Dime Store Mystery

Moments after learning that she had been ousted from the mayor’s seat, Joanne Twomey declared that the citizens of Biddeford “don’t deserve me.”

She was right.

We deserve better.

In my last newspaper column, published in December 2005, I tried to explain what motivated that column for so many years.

“Political bullies are very much like their school-yard counterparts. They’re just not as clever, and they often cloak themselves in robes of self-described nobility and purpose,” I wrote.

Many people have described Maine Governor Paul LePage as a political bully.

Regardless of your feelings about the governor, what happened this week during one of his “town hall” events was an embarrassment to an entire community.

Joanne Twomey (Portland Press Herald photo)

Joanne Twomey (Portland Press Herald photo)

I suppose it would be easy to understand Ms. Twomey’s irrational outburst — which included lobbing a jar of Vaseline at the governor — if this were a one-time event: a tipping point of rage and resentment triggered by emotion.

But that’s not what it was.

Instead it was just one more incident in a long line of emotional outbursts from Ms. Twomey, a woman who  loves creating controversy, grabbing headlines and listening to herself roar with self-righteous indignation.

Twomey has a long history of creating scenes. These outbursts serve no other purpose than to draw attention to Ms. Twomey.

If you listen to her speak, no one cares more than she does for the poor and afflicted, but don’t expect to see her volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home. Generally speaking, there are no TV cameras at such places.

Some people have applauded Twomey’s latest tirade. They say the governor got what was coming to him.

But what would they say about her angry outbursts that were directed at other governors, including Democrat John  Baldacci and Independent Angus King?

It’s not about politics; it’s about Joanne Twomey and her rage du jour.

In the early 1990s, Twomey was removed by police from City Hall, following another hissy fit, when once again her rage trumped manners and decorum.

As a state representative, she cried on the House floor when she did not get her way. She is a professional victim and the consummate hypocrite.

And her only real accomplishment is tarnishing the image and reputation of my hometown, which is now undergoing a transformative renaissance.

Since Twomey was ousted from office, the city of Biddeford has closed MERC, a controversial trash incinerator. Since Twomey was ousted from office, the city has attracted millions of dollars in new investment, started a curbside recycling program and has seen dozens of new small businesses open in the downtown area, and worked with the neighboring town of Saco to create the River Walk.

But Twomey’s tirade gets far more media attention. Following Thursday’s incident, social media, radio stations and television crews have repeatedly linked Biddeford to Twomey. “The city twice elected her as mayor,” they say.

They don’t bother to mention that she has lost her last three elections. Finally, the people of Biddeford see through her charade of indignation.

Over the last few years, many of our residents have poured blood, sweat and tears into revitalizing Biddeford.

Twomey’s contribution to that effort? Zip. Zero. Nada.

So once again, my community becomes a laughing-stock, a portrait of dysfunctional government, despite all the progress made over the last few years.

Twomey will tell you that she is principled and fighting the good fight on the side of the angels. But let’s look at her track record.

1.) The woman who once bemoaned the idea of a casino in Biddeford — testifying before the Biddeford City Council in 2003 by saying  — “In my Christmas village, there is no casino,” suddenly flipped when she got herself into a budget pinch, and she quickly became a cheerleader for a proposed casino. Principled? Really?

2.) The woman who built her political career on the backs of criticizing the owners of the MERC facility was giving them hugs in front of news cameras just two weeks before the 2009 mayoral election.

Just a few weeks later, after winning re-election as mayor, Twomey once again reversed her position. Principled? Really?

3.) During Biddeford’s Democratic caucus in 2012, Twomey said the city needed a “real Democrat” in Augusta, failing to mention that she encouraged Democrat State Rep. Paulette Beaudoin to run for her former legislative seat.

For such a principled person who professes to believe in the people, Twomey does not hesitate to play political hardball, but her victim routine is wearing thin.

Last year, Twomey huffed and puffed before the Biddeford City Council, accusing the city’s police department of discarding perfectly good bicycles that could be given to disadvantaged children.

It was later discovered that those bicycles were deemed beyond repair by the non-profit Community Bicycle Center.

Did Twomey apologize. Nope. Apologizing is not in her DNA.

In summary, Joanne Twomey has become everything she once despised: a petty, vindictive politician who keeps an enemies list.

But she was right about one thing: Biddeford does not deserve her.

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PS: Here’s what syndicated columnist and radio talk show host Howie Carr had to say about Thursday’s incident: (At 12:50, he gives a hat-tip to this blog)

Why I am a Republican

Republicanlogo_svgFrom time to time, my friends on the other side of the political aisle ask me why I choose to be a registered Republican.

As the 114th Congress begins to ramp up, and because the debate between “true conservatives” and “mainstream moderates’ in the Republican Party once again manifested itself during the selection of House Speaker John Boehner a few days ago, I thought this would be a good time to explain why I am a Republican.

My friends in the Democratic Party do not understand my political preference. Republicans, they say, favor corporate interest over the individual. Republicans, they say, are opposed to marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose.

Because I am a moderate who supports both marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose, some of my friends (on both sides of the political aisle) wonder why I would choose to be a member of the Grand Old Party (GOP).

Before we proceed, please note that this post is entitled: Why I am a Republican, not why you should be a Republican.

It should also be noted that I do not speak for my party, and I acknowledge that my views often cause other Republicans to label me as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

Maybe it’s because I am stubborn, or maybe it’s because I am a born contrarian, but I really think my allegiance to the Republican Party (although at times embarrassing) has to do with some fundamental core differences between Republicans and Democrats.

I am also emboldened by the statements and core beliefs of President Ronald Reagan that “there is room in our tent for many views.”

Generally speaking, Republicans believe that each person is responsible for his or her own place in society, while Democrats believe it is the responsibility of government to care for all individuals, even if it means giving up some individual rights.

Generally speaking, Democrats favor the centralization of power in Washington, D.C., while Republicans hold dear the 10th Amendment, which calls for limited federal authority and rights not specified in the Constitution be reserved for the states.

On these two core values, I strongly side with the GOP. While I believe some measure of federal regulation, whether it’s the FAA or even meat inspectors at the FDA, is absolutely necessary for the common good, I also believe in the virtue of a limited federal government and the decentralization of power.

In a true Democracy, the majority trumps the minority. In a Constitutional republic, the rights of the individual, even in the minority, cannot be trumped by the majority. In the United States, we adhere a to a delicate balance between these two types of government. (The latter being intended to thwart tyranny, which can include government overreach.)

The case for and against the GOP

Of course, there are times when I find myself at odds with my own party, but after reviewing the 2014 Maine GOP Party platform, it became quickly evident that I more often side with Republicans than Democrats.

For example, one tenet of the Maine GOP platform addresses immigration, saying we “Support the assimilation of legal immigrants into Maine society.”

Another: “The profits of an individual’s efforts and accumulation of private property belong to the individual.”

More:  “Implement a comprehensive energy policy that removes government obstacles and reduces the cost of energy for Maine families and businesses.”

“Welfare is a safety-net for Maine’s most vulnerable”

“Parents – not government – are most capable and responsible to make decisions in the best interest of their minor children, including medical, disciplinary and educational decision.”

There are many others, and you can read the full text here.

Although I agree with the majority of the Maine GOP’s platform, there some key places where we part ways, including language regarding abortion, the definition of marriage and calling for the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act, among a few others.

The case for and against Democrats

In fairness, I also reviewed the Maine Democratic Party’s 2014 platform.  2014 MDP Platform

I found myself at odds with a majority of the tenets contained in that platform, including the nice-sounding but ill-advised “livable wage,” and increasing the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage does not, in my opinion, “lift people out of poverty” rather it simply adjusts the height of the floor and removes incentive to advance.

The Maine Democratic Party believes that health care is a “fundamental human right.’ this logic is flawed because a “right” is not something that must be provided by obligation from another person or entity. “Rights” do not come with costs, and someone has to be paid to provide healthcare, whether it’s skilled nursing, facilities or medical equipment. For more of my thoughts on this topic, go here.

Democrats also support the ill-advised concept of so-called “net neutrality,” as if the government needs to be involved in regulating the internet. For more of my thoughts on this topic, go here.

The Maine Democratic Party opposes tort reform, a giant gift to trial lawyers and a sure-fire way to drive up costs in the private sector.

The Democrats also favor increasing the number of terms that a legislator can serve. Frankly, I think eight years is plenty and we don’t need professional politicians in Augusta.

The opposing party also opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, a project I vigorously support. (Pipelines are much safer than trains; and that oil will be shipped one way or another)

The Democrats also believe that a greater portion of tax revenues should come from the income tax, calling sales taxes regressive. I believe the exact opposite.

Democrats believe it is “appropriate to impose higher taxes on sin taxes. I smoke cigarettes and drink beer. Enough said.

Among many other things, Democrats believe that government pensions should be exempt from income taxes. As the spouse of a government worker, I concede that my opposition to this is not self-serving. Then again, I think we should all strive to be a bit less “self-serving.”

Now, I do find myself in agreement with many of the Democrats core principles, but I am also wary of the feel-good language and the dangers of good intentions. Democrats support workplace safety, a strong education system, marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose.

So, in the end there are inherent strengths and weaknesses in each party.

But when I do the math, it turn out that I am a Republican, even if in name only.

 

 

 

 

 

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.