoted and got another raise. I worked nights, weekends and holidays. I pretended that I owned that newspaper.

I got another raise, and then another, and then another.

Before I knew what was happening, I was getting married and buying a house. I bought a Jeep. Things were really looking up. I felt rich, but only for a little while.

I eventually left the newspaper and nearly doubled my salary. Suddenly it was so much easier to pay the bills. I thought I was rich, until it came time to pay my taxes.

At each point along this journey, my definition of “rich” constantly changed.

I won’t say how much I earn today, but I will say that I could not imagine my current salary back in 1998.

Sure, there were times when I struggled with a little bit of envy, but I also noticed that with each rung up the ladder, my definition of “rich” continually changed.

It’s easy to conduct class warfare and talk about the “rich” being out of touch, but considering the cost of living, the median cost of a home in Maine, the rising cost of heating oil and insurance premiums .  . . you get the idea, $100,000 per year isn’t such a big number. Yes, it’s much more than $18, 720/year, but it’s hardly “rich.”