Maine Loses Track of Its Governors
It’s easy to forget exactly how long you’ve been married. Or to how many people. Or whether there were divorces in between.
It’s tricky remembering important dates, such as dental checkups, dog grooming appointments and the birthday of the current spouse.
And it’s all one can do to keep important sports statistics straight in one’s mind without being expected to dredge up obscure information better suited to a “Jeopardy” competition, such as when was the last time one had a colonoscopy or did one remember to pay the electric bill or where one left the fire extinguisher.
Information retrieval isn’t my strong suit. I leave that stuff to the experts. If I need to know something (“Where can I find my fire extinguisher, like right now before the flames reach the curtains?”), I Google it. Or ask a neighbor who’s a volunteer firefighter.
As for data on historical matters, I’ve always assumed that was what the state archives were for. I’ve slept soundly at night (and sometimes in the afternoon), secure in the knowledge that if I ever needed to know how many governors Maine has had, there was some obscure researcher buried in the bowels of the State Museum who could give me a definitive answer.
How wrong I was.
Not only about the governor thing. It also turned out that when I found the fire extinguisher (in the kitchen cupboard behind some thirty-year-old jars of pickled beets), it was more depleted than the state treasury. Apparently, someone forgot to have it recharged after the last fire.
A previous wife, probably.
Anyway, back to the governors. According to those who have studied such matters, nobody knows how many Maine chief executives there have been. Could be seventy. Could be ninety. Could be 11,315. Depends on how you count them. And who’s doing the counting.
Or should i say what?
There is considerable evidence (that I have spent considerable time making up) that the state inadvertently stored the information on how many governors there have been in the same computer used by the Department of Health and Human Services to keep track of Medicaid payments. As a result, many doctors and hospitals have been reimbursed for services provided to poor people by receiving handsome oil portraits of William King, Maine’s first governor. Those who were owned less money, often got small paintings of William D. Williamson, who was acting governor for about twenty minutes in 1821, before deciding he didn’t like the job and running away to Washington, D.C., where he fell among bad companions and ended up as a congressman.
After filing a Freedom of Information request, I obtained what was allegedly the complete list of Maine governors stored in the DHHS computer. I immediately noticed some discrepancies from the historical record. For instance, one of the governors on that list is Horace B. Ferretpooter, who – I’m pretty sure – is somebody I made up for a political column several years ago.
Also listed: a guy named Joseph Darling of West Gardiner. At least he’s real. And he does claim to be governor. Right now.
Darling was sentenced this week to twenty-one days in jail and a fine of $11,388 for failing to pay state income taxes. His defense was that he’s the state’s chief executive, so he doesn’t have to pay. The judge in his case didn’t bother to rule on whether Darling belonged on the governors’ list or not, since it didn’t change his tax problem. As Attorney General Janet Mills pointed out, even the real governor has to pay taxes.
It appears that one problem historians have in counting up Maine’s governors is that some of them served multiple, nonconsecutive terms. For instance, Edward Kent was elected in 1838, 1841, 1884, 1912, 1947 and 2001. To make matters even more confusing, Kent says he’s considering running again in 2014.
Even more confounding to the counters is the curious case of Burton Cross, who seems to have been in the habit of taking little vacations from the governorship. He once stepped down for twenty-five hours, during which time the computer lists the acting governor as Horace B. Ferretpooter.
Other people inadvertently placed on the official roll of Maine governors include Donald Trump, Sigmund Freud and Rooster Cogburn.
As a result of being on the list, all of them qualified for lucrative state pensions. Except Cogburn, who like Ferretpooter, was eventually disqualified by the state retirement system board of appeals on the basis of being fictional.
There’s no telling how that ruling will affect the retirement plans of Gov.-elect Paul LePage.
One more conundrum for those trying to create an accurate historical record: During the Great Depression (which occurred after the New England Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII in 2007),
Maine, like many other states, attempted to save money by consolidating state government. The governor’s office wasn’t exempt from this cost-cutting mania. For a couple of years, the state agreed to share a governor with South Dakota, which seemed like a good match because there really wasn’t much for a governor to do in South Dakota, except once in a while to wander over to Mount Rushmore, and clip the vegetation out of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s nose.
Nevertheless, this arrangement never worked out to either state’s satisfaction, mostly because the shared governors were always in the wrong place when they were needed to douse political fires. I mean, have you ever tried to find a fire extinguisher in the Blaine House? Or what about in whatever house South Dakota’s governor lives in? (Which I just looked up, and it turns out it’s called by the incredibly original name of the “Governor’s Residence” or sometimes the “New Governor’s Residence” to distinguish it from the “Old Governor’s Residence,” which is where they keep old governors so they don’t go doddering around causing problems with gubernatorial counting the way Edward Kent does in Maine.)
There is much more to say on the subject of how many governors Maine has had, but I really have to get off the computer and call 911 about the fire, which is now working its way through the dining room. Also, I have an uneasy feeling I’ve forgotten to buy my wife a gift for our anniversary. Assuming I’m thinking of the right wife.
I really should get a computer to keep track of this stuff.
In reality, Al Diamon has had only slightly more wives than Horace B. Ferretpooter has had terms as Maine’s governor. And slightly fewer house fires. He (Diamon, not Ferretpooter) can be e-mailed at email@example.com.