In politics, Mainers give newcomers a surprisingly warm welcome.
For all the grumbling that often accompanies the phrase "from away," when it comes to politics Mainers apparently don't much care whether a candidate is native or not. According to research by a University of Maine at Farmington professor, there is remarkably little carryover of the newcomer-native conflict into the state's political life, in particular in the Maine legislature.
"I really thought there would be a pattern of not voting for people from other places," admits political science professor James Melcher, himself a Wisconsin native. Instead he found that the ratio of native-born Mainers to people from away in the Maine legislature almost exactly matches the proportion in the state's population.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 67.3 percent of Maine's residents were born in the state. In the 2000-2001 legislative session, 68.2 percent of the House and just 60 percent of the Senate could claim native status. By comparison, in neighboring New Hampshire, where only 43.3 percent of the residents were born there, natives were a distinct minority in both the House (36.1 percent native) and the Senate (36.8 percent).
Mainers' acceptance of candidates from away seems most obvious at the local level of campaigning, where political hopefuls go door-to-door meeting residents. "What I found was that when you get down to the individual, your origins aren't held against you," Melcher explains. "Mainers may think people from away are terrible, 'but not Joe. Joe is okay,' they tell themselves. In Maine people can get to know the candidates so well that their status as native or not doesn't really matter. Not that there isn't some feeling about the issue, but running for the legislature gives non-natives the opportunity to overcome it."
Mainers aren't so forgiving of their governors. Melcher found that Maine had the fourth-highest percentage of native-born governors in the country in the twentieth century, 88.9 percent. Twenty-four of the twenty-seven governors were born in the state. Only South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi were more insistent on native-born status in their top leaders.
"It's harder for a governor to make that personal connection," Melcher offers. "Not that it can't be overcome. Look at Angus King, for example, who came here from Virginia."
Maine's strong sense of identity also plays a role, with Mainers willing to confer a sort of "honorary nativeness" on a candidate they know while reserving the right to complain bitterly about out-of-staters in general. "This is a place where a lot of the attachments are at the state level," Melcher offers, "and Mainers have a strong desire to protect it. They approve of those who share that feeling, native or not."
In other words, it's not so much where you were born but how you feel about where you are. And in Maine, that counts for a lot.
One Maine dog enjoys a loftier outlook than most.
When Reverend Arlene Tully delivers her sermon on Sunday morning at the Pleasant Street United Methodist Church in Waterville, her closest parishioner sleeps right through it. But instead of incurring the disapproval of the congregation, this loyal follower, a six-year-old golden retriever named Allegra, receives a pat on the head and a scratch behind the ears from the faithful, each of whom has come to love Tully's unusual partner at the pulpit.
"She really adds to my pastoral ministry," says Tully, who helped Allegra receive her certification as a "ministry dog" through the Massachusetts-based National Education for Assistance Dog Services, Inc., which also trains service dogs for people who are deaf or physically disabled. The only dog in Maine holding such a certification, and one of only about a dozen nationwide, Allegra seems to have an innate ability to put people at ease, whether she's beside Tully at the pulpit or accompanying her to nursing homes, Alzheimer's wards, and even Wal-Mart. "People will come up and pet her and some really interesting conversations develop," Tully explains. "At the Alzheimer's care center in Gardiner you could see how tense people were, and that tension just drained away as they pet her. It was really Allegra's ministry, and I was just the facilitator."
While a few members of the congregation were initially leery of Allegra, despite her gentle disposition and trademark red vest, Tully says even the most timid have now come to enjoy her presence at the front of the church.
For her part, this pastoral pooch seems to be learning a few finer points of Tully's teachings that take some parishioners years to master. "She actually knows the liturgy now," Tully says. "During the last hymn she'll wake up and look at me and wait for me to release her."
An Army of One
Because of one Portlander, vets are getting the thanks they deserve.
Veteran's Day used to be a big deal in Maine, especially in Portland, the state's largest city and site of the biggest celebration. Parades, speeches, and other memorials were once the order of the day to mark the anniversary of the end of World War I and, later, to honor the veterans of all of America's conflicts.
In recent years, though, the Forest City's festivities had faded, the victim of public apathy, bad weather, and planning glitches. "There was no central planning done by the city or anyone else," explains Herb Adams, a Portland legislator and historian. "It had fallen by the wayside, into the hands of a few loyal but elderly folks."
Last year, though, Chester Morris took over organizing the event and turned it around. Morris, chaplain for the Harold T. Andrews American Legion Post in Portland and a veteran of both Vietnam and twenty-seven atmospheric nuclear tests in the South Pacific, volunteered to become the post's parade committee chairman — and quickly found himself to be the entire committee as well. Morris landed help from city officials, rounded up marching units and floats, and put on a parade that stretched the length of Congress Street, from Longfellow Square to City Hall. Thousands of people packed the sidewalks, applauded marchers ranging from returning soldiers from Iraq to Cub Scout dens to the Veterans for Peace, and turned out to hear speeches by city and state officials.
"Chester snapped that event together like Lego blocks," Adams says with admiration.
Morris is working to put together a similar event this year, organizing his marching units by division and snapping off orders to a platoon of lieutenants to make sure everything comes off without a hitch. This year's parade starts at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, November 11, timed to arrive for an 11 a.m. ceremony at City Hall in remembrance of the now famous 11/11/11a.m. end of the Great War. And it goes rain, shine, or snow, according to Morris. "People want to call off a parade because of rain," he says, "but no one ever called off a war because of rain. No reason we should, either."
With Morris in command, who would dare challenge that order?
Drivers should know: Maine has rules governing roadkill.
So you've just hit a deer. Now what? If your first thought, after making sure everyone in the vehicle is okay, is to offer up the carcass to the next guy who comes along in a pickup truck, think again. That sort of generosity could only add legal troubles to your automotive woes.
According to Maine law, drivers who accidentally kill deer, moose, bears, or wild turkeys must report the incident as soon as possible to a law enforcement officer, who will record the kill and affix a bright orange tag to the animal's leg. Only after the animal has been tagged, and then only if the officer notes damage to your vehicle, can you as a driver take ownership of the animal and pass it along to someone else if you choose, according to Lieutenant Pat Dorian of the Maine Warden Service. "Sometimes we'll have situations where someone strikes a deer and then they go and report it, and when they come back the deer will be gone and they're very irate," Dorian explains. "We take a very dim view of people taking carcasses without permission."
There's actually a good reason for all this bureaucratic orange tape. For one thing, the tags allow the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to compile accident site statistics and monitor the health of the deer or moose herd in a particular area. But more importantly, it enables distribution of the meat to those who may need it most. "Most officers have a list of local people who are in need, and if you don't want the animal, the officers will offer the meat to them," Dorian says, adding, "A deer can represent a lot of meat for someone who really needs it."
In that, at least, unlucky drivers can take a little solace in an otherwise rotten night.
Greenville loses an icon eatery from its North Woods past.
Earl Richardson remembers when his landmark North Woods restaurant, the Boom Chain, was half of the total options for eating a good meal in Greenville. Thirty-three years ago visitors to the North Woods outpost (and in those days outpost was exactly the right word) counted on the Boom Chain to fill them with beans and franks on Saturday night and eggs, bacon, and bitter coffee the next morning before they laced up their boots, tightened their suspenders, and headed north to Chesuncook or the Allagash.
Those days are gone, and so is the Boom Chain. In mid-August Richardson decided that seventy-eight was a good age to retire, especially in the face of a Greenville that now has fifteen or more restaurants lining its tourist-filled sidewalks. "Everyone wants to live in Greenville and run a small business, and a lot of them want to run restaurants," Richardson explains.
Richardson first opened the restaurant in 1972 in a building on Main Street across from the local grocery store, and the one thing it lacked was the boom chain itself — a length of chain from the huge log booms that were famous on Moosehead Lake. "One day John Gould [the well-known Maine author and humorist] brought in a piece of boom chain he'd found in the woods up around Chesuncook and asked if he could hang it on the wall," Richardson recalls. The chain moved with the eatery when Richardson built a new building around the corner on the lakefront in the 1990s, and it was still on the wall when he closed the doors for the last time.
Richardson says he has had a number of inquiries about renting the building for various enterprises, even another restaurant, but "we'd like to put it into something else, some shops or something. There'll never be another Boom Chain like the one we had."
Setting the Stage
Ballot questions follow strict rules and the laws of chance.
Mainers step into the voting booths this month to pass judgment on a series of bond issues, a people's veto question, and a constitutional amendment. But few know that the ballot they face has been laid out according to both law and random chance.
State law requires that people's veto questions — such as this year's misguided attempt to repeal the new gay rights law — be placed first on the ballot, followed by citizen initiatives (none this year), bond issues, constitutional amendments, and referendum questions. There is one amendment being offered, to allow working waterfront property to be taxed at current use value, rather like the treatment now offered for forestland. This year there is no referendum question, thankfully.
But within those categories, chance rules. In August Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap used a public drawing to determine the order in which the five bond issues would be listed. A $33-million transportation bond issue came up first, while a $9-million bond for the University of Maine and the Maine Community College Systems came in last, a fact that sort of bothered Gary Crocker, a lobbyist for the community colleges (formerly the state technical colleges) who attended the drawing.
"Obviously you like to be high on the list of possibilities," he explains, "but in our case I really don't think it matters. Mainers have always supported their community colleges." Crocker acknowledges the conventional wisdom that bond issues benefit from being among the first the voter faces. "Some folks think people are a little more generous with the first few, and when they get down to the fifth or sixth one they're not so eager to say yes," he offers.
Still, the college systems are popular with voters, and Mainers in general usually take a pretty practical approach to the state's use of bonds to finance major projects. They know that the state benefits from the investments in infrastructure and education, and no matter who comes in first or last, everyone usually wins.
The Lobster Problem
Who knew they were such pests?
Our new neighbor down the hall, Rosemary Herbert, just moved to Maine from Newtonville, Massachusetts to accept a position with our affiliate Down East Books. The transition from Greater Boston to midcoast Maine is a fraught one (as many can attest), but Rosemary is a person of stern character and seems to be settling in just fine. She sends along the following report:
"As a new resident of Rockland, I have much enjoyed strolling around my new neighborhood in a town that prides itself on being the Lobster Capital of the World. With great pleasure, this woman from away marvels over things the people from here take for granted: misty Maine mornings, the distant sound of the fog horn, seagulls soaring overhead, lobster traps stacked in some neighbors' yards. While waiting for my daughter's wedding to begin Down South recently, I enthused about all these things to the stepmother of the groom, who was born and bred in Dixie. As a person who had never left the South, she listened wide-eyed to my descriptions of my new hometown.
"After the ceremony, the southern lady made certain to seek me out as I stood beside the punch bowl. The expression on her face was one of profound compassion. I was sure the groom's stepmom would offer me — the mother of the bride — some words of comfort along the lines of, 'You're not losing a daughter, you're gaining a wonderful son-in-law.' (I prepared to cheer her by singing my daughter's praises, too.)
"Instead, she stunned me by inquiring, 'Is the lobster problem that bad?'
'What?' I asked, puzzled.
'All those traps in people's yards!' she exclaimed. 'I'm worried about you living up there.'
"And so, instead of commiserating about our children moving on, the mother of the bride explained to the stepmother of the groom that lobsters do not crawl up out of the sea to snap at us in our yards, even in the Lobster Capital of the World.
"I sighed with relief to know there was someone else in the world who is from (even farther) away than I."