PORTLAND – Nearly 200 Democrats gathered at the Italian Heritage Center on Friday night to fete former Gov. John Baldacci at the annual Truman Dinner, hosted by the Portland Democratic City Committee.

“Apparently there’s nothing like honoring a former governor to really increase turnout,” said Jill Barkley, chair of the committee, as she welcomed a room full of Democratic dignitaries that included U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, Portland Mayor Nick Mavodones, former Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe, numerous city councilors and state legislators, and well-known lawyer F. Lee Bailey, who lives in Yarmouth.

“… and there’s nothing like our current governor to increase turnout,” Barkley continued to laughs and applause.

Baldacci himself would not rate his successor’s performance in a brief interview.

“I think I had my turn, and I think it’s now his turn,” Baldacci said. “You just hope and wish that things are on track and moving ahead, and the state is going to be better. That’s all we can do.”

The rest of the politicians in the room were not as diplomatic, criticizing Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s positions on health care, the environment, reproductive rights and other issues.

“I’m just going to say there’s probably a little buyers’ remorse going on right now with our current governor,” said Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, who thanked Baldacci for “eight incredible years.”

“The contrast couldn’t be any greater,” Alfond said. “Gov. Baldacci is someone who is professional, someone who took his job seriously, who cared. … I feel like right now what we have up there is someone telling both parties what to do and not really having the respect of either party.”

Pingree praised Baldacci for his work on health care and said the former governor had taken “an amazing stand on marriage equality.” She said Baldacci respected the legislative process and understood “how it’s supposed to work.”

Justin Costa, a member of Portland’s school board, urged the audience to reject the politics of cynicism.

“I know these are challenging times,” he said, “but we need to remind ourselves what it is that we’ve done. Think of everything that we Democrats have accomplished these past five years: The governor stood up for equality, a woman became speaker of the U.S. House. A black man rose to the highest office in the nation.”

Baldacci said in an interview that he misses Maine but is enjoying his new job in the Department of Defense, where he is working on military health care reform. Some Republicans have criticized the new position as duplicative and wasteful.

“You know, going to Walter Reed and seeing the young men and women, our wounded warriors, you just get energized to go out and do all you can to be helpful to them,” Baldacci said. “My dad used to say, ‘It’s not about you being comfortable, John, it’s about making sure that (other) people are comfortable.”

Baldacci struck the same notes in his speech at the dinner, saying that, “at the end of the day, it isn’t about what we’re doing and what we have, but it’s what we’re leaving the future generations. Can we say we did everything that was necessary? Did we try?”

The Portland Democratic City Committee holds the Truman dinner every year to honor Maine Democrats who have contributed statewide to the party. At the end of the evening, former Portland legislator Herb Adams presented Baldacci with a copy of “Bold Vision,” a book about Portland parks and the city of Portland, that had been signed by most of the people in the room. 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:
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