Sun Journal, Lewiston
Happy Valentine's Day, Dann Lewis. It appears the Baldacci administration still loves you. Even as they shoved you out the door with one hand, they cleared a new seat for you with the other.
Lewis, the state's longtime tourism chief, was deposed in the recent regime change inside his parent agency, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. The new director, John Richardson, unceremoniously dumped Lewis in late January, ending a career that started under former Governor Angus King.
Or so we thought. The Portland Press Herald revealed that Lewis landed softly as a tourism consultant for the Maine Department of Transportation, although the MDOT official quoted by the paper, Dale Doughty, said he wasn't quite sure who inside the department had hired him.
The fiasco surrounding the ILUVNY License plate on his wife's vehicle, for which Lewis was lambasted nationally, was at least somewhat humorous. The kind of overt patronage within government that has occurred is not. Lewis, as a veteran employee suddenly terminated from his position, did deserve some severance, but probably not another State House salary.
Lewis' reassignment is the latest quizzical human resources turn by the administration; our eyebrows were raised by Chuck Dow, the spokesman turned judge, and have stayed skyward through the nominations of Patricia Eltman and Anne Jordan as the new chiefs of tourism and public safety respectively.
Republicans are grumbling about spoilage, but to be frank, patronage in government isn't exactly a new Concept.com
pared to Tammany Hall or the Daley years in Chicago, the Baldacci political "machine" is choirboy honest. Dow, Eltman, Jordan, and Lewis are all intelligent professionals, not political hacks. And to be fair, Jordan is a Republican. But her lack of criminal justice experience is apparent; her six years as a prosecutor in the York County District Attorney's office is half the time her predecessor, Michael Cantara, spent in that same office as the elected district attorney.
Inexperience is also a hallmark of the Eltman selection, as her tourism background is nominal compared to her lobbying and political work. Tourism officials have described her as "credible," "well-placed politically," and a "great listener," none stirring endorsements.
But those swallowing hardest, right now, must be school officials, who are facing forced consolidation from a government seemingly unwilling to shed its own excess. Shuffling expensive positions and anointing inexperienced insiders is a poor play when trying to force others to make the "hard choice."
Patronage, by itself, is not a dirty word. Cronyism is, and the line between the two is job performance and results. In their positions of power, these scrutinized nominees and employees must prove their ascendancy has everything to do with their ability, and not their elbow-rubbing.York WeeklyMaking Waves Over Surfers
It's understandable that any change to the town surfing ordinance would be met with some opposition. Those living near Long Sands Beach feel entitled to their stretch of sand, and many have spent generations of warm summer days with beach chairs, blankets, and coolers staked out in familiar territory. Open areas for swimming have been close by - whether anyone actually swims or not. The only hindrance to the perfect summer day? High tide, which gobbles away long stretches of the beach.
Suddenly, the idea of an expanded surf zone has some people thinking they'll have to hike vast distances to enjoy the beach, while the truth is that few people swim in the water of Maine anyhow, and many locals prefer the sands closer to the Bath House, where high tide is not a problem and no surf zone has been proposed. There are those who don't want to budge to make way for what seems a small handful of out-of-town watersport enthusiasts. One of the big arguments against the surf zone has been that the surfers are "from away."
Apparently, few of the beachgoers opposed to the expansion of the surf zone have spent much time at the actual beach. There may be plenty of out-of-state surfers' plates parked at Long Sands on a July afternoon, but swing by the beach early in the morning — 6 a.m. or so — and you'll find the local plates. Locals go surfing early (and late in the day) in the summer, before the lifeguards are on duty, so they can surf the beach without being boxed into a small, overcrowded area.
In the off-season, on a day of big swell, Maine plates dominate.
And while many have complained in blogs and newspapers that the surfers who want the surf zone expanded are not taxpayers, try again. There are builders, landscapers, Realtors, lawyers, and small-business owners who pay plenty to the town and state, both in business and property taxes. They live in York, right alongside all the nonsurfers. Even the young surfers who hit the beach once school lets out have parents who pay taxes and live and work in this town. And as a representative of the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has pointed out, surfing is not the "punk" sport some make it out to be, but a sport shared by families, young couples, and baby boomers.
In the end, the expansion of the surf zone is both an issue of fairness of access and of safety. First, the beach is a public beach (one of several), and there's an obligation on the part of the town to create equal access to this resource.
Second, anyone who doesn't recognize the safety problem at hand hasn't ever ventured out to the surf zone to begin with. Beginners and aggressive surfers alike are crowded into a small area with their surfboards, which are hard and plenty heavy when launched off a wave toward someone's head.
Making way for surfing, as a growing number of seacoast towns are now doing, is only fair, and the latest version of the proposed surfing ordinance is more than reasonable.Kennebec Journal, AugustaEndangered Town Meetings
The tradition of town meeting exerts a powerful and sentimental pull on Mainers. It's part of our state DNA, our identity as northern New Englanders. We go to town meeting, we discuss and argue about our local affairs, we decide what needs to be done, and we do it.
And we often have a good potluck dinner to top it all off.
Town meeting is a primary expression of our ideal of community. But as is often the case with idealized and sentimental notions, town meeting in Maine may, these days, be less than it's cracked up to be. The image we hold of town meeting is that it's the purest form of democracy that exists. But in the twenty-first century, town meeting may still be pure, just not all that democratic.
Participation in town meeting is diminishing. In an era of families where two parents work at least one job apiece, where kids are scheduled every minute of their day, where chores that used to be done on a daily basis now are done in a mad dash each weekend — well, spending hours at a town meeting isn't so easy any more.
In response, from fifteen to twenty towns in Maine have, in the last decade, moved from town meeting to a referendum voting system. And they've found that by doing so, they've dramatically increased voter participation.
In Monmouth, Selectman Pete Thibodeau said participation jumped from one hundred to two hundred people at town meeting to six hundred to seven hundred voters using the referendum. In Whitefield, town officials say turnout is also higher with the referendum system; ditto for Windsor.
Certainly, something is lost when we forsake town meeting. The intimacy of life in a small town is undermined every time we abandon traditions that bring us all together. We lose one way to gain direct knowledge of how issues affect our towns and our neighbors.
But it is unfair to assume that a ballot cast outside of town meeting is necessarily less heartfelt or less informed and thus less meaningful. It is up to each town's citizens to decide for themselves whether they want to continue with the town meeting form of government. Such a decision involves weighing custom and emotion against some less warm and fuzzy facts.
Given the diminishing participation in town meeting and the demonstrated higher involvement by voters in a referendum, there's a powerful argument on behalf of democracy that significant change may be in order for one of Maine's cherished traditions.Times Record, BrunswickThe Primary Color of Money
The quadrennial courtship of New Hampshire voters has begun. Like cupids toting $100-million quivers of campaign fund arrows aimed at the hearts of voters in the nation's first primary, presidential candidates now flutter into the Granite State on a near-daily basis, even though the January 22, 2008, vote is more than two hundred days away.
Candidates from both parties - announced and still exploring a run - have visited the state in recent weeks or say they plan to in the near future. This is just the drum roll before the crescendo that will thrust New Hampshire to the front of the national stage in eleven months.
As New Hampshire basks in the glow of the national spotlight, Maine, like a spinster stepsister, sits glowering in the shadows, arranging the place cards for its quiet little party caucuses and wondering how many marshmallows to allot for each attendee's cocoa. It need not be this way. Maine should piggyback onto its neighbor's spot in the limelight with a meaningful primary a week or less after New Hampshire's big show. An early presidential primary would offer better public relations than any promotional campaign launched in the last three decades by state tourism officials.
The Baldacci administration and the legislature both list publicizing Maine's assets as a priority for the next two years. What better way to attract some free attention than to schedule a primary at a time that would allow presidential candidates to stream across the Piscataqua River Bridge with TV cameras and Time magazine correspondents in tow?
A Maine primary would generate more than just good PR. A study by Ross Gittell, an associate professor at the University of New Hampshire, and Brian Gottlob, of PdEcon Research, found that the 2000 New Hampshire primary generated $12 million in direct candidate spending and $71 million in revenue from media and other visitors. The study estimates that the 2000 New Hampshire primary easily drew to the state more than $200 million in revenue from direct and indirect sources, creating more than 1,000 jobs. Didn't the Brookings Institution report on Maine's future urge the state to find a way to tap outsiders' wallets?
Apart from helping outsiders notice the state, a well-run primary would make Maine politics more inclusive. Party caucuses resemble partisan town meetings; they're a quaint throwback to a bygone era when neighbors elected neighbors. But in the twenty-first century, they provide a poor overview of the state's political demographics.
If done right, a Maine presidential primary would cause the national media to take notice — and spend some money here in the process.Portland Press HeraldThe Lesson from Business Limits
The repeal of an ordinance that strictly limits the number of chain businesses in downtown Portland comes not a moment too soon. The ordinance, which capped the number of businesses with ten or more identical operations in the Old Port and the Arts District at the current level of twenty-three, was controversial from the start. It also set unwieldy limits for the developing Bayside area.
The rules were a knee-jerk overreaction to one local business owner's idea of bringing a Hooters franchise to a location near the Cumberland County Civic Center. The law was passed by a 4-3 vote, even though supporting city councilors understood that it was flawed. The council simultaneously established a task force to monitor the rules' effect and listen to public concerns with an eye toward modifying the limits.
They got more than an earful. The business community was rightfully up in arms over the chilling message the ordinance sent to prospective newcomers. To the council's credit, the clamor had the desired effect.
So by a 7-0 vote, the council dumped the ordinance. It's history.
Instead, the council asked a task force of fifteen residents, business owners, and council members to look at policies used by other communities to preserve both the character and vitality of their downtowns. The inclusion of vocal critics of the ordinance ensures the task force will be focused on things like store size limits and exterior design standards, not how or by whom a business is capitalized.
There's a lesson here for councilors: It's important to listen to constituents' concerns. It's just as important to be sure that any response is proportional and fully thought out.