March 2, 2011

Bill Nemitz: Taking stock as chief of Maine conservative think tank suddenly rises to power

By Bill Nemitz

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Tarren Bragdon, of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, in 1996 became the youngest state representative elected in Maine, 12 days after he turned 21.

2010 Press Herald file

Ah, yes. The protect-us-from-the-loony-liberals thing.

Privacy and paranoia notwithstanding, whispers abound that the deepest pockets behind the Maine Heritage Policy Center belong to billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, whose private foundations support such libertarian causes as the State Policy Network – to which the MHPC belongs.

But Bragdon, while conceding that roughly half of his organization's funding comes from "competitive foundation grants," scoffs at the notion that the Kochs, directly or indirectly, are its behind-the-curtain sugar daddies.

"Certain individuals want to simplify the political world into a series of succinct conspiracies that make them sleep better at night," Bragdon said. "But the reality is, it doesn't work that way."

Of course, certain individuals also suggest that the Maine Heritage Policy Center, with its ever-growing stack of reports that decry everything from welfare spending to the size of the state's public-employee work force, has a knack for compiling statistics that fit hand-in-glove with its conservative mission. (Or as former Republican state Sen. Peter Mills of Cornville put it Tuesday, much of the organization's research tends to be "oversimplistic and exaggerated.")

Any truth to that?

"No, not at all," Bragdon said. "I think it's completely offensive that you would suggest that."

"Didn't mean to offend you," I replied.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "You did."

It was the closest Bragdon came, over the course of an hour, to an unguarded moment.

And if that sounds like the perfect segue into Gov. Paul LePage's, ahem, unguarded moments, so sorry: Bragdon won't go there.

"I don't think it's productive," he said when asked to weigh in on Maine's shoot-from-the-hip governor. "It's not my policy to be gossipy."

Besides, with a whole state government to steer, Bragdon is too darned busy for small talk.

He's got hearings to attend – Steve Bowen, plucked from the Maine Heritage Policy Center's staff by Team LePage to serve as Maine's new education commissioner, goes before the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee for a confirmation hearing today.

He's got projects to complete -- one day after LePage told an interviewer in Washington that "we're going after right-to-work" legislation in Maine, Bragdon said collective bargaining and union membership are among "a whole variety of issues we might take a look at."

And, last but not least, he's got that private dinner next week with any and all legislators who accept his invitation – the fourth such private soiree so far this year. A dinner unfettered by such annoyances as, say, the Maine Freedom of Access Act.

Speaking of which, are the media invited to listen in on Bragdon's and Commissioner Mayhew's give-and-take with our elected representatives?

"No," Bragdon replied.

Why not?

"Because we have public events and we have private events."

Appalled? Relax.

Boy wonders get to do that.


Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)