Mainers Behaving Badly
I leave the state for a few minutes, and do people behave? They do not.
Let’s start with Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state. For weeks, he’d been predicting a record turnout in the Nov. 4 election, based on the large number of absentee ballots being cast. But as soon as I slipped away for a little break from my onerous responsibility of keeping everything in order, Dunlap told the Associated Press he might have miscalculated. All those early voters weren’t a sign of excessive public enthusiasm for the candidates. They were just people like me, who wanted to get the chore of voting out of the way so they could go on vacation. According to preliminary figures, about 70 percent of the state’s voting-age population went to the polls, well below the 74 percent who cast ballots in the 2004 president election. Keep that in mind if someone named Matthew Dunlap tries to sell you stock tips.
Then there were the racial incidents. In Standish, a sign was posted in the Oak Hill General Store inviting clunkheads to enter a pool predicting when President-elect Barack Obama would be assassinated. According to news reports, the message concluded, “Let’s hope someone wins.”
But it remains to be seen if being a first-class jerk is actually against the law. While the local cops and Maine Attorney General’s Office both initially said it wasn’t, the investigation seems to be continuing.
In addition to the loony lottery, black cardboard effigies were found hung from trees on Mount Desert Island, a couple of high school students used racial epithets and some idiot defaced signs on the Kennebec River Rail Trail in Hallowell with “KKK” graffiti.
There are words for people like that. Unfortunately, they can’t be used on family-friendly Web sites like this one.
The economy continued to act like a spoiled brat. First, there was news the owner of the Maine Mall in South Portland might go bankrupt.
Then, every time somebody put out some good news about employment – NotifyMD, which has a call center in Farmington, announced on Nov. 18 that it would add 200 new jobs at a facility in Winthrop – somebody else put out the word they were closing up shop – the same day, IntelliCare Inc. in South Portland let it be known it was shutting down its Maine telemedicine operations next year, throwing 250 folks out of work.
If the Barclaycard credit-card center in Wilton is adding 25 jobs, and athenahealth in Belfast plans to hire 100 workers in 2009, then Brunswick is bracing for the start of the decommissioning of the Naval Air Station and the loss of its 5,000 employees, described by one local official as “like 10 mills closing.” The New England Economic Partnership is predicting Maine’s unemployment rate will hit 8.7 percent next year (compared to 5.7 percent in October of this year), and the state will have lost 17,000 jobs by late in 2010.
But the economic news isn’t all grim. Oh, wait, it is. Gov. John Baldacci announced on Nov. 19 that he’s immediately cutting $80 million from the state budget, mostly from education and social services, because revenues aren’t meeting expectations.
Two days later, the state Revenue Forecasting Committee issued a report saying the actual shortfall was more like $146 million this fiscal year, and the Maine Public Employees Retirement System said it had lost more than $3 billion from its portfolio due to the stock market mess.
Well, at least there’s still a subsistence existence to be sustained by dump picking. Oops, sorry. According to a story in the Nov. 15 Portland Press Herald, the price of recyclable materials has collapsed. Municipal solid-waste facilities that used to turn a tidy profit by selling old newspapers are now paying to get rid of them.
It may cost a few bucks to get rid of Androscoggin County Commissioner Helen Poulin. Poulin admits she no longer lives in Lewiston, the area she was elected to represent. The attorney general has issued an opinion stating that isn’t legal. The governor has declared her seat vacant and asked for nominations for a replacement. But Poulin continues to show up at commission meeting and vote. She says she won’t quit unless ordered to do so by a judge.
On the bright side, that means plenty of work for lawyers.
Attorneys will also be finding employment in Portland, where the city plans to sue the state to determine who owns the submerged land under the Maine State Pier. According to the Portland Press Herald, the ownership question is responsible for the collapse of a $100 million deal between the city and the Olympia Cos. to develop the site. Olympia refused to invest in the pier until it could be sure it could obtain a long-term lease, something Portland claims it can offer, but the state says otherwise. The City Council is now trying to decide whether to seek new bids for the development, turn it over to another company that lost out to Olympia on the original bid or punt.
Hey, a football reference. What a coincidence.
Maine travels to Northern Iowa on Nov. 29 for what we’re calling the Hog vs. Lobster Bowl.
Hey, a lobster reference. What a coincidence.
Because of the glut of lobsters on the market, a Bangor woman has organized a campaign to get Mainers to skip turkey this Thanksgiving and eat steamed crustaceans, instead. Or, at least lobster stuffing. Lobster relish? Lobster gravy? Come on, people, work with me here.
Lobsters may be plentiful this season, but deer are not. Tagging stations across the state are reporting about half the number of successful hunters as in a normal season.
Last winter’s heavy snowfall is being blamed for reducing the herd.
Another thing that’s in reduced circumstances is Ulysses Milana of Lewiston. Milana attracted media attention because he wanted to join the Marines, but he weighed too much. Way too much. He wasn’t discouraged, though. He embarked on a diet-and-exercise regimen and lost 140 pounds, allowing him to qualify for the Corps. Milana is now at boot camp, unaware that his wife is being inundated with requests for interviews, weight-loss endorsements, film deals and extra lobster for Thanksgiving (it’s not fattening if you skip the butter, although what’s the point of that?).
Also vanishing: The Movies on Exchange Street. The art-film house in Portland’s Old Port will close in February after over 30 years in business. Owners Steve and Judy Halpert will transfer their operation to the Portland Museum of Art, where they’ll show similar fare in the auditorium starting in February.
More – and weirder – art news: Portland has approved the construction of a monument to the late P.D. Merrill, a pioneer in the development of the city’s waterfront. It’s a 63-foot-tall thing that looks like a bunch of crane booms in a flower-like arrangement that will stand next to the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
“That’s it – that’s P.D.,” City Councilor Cheryl Leeman told the artist who designed the tribute. “You totally captured it.”
More – and even weirder – art news: University of Maine at Farmington senior Timothy Berry dressed up as Marie Antoinette (assuming the late first lady of France had a taste for blaze orange) on Nov. 19 and embarked on a 24-hour seesawing marathon (he only lasted 19 hours because of the cold weather) to convince people to donate money to food pantries and heating aid programs.
Berry raised about $1,000. He’d probably have done better if he’d dressed as Sarah Palin (not to mention stayed warmer).
OK, that’s enough with the eccentricities. I’m back from vacation, and I expect everybody to start acting normal again.
Or else your name is gonna show up here next week.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.