Ralph Waldo Emerson once quipped that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” This week, I offer a solid example in which society is best served from at least a little bit of consistency.
State Rep. Maggie O’Neil (D-Saco) has introduced a bill (LD 706) to lower the voting age in Maine from 18 to 16. No other state allows 16 year-olds to vote in general elections. In fairness, several states do allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register but those states also require voters in a general election to be at least 18 years of age.
In North Dakota, however, there is no need to register to vote.
Do you remember when you were 16? I do. I had black-light posters, a crush on Farrah Fawcett and I listened to AC/DC on an 8-track player. I was also a political junkie who watched Nixon resign and board a helicopter on the White House lawn when I was 10.
When I was 12, I got to shake President Carter’s hand when he made a campaign stop in Biddeford. When I was 16, my father volunteered for Ted Kennedy’s failed presidential run in 1980.
Subsequently, without thought or curiosity, I became an ardent and passionate Democrat.
Today, I have had the experience of raising two 16-year–old boys. I love my boys and they both turned into fine young men, but there was no way that they were ready to vote back then.
Old enough to die; old enough to vote
In 1971, Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18. That amendment was fueled in part by the Vietnam War and the compulsory draft of 18-year-old into military service.
The 26th Amendment set up its own range of inconsistencies. For example, at 18 you are old enough to join themilitary but not old enough to purchase alcohol.
O’Neil’s bill, however, is riddled with many more inconsistencies. 16-year-olds are rarely, if ever, tried in criminal court for a criminal offense; instead they are tried in juvenile court and sentenced to a juvenile detention facility if found guilty.
While 16 is the minimum age of consent, they cannot act in pornographic movies and are too young to buy a pack of cigarettes. At 16, society says that you cannot sign a legal and binding contract, including marriage without parental consent. I could keep going, but you probably get my point.
When it comes to minimum age requirements, Congress mandates that you must be at least 25 to serve in the House of Representatives; 30 to serve in the Senate and 35 to be elected president.
While O’Neil acknowledged those inconsistencies, she also says her bill is designed to address some other inconsistencies.
“Reaching the age of 18 is a big milestone in all of our lives,” O’Neil says. “But the truth is [turning 18] does not signify some seismic shift in an individual’s ability to participate in society or civic life. At the age of 16, young people are working under our employment laws, paying taxes, and driving on roads. They are attending school–there’s no one more in touch with our education system than students and educators who are in school every day.”
O’Neil says she was motivated to submit the bill after working with several juvenile supporters during her campaign for office, specifically pointing to her campaign manager, 16-year-old Cole Cochrane, a sophomore at Thornton Academy.
Cochrane says “we don’t need to just focus about current responsibilities for 16 year olds, but about how we contribute and the ultimate outcome.”
According to Cochrane, lowering the voting age has proven to increase voter turnout rate in countries like Austria, andeven in some American cities. “One must consider the contributions we make to society. We are foundations of campaigns, go to schools that are run by the government, and take on jobs that support our economy. Although we may be considered children by law, it is time to consider us voters as well.”
While many scientists and neurologists say that a brain is not fully developed until one turns 25, both Cochrane and O’Neil point to other studies that say 16-year-olds are fully capable of making decisions and critical thinking.
“I already consider this argument somewhat irrelevant given this data point.” Cochrane says. “Decision making capabilities are developed by 16 years of age, indicating that we are able to make decisions despite these concerns.”
Overall, there are multiple benefits to lowering the voting age, Cochrane says. “From validation of millions of voices, to strengthening our democracy. It is time to act now, for the betterment of our state.”
O’Neil readily admits that her bill (currently stuck in committee) faces a “steep hill to climb to send the bill out to voters.”
“No matter what the outcome is, these young people have led an important conversation in the legislature,” O’Neil said. “I’m proud of the work they have done. Their voices are so important, and the legislature needs their perspective.”
‘In the absence of science, religion flourishes . . .’
One of today’s most hotly debated public policy matters is the subject of Climate Change, formerly known as “global warming.”
Before I go any further with a blog post that will surely divide my followers and Facebook “friends,” let’s get right to the meat of the matter.
When former vice president Al Gore declared that “the planet has a fever,” he was right. Global Climate Change (GCC) simply cannot be denied.
I am not a scientist, geologist or meteorologist. I am just another pundit with yet another point of view.
But while my friends on the left are far more likely to celebrate my above statements about the reality of GCC, I have some serious misgivings about many of their proposals to “fix the problem.” Recently hundreds of high-school students skipped classes to rally against GCC.
They should have hit the books instead.
When debating GCC, we should be able to acknowledge some fundamental facts:
Planet Earth is approximately 4.543 billion years old;
The Ice Age began 2.4 million years ago, lasting until approximately 11,500 years ago;
Humans began roaming the planet approximately 200,000 years ago.
So what do these facts tell us?
Well, for starters, the earth’s climate has been changing for a long, long time and humans had little to no impact on the earth’s atmosphere until about 50 years ago.
But before we begin any conversation about GCC, we should check our emotions at the door. This is a complex issue, and rhetoric – from either deniers or fanatics – won’t do a damn thing except possibly increasing your blood pressure.
Climate Change Impacts: A brief history
If you want to talk about other impacts that affect GCC, let’s take a relatively short journey back in time.
According to an article by Karen Harpp, an assistant professor of geology at Colgate University, published in the Scientific American newsletter:
“In 1784, Benjamin Franklin made what may have been the first connection between volcanoes and global climate while stationed in Paris as the first diplomatic representative of the United States of America. He observed that during the summer of 1783, the climate was abnormally cold, both in Europe and back in the U.S. The ground froze early, the first snow stayed on the ground without melting, the winter was more severe than usual, and there seemed to be “a constant fog over all Europe, and [a] great part of North America.”
What Franklin observed, Harpp writes was “indeed the result of volcanic activity.”
“Natural forces cause Earth’s temperature to fluctuate on long timescales due to slow changes in the planet’s orbit and tilt,” according to a Q & A published by Climate Communication, which is a non-profit science and outreach project. “Such forces were responsible for the ice ages. Other natural forces sometimes cause temperatures to change on short timescales.”
On the other side of the debate there is plenty of scientific evidence regarding human impact on GCC, especially so in the last 50 years. The human impact has, in fact, outpaced natural impacts.
So what do we do?
Industrialized nations (United States, Japan, China, Russia, Great Britain, India and France) have more responsibility because of their bigger global impact. The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed by all of these counties and many more nations that have a far lower impact or produce fewer greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide.
And then there is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on scientific consensus.
I don’t dispute the science that provides more than ample evidence of human impact on climate change, but I am an ardent opponent of so-called carbon taxes. Just a few days ago, the state of Maine rejected the notion of placing a dedicated tax on gasoline and home heating oil. Phew! We dodged another bullet.
So-called carbon taxes are the rallying cry of the activists, but those additional taxes would place a further burden on the citizens who can least afford it.
Maine Governor Janet Mills is pushing for a $50 million bonding package that would study the impact of rising sea levels on coastal Maine communities. “We’re all in this together,” she said.
Rather than creating yet more taxes, perhaps we should focus more attention on creating incentives to reduce greenhouse gases.
I have worked as a public relations consultant on several energy projects, including wind power and an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminal in eastern Maine. I was always amazed when environmentalists opposed clean, renewable sources of energy, citing bird strikes and the need for flickering red lights atop wind turbines. I live in a community that once burned trash to generate electricity, but don’t get me started on that boondoggle.
We humans have a right to occupy this planet and we all share an inherent responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources. I recently took a quick gander around my house, comparing it to my parents’ home. When I was growing up there were no microwave ovens. We didn’t have a dishwasher, flat-screen televisions or computers.
I am not suggesting that we should get rid of these things, but maybe we could be more mindful about our energy consumption, and explore expanding clean energy sources such as hydro projects – and yes – nuclear power. (Last week, Forbes magazine published an article that examined the safety of nuclear power plants.)
In a March 11 Portland Press Herald editorial, the editorial board wrote that “the global climate fight will take many forms.”
Following the unexpected announcement that State Sen. Linda Valentino (D) will not seek re-election for a third term in the senate, there has been a seismic shift in the city of Saco’s political landscape.
State Rep. Justin Chenette — Valentino’s protegé — announced simultaneously that he would seek Valentino’s seat. Both moves were kept secret until they were announced on these pages just two days before Saco’s Democratic Caucus.
State Rep. Barry Hobbins, a Democrat who served the district as a state senator for four terms before Valentino, said he was caught off guard by the announcement.
During Sunday’s Caucus, Hobbins praised Valentino’s leadership and announced that he also would seek his party’s nomination for the senate seat.
That leaves the city of Saco with two open House seats.
According to Chenette’s Facebook page, which has become his temporary, default campaign headquarters, Katie Purdy, a political newcomer and Chenette supporter, will seek Justin’s House seat that represents the north and western portions of the city.
A more experienced candidate will seek Hobbins’ House seat, which represents the south eastern section of the city.
Donna Bailey, a well-known Democrat, will make her first legislative run.
A former York County Probate judge, Bailey has lived in Saco for 23 years. She is married with two children and two grandchildren.
She previously served on the Saco Zoning Board of Appeals and is currently serving as a member of the city’s Planning Board.
She is an attorney practicing probate, family and real estate law.
No word yet on Republican candidates for either the Senate seat or two open House seats in Saco. Stay tuned.
BREAKING NEWS . . . And this just in from over the transom:
According to multiple sources, State Senator Linda Valentino, a Democrat, is expected to announce Sunday (March 6) that she will not seek reelection to the Maine State Senate.
Valentino, who has served two terms in the Senate and is now a member of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, has reportedly made her decision for family reasons. After this term, she would have been eligible to serve two more terms under Maine’s term limits law.
On the heels of Sen. David Dutremble’s unexpected resignation from the State Senate a few weeks ago, a departure by Valentino will leave a noticeable void in legislative leadership for the tri-community area.
Dutremble, a fellow Democrat, represented the city of Biddeford. Valentino represents the communities of Saco, Old Orchard Beach as well as Hollis, Limington and parts of Buxton.
The two openings will surely delight Maine Republicans who already hold a majority in the Maine Senate.
During her tenure, Valentino has proven herself to be an independent leader who often questioned her own party. Her colleagues describe her as “passionate, meticulous and hard-working.” There is no doubt that her withdrawal from public service will leave a huge void in experienced political leadership in Saco.
Good News, Experience Matters
There is a silver lining in Valentino’s expected departure from politics. State Rep. Barry Hobbins, also a Democrat, could easily bring his many years of experience and leadership to bear for the district.
First elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1972, Hobbins has decades of experience and a proven track record of success. He is highly regarded on both sides of the political aisle and he has the insight and political connections necessary to deliver exceptional service. A skilled attorney, he has served a total of eight terms in the Maine House of Representatives and five terms in the Maine Senate.
Few people understand and can navigate Augusta’s political landscape better than Hobbins. He has won each of his elections with wide margins of support, and there is a reason for that. Hobbins knows the district and its people. He knows how to get things done.
In what is expected to be a bitterly partisan legislative session next year, Hobbins would be a moderate voice of reason who will work hard to ensure that state government does not roll off the rails because of political stalemates and tension between the two parties.
Hobbins will almost certainly step up and fill the void being left by Valentino. Such a move will be good for Saco, the tri-community area and the state of Maine. Saco Democrats caucus on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Fairfield School, so the hall will be buzzing.
My prediction is the Dems don’t take any chances during the upcoming election cycle. They need a political heavyweight in that spot. Count on Hobbins being Saco’s next state senator.
Earlier this week, I sensed a disturbance in the force, and sure enough there was significant shift taking place in the city of Biddeford’s political landscape.
On Thursday afternoon, State Senator David Dutremble, a Democrat from Biddeford, announced that he will not seek a third consecutive term in the Maine Legislature. Within 30 minutes of Dutremble’s announcement, Joanne Twomey, a former state legislator and mayor, announced that she would seek Dutremble’s seat.
Oh, happy day.
And to think I was wondering about the subject of my next blog post.
My phone began ringing off the hook. “What are we going to do?” people asked. “We can’t let this happen.”
Republicans began salivating about the potential of capturing the District 32 seat for the first time in 30 years.
After all, Twomey has lost her last four bids for elected office. She embarrassed herself on the state and national stage by lobbing a jar of Vaseline at Governor Paul LePage during an event in Saco. She was carried out of the room, kicking and screaming.
The woolly mammoth was weakened, and the cavemen fetched their spears.
Over the years, I have watched Twomey closely. She considers me a mortal enemy. She has publicly referred to me as “the Darth Vader of Biddeford.”
Even I toyed with the idea of running for the seat, which brought an almost immediate response from Twomey on Facebook: Look forward to running against a Republican Randy Seaver, nothing would make me happier.
Crazy like a fox
I’m a pretty cynical guy, but even I fell for Joanne Twomey’s self-described narrative of being a champion for the downtrodden.
During her first term as a state representative in 1998, I was working as the editor of the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier, and I penned a glowing column about Twomey, describing her “a champion of the people, a fearless advocate for those with no voice within the political power structure.”
She liked me then, and she invited me to her home for a second interview in her back yard, serving fresh fruit, sandwiches and cookies. I threw journalistic ethics out the window and devoured those cookies. (They were awesome)
But as the weeks and months wore on, and as I heard other stories about Twomey and her stint as a city councilor in the early 1990s, my perception changed. I learned that she kept a political enemies list. Once I criticized her for something, my name found its way to that list.
In reality, there is only one thing Twomey cares about: her own political ambition. She refuses to be pragmatic in order to achieve goals. Instead, she conducts herself like a petulant child, stubbornly digging in her heels and shrieking that she is “principled above all else.”
While Twomey tells you that she is principled and fighting the good fight on the side of the angels, take a look at her actual track record.
1.) In 2003, she testified against a proposed casino. In her testimony before the Biddeford City Council, she said: “In my Christmas village, there is no casino.” Seven years later, when she was the mayor and facing a budget pinch because of a new school, she suddenly flipped and quickly became a cheerleader for a another proposed casino in Biddeford.
2.) Twomey built her political career on the backs of criticizing the owners of the MERC waste-to-energy facility. In 2009, while seeking a second term as mayor, she held a press conference and was hugging the company’s owners in front of news cameras just two weeks before the election. She said they had come to terms on a solution.
Two weeks later, after securing her re-election bid, she 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.
But is she a viable candidate?
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.
But remember this: she has a political base of support in Biddeford. She was elected to four consecutive terms in the Maine House of Representatives. During her last two terms, she beat her Republican challenger by a 2-1 margin. Okay, so…Biddeford rarely elects Republicans and the other candidate was not much of a candidate to begin with.
She made her political comeback in 2007 by winning the mayor’s seat, but it was hardly a mandate. It was a three-way race that included two city councilors: John McCurry and Ken Farley. A mere 38 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots. Twomey won with 1,742 votes. Farley was close behind with 1,573 votes and McCurry finished with 1,052 votes.
Essentially, McCurry and Farley split the moderate vote and let Twomey slide in to office with fewer than 2,000 votes.
Her biggest political victory came two years later, when she sought a second term as mayor. In a four way race, Twomey walked away with 4,100 votes, easily outpacing second-place candidate David Flood (2,640).
Twomey seemed unstoppable. She was a political force to be reckoned with.
The Fall From Grace
In the summer of 2011, I and some other Biddeford residents decided that our city needed a change, and we rallied around another former legislator, Alan Casavant, when he decided to seek the mayor’s seat.
Casavant had also served many years on the city council and was also elected to four consecutive terms in the Maine House of Representatives. But unlike Twomey, he never cried on the State House floor. He never screamed or shrieked when he did not get his way. He is professional, mild-mannered and responsive. He was just what Biddeford needed to clean up its tarnished image.
A lot of people told us we were nuts. They said Twomey could not be defeated. Ethan Strimling chided me for mounting a campaign against a seemingly invincible candidate. Many people in Biddeford, led by Twomey, were advocating for a casino during tough economic times. They saw no other way forward for the city. Casavant had his doubts.
By any measure, Casavant’s campaign was the proverbial long shot. But guess what happened?
Casavant won that election with more than 63 percent of the vote, beating Twomey, 4,165-2,504 with a turnout of 53 percent of voters. Casavant not only beat her, he surpassed even Twomey’s best election result in 2009.
Twomey was stunned and cried before television news cameras.
In 2012, she tried to claim back her state house seat from incumbent Paulette Beaudoin. She lost that primary challenge.
In 2013, she tried to make a comeback as the city’s mayor. Again, Casavant beat her: 2,377-1043.
And last year, she gave up on the mayor’s seat and instead sought one of two at-large seats on the city council. In that five way race, Twomey came in third (1,080), well behind second-place finisher Laura Seaver (1,790)
What does the future hold?
Over the last 18 years, Twomey holds a 6-4 election record. Not that shabby, really.
By contrast, (during the same time period) Casavant holds a 7-1 record.
It remains to be seen who else will run for Dutremble’s seat. It’s a tough job that demands incredible flexibility and a tremendous amount of time with virtually no way to rival a regular income. Twomey, retired, is in a perfect position for that job.
Speaking just for me, Twomey will be a tough candidate to beat. That said, someone sent me a design of her campaign sign this morning, This sign was allegedly designed by Perry Aberle. As a professional campaign consultant, I can tell you that this one of the most horrid and ineffective campaign signs I have ever seen.
But what do I know? I’m just the Darth Vader of Biddeford.
There were a few lessons to be learned this week for campaign operatives and political junkies in Maine.
1.) A financial war chest does not necessarily win an election;
2.) Voters in small communities become weary of aggressive campaigning that lasts for more than two or three months; and
3.) Negative campaign tactics still work, despite the fact that most people will say negative campaigning is a turn-off.
Lewiston’s mayoral race, in which Robert Macdonald won a third term, garnered national media attention. Tuesday’s run-off results were reported by media outlets across the country, including NBC News and the New York Times.
Although Ben Chin, a progressive Democrat, got the most votes during a five-way race for the mayor’s seat in the November 2015 election, a runoff election was required by the city’s charter because he did not capture at least 50 percent of the vote.
Democrats tend to favor run-off elections and/or a concept known as ranked choice voting, but Tuesday’s results bit them in the ass, when Republican Macdonald came out on top, 53-47 percent over Chin.
What would have otherwise been a small community election became amplified when the campaign took an ugly turn in October.
Several signs that featured a caricature of an Asian man were hung on buildings in Lewiston. Those signs contained a blatantly racist message: “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin. Vote for more jobs not more welfare,” according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.
Is cash really king?
Because of the national attention, Chin’s campaign was able to raise a whopping $87,800. Maine Democrats wanted to send a message and large amounts of money poured in from all over Maine and across the country. Chin, the political director for the Maine People’s Alliance, was able to turn on one of the state’s biggest political machines.
In total, Chin’s campaign raised roughly 15 times more than Macdonald’s campaign, which raised $5,800.
By contrast, in the city of Biddeford, a typical mayoral campaign raises somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. This year, however, Mayor Alan Casavant raised a paltry $1,270 and spent $818 of it to secure a third term. He got 2,494 votes at a cost of roughly 33 cents per vote.
Chin garnered 3,826 votes; spending nearly $23 per vote. Macdonald, on the other hand, garnered 4,398 votes; spending roughly $1.32 per vote.
Chin edged out second-place finisher Macdonald in November, but Macdonald won Tuesday’s runoff, despite being outspent roughly 15-1. Why?
Almost every one I speak to about this race has a different theory, but I think voters were turned off by an incredibly aggressive campaign that was raising so much cash from outside of the city.
It was a bit over the top.
According to the city of Lewiston’s web site, 33.5 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots in the November election. That number dropped slightly on Tuesday, when 32 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots during the runoff election.
By contrast, slightly more than 30 percent of voters in Biddeford cast ballots in that city’s 2015 mayoral election.
Mayoral campaigns in cities like Biddeford or Lewiston usually have a shelf-life of between two or three months. Tuesday’s run-off election added another month to the process. I heard stories of voters being weary of door-knocking and incessant telephone calls.
Sometimes, too much of a good thing (grassroots campaigning and cash) can be a bad thing.
One friend of mine recently speculated that Lewiston’s voters are conservative (and perhaps just a tad racist). He failed to explain how Chin, a progressive Democrat, came out on top in November if a majority of Lewiston’s voters are bigoted or conservative.
In fact, Lewiston, which is a lot like Biddeford, has historically been a bastion for conservative, traditional Democrats (mill workers and Franco-Americans).
Macdonald, a former police detective and Vietnam War veteran, is a blunt speaker and has a propensity for being “politically incorrect.”
When you consider all these factors, it’s no wonder that a small Maine city’s mayoral race attracted national attention.
It was a campaign that defied conventional wisdom, and it offered some lessons for all of us.
I called him out on that post because he is indicting the entire city for allegations that primarily focus on two former police officers.
Perhaps Dutremble is upset with the city council that voted 6-2 not to suspend the police chief and deputy police chief.
Perhaps he envies Mayor Alan Casavant’s strong popular support.
Perhaps he is angry with the police chief or the deputy police chief, even though Maine’s Attorney General says they have taken all the right steps during the ongoing investigation.
But one thing is for sure: Dutremble won’t attack the reputation of his employer, the city’s fire department.
His disgust is selective, despite a recent post on the Portland Press Herald’s Facebook page in which a Biddeford man alleged that a “senior fire department official” attempted to molest him when he was a teenager.
Where was the outrage? Where was the investigation, the calls for senior members of the fire department to step aside during an investigation? There was none of that. Dutremble was silent.
But he has been very vocal, and has repeatedly expressed his indignation with the Biddeford City Council for doing “nothing” to help the cause of “justice” for the community.
From the council chamber’s podium, Dutremble has expressed outrage and contempt toward the council. And he promised, he would get something done in Augusta.
A career firefighter, Dutremble is by all accounts a good city employee, But a careful look at the legislative session that will soon end calls into serious question his abilities as a legislator.
Who let the dogs out?
Earlier this year, Dutremble introduced a bill (L.D. 107) to name the Labrador retriever as the official state dog. State Rep. William Tuell of East Machias described L.D. 107 as “a waste of time.”
An Arundel dog breeder agreed with Tuell, telling the Portland Press Herald that, “It is stupid. There are so many other issues.”
The Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government quickly killed the bill by a vote of 9-3.
Although Dutremble was not able to pass the dog bill, a new group of his supporters expected him to deliver the goods on a topic about which he has been extremely vocal: the alleged sexual abuse of minors by former members of the Biddeford Police Department.
Now bear in mind, there is no love lost between the city’s police and fire departments.
For the past several months, alleged victim Matt Lauzon has spearheaded the issue of child sexual abuse by two former police officers, and he has been effusive in his praise of Dutremble, at every social media opportunity calling him “courageous” and a “hero.”
It appeared as though Lauzon had found his ideal champion, and that Dutremble had found his ideal cause. Lots of TV cameras, and how can you go wrong trying to help victims of sexual abuse?
The controversy held great promise to cement Dutremble’s reputation as a take-charge legislator who gets things done.
The senator comes out swinging
Dutremble seemed to get off to a very fast start. On May 7, Bangor Daily News reporter Beth Brogan wrote that Dutremble’s legislative staff was “already investigating the existing law and possible changes.”
Lauzon kept the community updated on Dutremble’s progress via Facebook, making it clear that thanks to the senator, Lauzon was meeting in Augusta with the leadership of the Legislature, and that legislative action would be forthcoming very soon.
Each of Lauzon’s admiring Facebook posts about Dutremble seemed to bring an immediate Facebook “Like” from the take-charge and image conscious senator.
There was even a very high profile meeting with Governor LePage on May 12, once again covered by all the TV stations and the state’s biggest newspapers. Pretty heady stuff. Dutremble’s momentum seemed unstoppable.
On May 19, Dutremble confidently strode into a Biddeford City Council meeting, and he was visibly seething. He wasted no time reprimanding the mayor and council for their pitifully poor job performance. It was very theatrical and dramatic. At the same time, he portrayed himself as a bold, decisive leader.
“In regard to state level assistance, I am working, and looking into the best avenue for an independent investigation of the Biddeford Police Department,” he told the council.
While grabbing headlines and severely scolding city officials, Dutremble’s star seemed to be shining very brightly. In fact, one of Lauzon’s staunchest supporters enthusiastically told a city official — in no uncertain terms — that the senator was working hard on a joint resolution from both the Maine Senate and the Maine House of Representatives.
This resolution would enjoy near unanimous support in both chambers of the legislature, the resident bragged. It would call on Attorney General Janet Mills to step away from the investigation of the Biddeford Police Department, and to let the Maine State Police take over the investigation.
With Dutremble having taken charge, the AG’s office would be kicked off the case. Wow, that’s pretty impressive legislative clout.
Bad news for Dutremble
In most cases when nothing happens, that’s not news. But this particular “nothing” will indeed be news in Biddeford.
As of Monday, Dutremble had filed neither a bill nor a resolution. In a Facebook post on Tuesday evening, Dutremble stated that he was not working on a bill, but rather a “letter.”
A letter to whom?
Hard to believe. After going out on a limb just about as far as you can go, the Maine Legislature will soon recess for the summer and Senator David Dutremble will tiptoe back into town completely empty-handed.
When I first heard about the potential joint resolution a few weeks ago, a colleague of mine called a media person who is wise to all that goes on in Augusta. The reporter literally burst out laughing and said, “That’ll never happen.”
The same colleague has access to a direct line into the Governor’s office, and into the leadership of the Maine State Senate. Calls were made to see how much progress the senator’s resolution had made, and the response from this staffer was shocking.
“Yeah, we’ve heard rumblings that Dutremble is interested in this issue, but nobody’s seen anything in writing,” the staffer said. “Nothing exists, not even a bill summary or just a title. One thing’s for sure, nobody’s touching that with a 10-foot pole.”
Nothing in writing? How could that be?
Biddeford’s senator had repeatedly chastised the mayor and city council in public for “doing nothing,” but he never filed a bill? Not even a bill summary or even a simple bill title?
What about the resolution — that was never in writing, either?
Now, it is possible that Dutremble has spent weeks working on a letter, but another electronic records search was completed by the Governor’s office and Senate staff just two days ago, and that yielded no results. There’s no record of anything having to do with a joint resolution and Senator David Dutremble.
To the likes of Lauzon and his supporters, it must be incomprehensible that Dutremble utterly failed to produce. But to those who understand the basic rules of politics, Dutremble’s shockingly elementary mistakes explain everything.
A failure to communicate
David Dutremble is a state senator. You’d think he’d be astute enough to know that his party is in a life and death struggle, if not with the Republicans, then certainly with Republican Governor Paul LePage.
The Attorney General, Janet Mills, is a high profile Democrat. She and LePage have been in an ugly war on any number of issues. Their battles litter the landscape to such an extent that it’s no exaggeration to say Mills and LePage may be the two most bitter political enemies in Maine.
The only politician in Maine seemingly unaware of this conflict is David Dutremble.
Dutremble apparently thought it was okay to approach Democratic legislative leaders to help pass a resolution that would hand the Democrats a huge political defeat, and hand the governor a huge political victory.
Think about it. Dutremble’s resolution would have removed Mills from an important investigation (thereby calling into question her competence in all investigations). The Governor could take the credit for showing leadership by having the meeting with Lauzon, and the resolution — approved by most Democrats — would give the governor valuable ammo in his continuing claim that Mills is unfit to be AG.
There is no way that any resolution or bill was ever going to be passed, or even brought to the floor of either chamber. It was never going to see the light of day.
Senator Dutremble’s unsophisticated legislative idea painfully illustrated his lack of understanding of how things work in Augusta.
Playing checkers, not chess
Matt Lauzon’s meeting with LePage took place well before the “news” surfaced that Dutremble would get near unanimous support for his bipartisan resolution.
It remains unclear what role Dutremble played in arranging Lauzon’s meeting with LePage. Maybe it was a large role, maybe it was miniscule, but one thing about the meeting is crystal clear: The governor barred Dutremble from attending.
At the time, Dutremble’s naïve supporters were jubilant that the meeting with the governor had taken place. They thought they were on their way to “justice.” All they had to do was keep following Senator Dutremble.
Nobody seemed worried that LePage had barred Dutremble from the meeting. None of them, including Dutremble, seemed to understand the significance of what had transpired. None of them seemed to understand that the Governor and the legislative leaders were playing chess, while Dutremble and some of Lauzon’s supporters were playing checkers.
None of them apparently even considered the idea that LePage gladly took full advantage of a political freebie, personally gift-wrapped by Dutremble.
The governor was able to embarrass a Democratic senator, take another shot at the AG, express concern about sexual abuse and bask in the resulting media coverage — all in one neat little package.
Oblivious, Dutremble pressed on, “crafting” the near-unanimous resolution that seems not to have been written, the non-resolution he promised a trusting constituent was right around the corner.
Outside, looking in
Thanks to his clumsiness during this legislative session, David Dutremble is now on the outside looking in, and that position is probably permanent.
In Augusta, memories are long.
Dutremble’s repeated calls to get the AG’s office “off the case” in Biddeford was a major political faux pas, and the total cost of that mistake to his full constituency is yet to be calculated.
One certain cost is the people of Biddeford now have less influence because Dutremble now has zero influence. That’s a price we all pay.
But the senator also failed to see that in trying to pass this ill-fated legislation, his reputation is now directly tied to the reputation of the man whose cause he has decided to champion.
Every time Dutremble walks into a room to talk about sexual abuse — whether in Biddeford or in Augusta — he is now equated with Matt Lauzon. They are one and the same.
Unfortunately, while Dutremble was plotting to get unanimous support for his resolution, Lauzon and his supporters were running amok on social media and in public meetings.
Word gets around, even in Augusta
Despite many claims that he’s about to go “professional,” Lauzon keeps acting like a junior high school kid.
At a forum hosted by Dutremble, Lauzon publicly speculated that the Biddeford police chief had had homosexual relations with a current police commissioner, and with a former police officer.
Lauzon also intimated that the chief had participated in group sex. He intimated that a Maine district judge had a homosexual relationship with Biddeford’s mayor. He publicly speculated that Biddeford’s mayor, a former teacher at the city’s high school, had slept with his students.
One of Lauzon’s supporters came to a city council meeting, and in the most foul, graphic and detestable street language, proclaimed from the podium his certainty that Biddeford’s mayor and police chief currently and frequently engage in oral sex.
Similar examples of Lauzon’s “dialogue” are legion, but it sickens the stomach to list each instance. And each instance has been a costly chink in Dutremble’s armor.
No matter how valid the cause, no bill will ever be passed in Augusta with proponents who carry themselves in such a fashion.
After one city council meeting, as the mayor was being interviewed by television reporters, Lauzon ducked and hid behind the cameras, popping out like a jack-in-the-box to make faces at Casavant as he answered questions.
Absolutely no filter or maturity. Absolutely no decorum and common decency, and absolutely no common sense.
Unfortunately, to the detriment of a very serious issue that deserves sober and mature discussion, Lauzon and some of his supporters keep shooting themselves in the foot, over and over again, inflicting more and more damage on Dutremble’s political reputation and, more importantly, the pending investigation by Maine’s attorney general.
Not understanding that word gets around, and that the media and many others are completely appalled by the crass and boorish social media dialogue that Lauzon has been fomenting, the senator finds himself between a rock and a hard place.
He can’t turn back now, and Lauzon’s posse has proven that it cannot change its stripes. They, and their behavior, will determine Dutremble’s political future.
One new law, and it isn’t Dutremble’s
It is clear that on the issue of sexual abuse, Biddeford’s senator accomplished absolutely nothing in this legislative session.
Meanwhile, early in the process, Biddeford’s city council asked Dutremble to file emergency legislation that would ease state restrictions on discussing an ongoing criminal investigation.
He didn’t do it.
The city council also asked him to file emergency legislation that would keep convicted pedophiles from living too close to public parks and playgrounds where young children congregate.
He didn’t do it.
And there’s no record of his introducing a joint resolution that supposedly was going to be almost unanimous.
So, what did he do?
He repeatedly berated Biddeford’s mayor and city council for “doing nothing.” Apparently he didn’t notice that Biddeford passed a new ordinance that bars convicted pedophiles from living within 750 feet of a public park or playground where young children congregate. It’s now the law in Biddeford.
Meanwhile, Dutremble’s wife announced that her husband had allowed her to read all the victim statements he has collected, the same confidential victim statements he has refused to hand over to the Attorney General’s office, thereby raising the legitimate question of whether he is impeding an ongoing criminal investigation.
Apparently, Dutremble believes that Attorney General Mills is either incompetent or not trustworthy.
Senator Dutremble doesn’t get to introduce new bills Augusta until next January, and his joint resolution will again have no chance.
One thing’s for sure, with the Legislature almost recessed and his opportunity to make a difference having completely evaporated, it’ll be interesting to see if he goes to the next city council meeting to condemn and berate the mayor and council for not doing enough in their positions as servants to the citizens of Biddeford.
And remember Dutremble’s own words: he is “sick” with his city, which begs the question why would he want to represent us in Augusta?
Considering the situation, Dutremble should be applauded for his desire to get something done. He wanted to do a good deed, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But criticizing the council for “doing nothing” and coming home from Augusta with nothing makes him a hypocrite.
Even more disturbing is the idea that Dutremble’s fumble likely impeded the process of justice now being reviewed by the attorney general’s office. It is a lose-lose situation.
David Dutremble is an exemplary city employee but, regrettably, he is proving to be a legislator who can’t get anything done.
As citizens who have been paying close attention to this explosive issue, and considering Dutremble’s lofty proclamations, an explanation from the senator is the very least we deserve.
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.
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.
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.
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.