Bill Nemitz – Press Herald Tue, 17 Oct 2017 17:07:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bill Nemitz: Shawn Moody could make race for governor interesting Sun, 15 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Exit Sen. Susan Collins. Enter Shawn Moody.

That, in a nutshell, describes the sudden turn the Republican race to replace Gov. Paul LePage took last week.

With political observers from Augusta to Washington, D.C., hanging on her every word, Collins drew a rousing ovation from the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce with her long-awaited announcement that she will stay put in the U.S. Senate rather than run for the Blaine House.

Hours later, dressed in a company sweatshirt, jeans and a pair of semi-disintegrated sneakers that most people would have tossed out months ago, Moody sat in his unassuming office at Moody’s Collision Center in Gorham and reflected on his status as a newly enrolled Republican. And, in all likelihood, a second-time candidate for governor.

“I think there’s a high probability,” he replied when asked if Collins’ departure means he’s in.

Pull up a chair, folks. This could get interesting.

We last saw him as an independent for governor in 2010 who, despite not entering the race until after the June primaries, managed to secure 5 percent of the vote.

As disappointing as that finish might have been to him, it nevertheless made Moody a much sought-after recruit from both sides of Maine’s partisan divide.

Democrats came knocking soon after that election, but he turned them down flat.

Why? Because he’d watched how many in the party had deserted their candidate, Elizabeth Mitchell, in droves and flocked to independent Eliot Cutler, and he wasn’t impressed.

“I’m a pretty loyal guy,” Moody said. “And that was a big sign to me.”

Long courted by Republicans as well, Moody finally decided last week to enroll – for the first time in his life – for two reasons.

One was the realization that, like it or not, if you want to run for statewide office, you’re a lot better off propelled by the full weight of a party apparatus.

The other: “I really believe the Republican Party is more closely aligned with my values.”

Which are, for those who may have forgotten?

“If you had to categorize me, I don’t like waste,” Moody said. “And waste is all around us.”

Unlike last time, Moody will have many months to expand on that philosophy. Expect to hear a lot about the auto salvage business he owns in addition to his statewide chain of auto-body repair shops and how it operates on a philosophy of “No waste. Lean processes. Handle it once. These things are in my DNA.”

At the same time, expect to hear how sometimes, “you have to spend money to save money. Maine needs to invest strategically.”

To wit: Two years ago, Moody’s Collision Centers footed the bill for a solar-power installation that currently provides Maine Audubon with 80 percent of its electricity at its headquarters in Falmouth.

In addition to federal tax credits, what was in it for Moody?

“It was an experiment,” he said, noting that he’s long been interested in developing energy-saving innovations for his business. “It provided a laboratory for us.”

Therein lies what could, in the long run, be Moody’s magic: A self-described “fiscal hawk” who will wear a pair of sneakers until they’re literally falling apart, yet at the same time a businessman who sees solar power not as a leftist plot, but rather as a sound investment in the future.

Add to that what we’ll call the “Opie effect” – that boyish good nature, reminiscent of the perpetually optimistic TV son Ron Howard once played to Andy Griffith. It left Maine voters in near-unanimous agreement seven years ago that Moody, if nothing else, is one heck of a nice guy.

Consider what happened when, following the 2010 election, LePage nominated Moody to sit on the boards of trustees for both the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System.

After a member of the governor’s staff put out feelers to key legislators on Moody’s chances of confirmation, he told Moody he couldn’t say it was a slam dunk. (Moody now serves on both boards.)

“But I can tell you one thing,” the staffer told him. “You haven’t got any enemies.”

That is no small asset, especially when juxtaposed with the current state of Maine’s Republican Party.

“The two highest elected officials in the state (LePage and Collins), both Republicans, don’t even speak to one another.” Moody observed. “I mean I think we’ve got some work to do, right?”

Only Moody can make that observation with a straight face. The rest of the Republican field – former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason – all head into next year’s primary burdened by the very intraparty dysfunction Moody bemoans.

What’s more, while that crowd talks endlessly about the need for jobs and economic development, Moody has been out there growing his business and plowing 10 percent of his company’s after-tax profits into an employee stock option plan. (See: redistribution of wealth.)

“I don’t think anyone in the race has even close to what I have in terms of business acumen,” he said. “And the ability to, you know, tighten up, conserve.”

Talk like that, in this era of “let’s throw the bums out and bring in a non-politician for a change,” could serve Moody well once he formally enters the race – he plans an announcement sometime before Thanksgiving.

And for those still loyal to one or another of the declared competition, consider the real possibility that ranked-choice voting will still be the law of the land come June.

If ever there was a popular second choice, which under the ranked-choice system can spell easy victory in a crowded field, it’s the guy who steadfastly refused to go negative last time around because his mother once told him, “Shawn, you can try hard to grow to be the tallest tree in the forest, or you can take a chainsaw and cut all the other trees down.”

Moody knows that Collins, had she decided to run, could have figured out a winning strategy “on the back of a napkin.”

And now that she’s out, he has nothing but praise for her decision to go back to the “mosh pit” that is the U.S. Senate and keep fighting the good fight for Maine.

But truth be told, he said, “I would have run either way.”

So, is this just another pipe dream?

Or can Moody, the guy in the sweatshirt who’s tight with a dollar, gain traction as a newly minted Republican?

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, he’ll need a new pair of sneakers.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 15 Oct 2017 19:11:27 +0000
Bill Nemitz: South Portland honors centenarian for a life well lived Fri, 13 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 They say you’re as old as you feel.

Eva Ledger doesn’t feel 107.

“I never give it a thought,” Eva said, leaning hard into the heating pad wedged between her and her living room rocker. “What’s the difference, yesterday or today?”

Or, in her case, 39,141 yesterdays. And counting.

Eva Ledger, with Rosemarie De Angelis. Photo courtesy Rosemarie De Angelis

Monday evening, South Portland’s City Council will take a short break from the pressing business of the day to honor a life well – and long – lived.

“I’m 65, and I wake up in the morning and feel like I need some WD-40 in my hips,” mused Rosemarie De Angelis, a former South Portland mayor and city councilor. “And I look at Eva and say, ‘What the hell am I complaining about?’ ”

They first met in 2014 when De Angelis, at the time a candidate for the Maine Legislature, knocked on Eva’s door at Landry Village to ask for her vote.

“She was a lot more spry then. Of course, that was a couple of years ago, when she was only 104,” De Angelis quipped. “And she was up and about and wanted to talk about Gov. LePage and how she couldn’t stand him and what were we going to do about this and that.”

De Angelis never made it to Augusta. But after last fall’s election, she thought about Eva and decided to check back in – she figured she’d get one of those recordings indicating that the number (and, alas, Eva) was no longer in service.

Not a chance.

“It took you two years to call me back?” answered Eva, who knew not only that De Angelis had lost the election two years prior, but also that she’d been edged out by a mere 64 votes. “What took you so long?”

De Angelis was, and still is, in awe.

When the U.S. Census Bureau last checked in 2015, just fewer than 77,000 Americans were still alive past their 100th birthday – more than double the number of centenarians in 1980.

For some, such longevity comes with a price – the longer you’re in this world, the harder it can get to comprehend its complexities, navigate its daily challenges, even remember who you are and why you’re here.

Not so for Eva.

She was born in Lyndonville, Vermont, in August of 1910, the third of 12 children. William Howard Taft was president, and the United States had yet to fight in one world war, let alone two.

Her family moved to Portland when she was 8 and, to this day, she can remember walking to Deering High School by way of a big field near her house. It’s now the Westgate Shopping Plaza.

She married Roland Ledger, a soldier, and they lived for a time at Fort McKinley, then an active Army base on Great Diamond Island.

“We were sitting in the movies one day and somebody came and tapped (Roland) on the shoulder,” she recalled. “He left and came right back and said, ‘I have to go, but you can stay here and watch the rest of the movie.’ ”

It was no routine interruption. The Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor and, before Eva knew it, they were off to Florida and a new military assignment.

After the war, Roland and Eva went their separate ways. Eva came home to South Portland, by now a single mother of three, and got to work singlehandedly raising and supporting her family.

She worked for Philco Wholesalers, where she bought her first television, and then for 16 years as a bookkeeper for Coca-Cola. Her daily commute took her past what is now picturesque Mill Creek Park – back then, it was a foul-smelling, open-pit dump.

She also changed sheets at the Merry Manor Inn in South Portland and babysat for a family with seven children in Falmouth Foreside.

She maintained each of the three homes she bought and sold over the decades, all in South Portland. She can still recite the house numbers and streets – including the one on Westbrook Street where she lived until she was 98.

“I did all the mowing of the grass on both sides of that house,” she recalled with pride. “I shoveled all the snow. My doctor kept saying, ‘You have to stop doing that.’ ”

And what did she tell him?

“I said, ‘I can still do it!’ I mean, I wasn’t crazy enough to go out and shovel and shovel until I collapsed. I would go out for a couple of hours and go in the house and sit down and watch TV – when we had real TV, not this junk we have today. Gosh, I can’t even turn that TV on and look at that one face that keeps popping up on there.”

And whose face, dare we ask, might that be?

“Donald Trump!” Eva nearly shouted, slapping her hand on the chair’s arm with each syllable.

Having watched 15 men come and go from the White House, she has a problem with the current occupant?

“Oh God, do I have problems,” she said. “You cannot imagine.”

Speaking of presidents, Eva’s favorite was Bill Clinton, followed closely by Barack Obama because he and Michelle “were the perfect couple” and because “he went in there when the country was in terrible shape after Bush and he straightened things out in a couple of years. And this idiot has been there almost a year, and what has he done? Nothing.”

Funny, but I thought her favorite president might have been someone further back. Maybe, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt?

“I didn’t care too much for him,” Eva replied. “He was too much of a ladies man.”

Wait, wasn’t Bill Clinton the quintessential ladies man?

“Well, Bill was for a while, but he straightened out. I know how men are. If some young girl comes over and starts hugging and kissing you, you’re going to respond in a nice way. So, don’t tell me anything about men. I know the good ones and the bad ones. That’s why I never remarried.”

Her secrets to longevity aren’t all that secret. Or profound, for that matter.

She stays informed by reading every newspaper she can get her hands on. She also devours four books a month that the nice woman from the South Portland Public Library drops off – “The Hollywood Daughter” and “Wild Wicked Scot” are among her two most recent conquests.

Beyond that, Eva said, “Stay away from the dope. And the drinking. And now you’ve got the marijuana coming up here. It makes all the kids stupid.”

And since we’re on the topic of kids, enough with the cellphones already.

“It’s made dummies out of them!” Eva said. “Nobody knows how to spell anything. They don’t know how to talk to a person. They walk down the street, they don’t even look where they’re going. So, what are they going to be like when they get ready to go find a job? They’re not going to have enough intelligence to write a letter.”

Finally, she advised, “Work hard. That’s what I did. I worked hard all my life.”

Getting down to City Hall for Monday’s proclamation honoring South Portland’s oldest resident won’t be easy for Eva. She recently tripped in her living room and cracked three ribs on the coffee table – hence the heating pad.

But she’ll do her best to be there, with an ever-admiring De Angelis by her side.

“It’s not that I think I’m any better than anybody else,” Eva said. “But I think it’s kind of nice to be recognized because a lot of people who I see every day are amazed when I say I’m 107. Most people don’t know that. They’ll say, ‘No, you’re kidding. You can’t be 107.’ Or they say, ‘You’re in your 70s!’ ”

Far be it from Eva to correct them.

“That’s OK,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “Keep thinking that.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 13 Oct 2017 14:39:24 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Here’s a thumbs-up to the memory of long-ago hitchhiking Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Whatever happened to hitchhiking?

The question popped into my head late last week on my way home from a speaking engagement in Machias.

As I basked in the foliage and marveled at how much they’ve improved the Airline – that perfectly remote stretch of Route 9 between Brewer and Baring, just southwest of Calais – it suddenly occurred to me that 45 years ago almost to the day, I’d passed this way before …

“Here, take these,” my mother said, blinking back tears, as she pulled over just before an exit on Interstate 95 somewhere north of Boston. “I don’t care if you use them. Just keep them with you.”

Her rosary beads.

I was barely 18. I’d just finished my first semester at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst – a member of the “swing shift” class that started in the summer, took the fall off and would resume school in January.

I’d found an interim job in a warehouse, shipping cartons of new shoes all over creation. But as I punched in the UPS postal zones and slapped the labels on the boxes, my own feet felt restless.

I yearned for adventure.

So, I came up with a plan: Six weeks on the open road, just me, my backpack, my trusty guitar and a copy of James Michener’s “The Drifters,” of whom I so keenly desired to be one.

My destination: Nova Scotia.

“I’ll be OK,” I assured my parents, their brows deeply furrowed. “I’ll call home every chance I get. I promise!”

“You’ll call home at least once a week,” replied my dad.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph – and that’s a prayer,” fretted my mother.

And off I went.

Thumb outstretched, shoulders back, facial expression locked on “trustworthy,” I’d long ago learned that passing motorists had two or three seconds to decide whether to welcome me into their world.

Sure, I had long hair – but who didn’t?

Sure, there was always that remote chance that I was a psychopath – but with a guitar?

Sure, I might be stuck out there awhile – or not!

Less than five minutes after Mom blew me a farewell kiss, the first car pulled over. The jovial, wise-cracking driver, a retired state trooper, took me all the way to Bangor.

At the core of hitchhiking, back in those days, lay trust.

Two perfect strangers crossed paths and, without a clue beyond outward appearance, embarked on a journey together. Each trusted in the other’s inherent goodness and, more often than not, each emerged the better person for it.

Of course there were risks – more for some than for others. The thought of young women hitchhiking alone gave me chills back then and still does to this day.

But for a guy my age, to be out there, tethered only to what I could carry, was the essence of the adventure. A procession of good Samaritans bestowing their generosity on me, while I in return chatted if they wanted to chat, sat quietly if they preferred that, whatever worked for them.

After the old trooper wished me luck and drove off into downtown Bangor, I headed down the Airline for Calais, charmed my way past Canadian immigration, continued on to Saint John, New Brunswick, hopped the ferry to Digby and conquered Nova Scotia in a large figure eight.

I can still trace the towns and villages: Wolfville … Truro … Antigonish … Sydney … Margaree Harbor … Inverness … Liscomb … Halifax … and finally down to Yarmouth for another ferry ride back to Bar Harbor.

Why I chose Nova Scotia in October and November, I’ll never know. My down snorkel jacket protected me from the raw winds and, to be honest, I never spent all that much time out there on the roadside.

I remember the gray-haired grandparents who picked me up somewhere on Cape Breton Island.

As I sat in the back and recited the address for the boardinghouse I’d circled in my travel guide, their eyes met and the woman, shaking her head, said “No, no, dear. You come for dinner and we’ll put you in the upstairs bedroom.”

Another time, in Sherbrooke, I hopped out of my last ride and couldn’t find the house with a bedroom to rent.

So, I found a pay phone and called. The owner pulled up minutes later, with his wife and their young son in tow. Over my objections, they insisted on carrying my gear into the house.

Together we all sang late into that evening, crowded into the tiny living room while I pounded out tune after tune on my 12-string.

I still quake at the memory of the trucker who drove me the entire, spellbinding length of the Cabot Trail. He couldn’t have been more hospitable – it was looking straight down the seaside cliffs from the cab of a semi that gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Now, even as I lament the lost art of hitchhiking and all its unspoken courtesies – never jump in front of someone already hitching, always run to the car no matter how heavy your load – I’m not advocating its resurgence.

For one thing, the prohibitions are tougher.

You’re now on the wrong side of Maine law if you “endeavor by words, gestures or otherwise to beg, invite or secure transportation in a motor vehicle not engaged in carrying passengers for hire.” (Translation: Goodbye, tractor-trailer death challenges. Hello, Uber.)

At the same time, people have grown less trusting.

Maybe it’s with good reason or maybe we’ve grown to fear danger far more than we actually witness it.

Either way, for would-be hitchhikers, it’s hard enough to make eye contact these days. Good luck getting someone to actually stop and pick you up.

And if you’re a driver, cocooned inside your tinted windows and lost in your digital surround-sound, the occasional hitchhiker now blends in with the more ubiquitous panhandler and, well, best give them all a wide berth.

Still, as I chugged along last week – alone – in my pickup and reflected nostalgically on my first-ever sojourn across Maine, I felt a sense of loss.

Gone are the days when we define adventure not by those panoramas we capture on our phone cameras, but by those people who reflexively flipped on their blinker, unlocked the passenger door and hollered, “Hop in!”

Nearly half a century later, I no longer can remember the faces, let alone the names.

But I do know this: On a chilly October morning in 1972, on a highway headed north out of Boston, I waved goodbye to Mom, stuffed her rosary beads into my jacket pocket and turned toward the traffic with my thumb held high.

And a retired cop, of all people, came upon a teenage hippie with a ponytail and thought, “Oh, what the hell …”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 08 Oct 2017 17:32:03 +0000
Bill Nemitz: We cannot sit silent as mass-kill weaponry takes more lives Thu, 05 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Almost 18 years have passed since I first sat down with Bill Harwood at his Portland law firm to talk guns.

Back in January of 2000, Harwood and a who’s-who list of civic leaders had just formed Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.

It came in response to the 1999 mass killing at Colorado’s Columbine High School, which shocked the nation and spurred calls for a crackdown on the lunacy – or is it something more sophisticated than that? – that fuels this country’s infatuation with firearms.

Tuesday morning, Harwood and I sat down again. Same place. Same issue. But many, many more dead.

I told him how the day before, as I watched the wall-to-wall TV coverage out of Las Vegas and the breathless pronouncements of the “worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history,” I felt strangely numb.

It was as if I’d momentarily lost my capacity to be shocked – and with it, my once-reflexive assumption that this time, things will be different. For the first time, I wondered whether, not when, it will ever end.

Harwood understands the sentiment. He just refuses to accept it.

“We just can’t turn our backs,” he said. “As hard as this damn issue is, as hard as it is to get progress, we just can’t. The consequences are too high to keep letting this go on.”

His group now calls itself the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, a nod to the marketing specialists who suggested that in these polarized times, it’s better to be for something positive (gun safety) than against something negative (madmen with assault weapons).

But its underlying mission remains the same: Stop the insanity.

Push back hard against the gun industry and the politicians it owns lock, stock and barrel.

Reject the knee-jerk notion that the shooters are the only problem here – not the militaristic weapons designed specifically to maximize their carnage.

“You shouldn’t be able to shoot that many bullets, that fast, into a crowd of people,” Harwood said. “It’s just that simple.”

The places pockmark our national conscience like so many trauma scars

Columbine (13 murdered), Virginia Tech (32 murdered), Aurora (12 murdered), Sandy Hook (27 murdered, most of them children), Washington Navy Yard (12 murdered), Charleston (nine murdered, while praying in church), San Bernardino (14 murdered, at a holiday work party), Orlando (49 murdered) and now Las Vegas (58 murdered).

And those are just the national headline grabbers. As The New York Times noted this week, 521 mass shootings (four or more victims) occurred in this country in the 477 days between the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando on June 12, 2016, and Sunday’s attack by Stephen Paddock from his 32nd-floor perch above a country music festival along the Las Vegas strip.

Numb? As the shootings erupt at a rate of more than one per day, it’s as if we’re no longer even paying attention.

Still, Harwood maintains, the pendulum here in Maine has begun to swing, ever so slowly, toward common sense.

In Augusta, where gun legislation of any kind was once dismissed as a fool’s errand, the Maine Gun Safety Coalition has in recent years managed to shepherd through laws that Harwood calls “significant gun bills. I’m not going to call them ‘major’ or ‘huge,’ but they are significant.”

One raised the age for gun ownership from 16 to 18. Another allows judges to keep weapons out of the hands of domestic abusers. Still another enables Maine’s public universities and community colleges to ban firearms on campus.

After decades of kowtowing to the gun lobby, Harwood said, a growing number of Maine lawmakers “are beginning to say, ‘Enough is enough. We’ve done a lot of what the gun lobby asks and it doesn’t seem to get us in a better position. Maybe we need to rethink this.’ ”

Away from the State House, the coalition has handed out more than 25,000 trigger locks to the many responsible Maine gun owners who understand that an unsecured weapon in the home is an invitation to tragedy.

“We believe that there are people alive today because those gun locks were put on those guns,” Harwood said.

But what about the Stephen Paddocks of this world? How, in a country that now has more guns than people, do you stop a psychopath bent on mass murder?

Some say identify the potential shooters and keep them away from guns. Others say identify the most lethal weaponry and keep it away from everyone.

“I think both strategies make sense,” Harwood said. “They’re both important.”

He knows talk like that will earn him more wrath from those whose response to a mass shooting is to run out and buy more guns – which, if they’d only stop and think about it, is exactly what the gun industry is counting on them to do.

Yet Harwood persists – not because there are any easy answers here, but because there is no other option.

Monday morning, as the news began to circulate about the “bump stocks” that enabled Paddock to essentially transform his semi-automatic assault rifles into rapid-fire automatics, the Maine Gun Safety Coalition put up a post on its Facebook page.

It shows a Federal Election Commission receipt for two $10,000 contributions – one from a Texas business called “Silencer Shop,” the other from a company employee – to Team Ryan, the political fundraising operation run by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The company sells gun silencers. Like fully automatic weapons, they can be owned only with a federal permit.

But that could soon change: Under a bill before Congress, silencers would be as readily available as a run-of-the-mill, Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Think about that. At a time when you’d think Congress would be scrambling to crack down on “bump stocks” for semi-automatics, it’s instead considering legislation that could slap a silencer on the next mass killer’s smoking hot assault rifle.

The bill’s title: The Hearing Protection Act of 2017.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” said Harwood, shaking his head in disbelief.

No, you can’t.

Nor, as we careen from Las Vegas to the next “worst shooting in modern U.S. history,” can we afford to fall silent.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 05 Oct 2017 08:08:47 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Casino Lady hides a wily hand by mentioning concerts, conventions but no gambling Sun, 01 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I’ve watched the TV spot a half-dozen times.

I’ve scoured the Facebook page.

And the “Yes on Question One” flier that landed in my mailbox the other day, complete with its full page of fuzzy color photos, leaves me more confused than ever.

So, here’s my question: If the leadoff referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot is in fact about building a casino in York County, then where, pray tell, is the casino?

“On Nov. 7, we have the opportunity to vote yes on Question 1 and approve a new gaming and entertainment venue in York County,” says the upbeat woman in the 60-second ad launched last week by the pro-casino political action committee Progress for Maine. “A place for concerts, conventions, fairs and other events for visitors and Mainers to enjoy.”

Concerts? Conventions? Fairs? Other events?

What about … what’s the word … gambling?

It’s as if Casino Lady, for all her dulcet delivery, has never heard the word. Nor, apparently, is she familiar with the words “casino,” “slot machines,” “free drinks” or “how the hell do I get out of here?”

Casino Lady continues, “And what will it look like?”

At this point, where political messaging normally connects directly to the issue at hand, you might expect to see a little razzle-dazzle.

Maybe one of those herky-jerky selfies of people high-fiving while a slot machine blares out like a ladder truck on its way to a five-alarm conflagration. Or a lady with blue-tinted hair mouthing “Oh, my!” as the digital readout of her jackpot goes higher, higher … always higher.

Instead, the proposed casino will look, according to Casino Lady, “like it belongs here in Maine.”


Well, there’s a quick shot of a nondescript building with “The Vacationland Resort and Events Center” plastered across the front – and by nondescript, I don’t mean to discount the oversized anchor logos and the middle-of-nowhere lighthouse off to one side.

The exterior view quickly dissolves to a large room where a handful of weirdly translucent people mill around what look like a few retail kiosks and a large oval counter with no one behind it. Fittingly, nobody seems to know where they’re going.

Cut to what looks like a swanky hotel lobby, where a businessman with an oversized suitcase appears to get directions from a female concierge. A frighteningly oversized red lobster watches from a nearby floor display.

Finally, we’re whisked to an empty, very homey looking living room, complete with a massive stone fireplace and three very fancy, Paul Bunyan-size canoe paddles mounted above the raging fire.

Looks like Maine … get it? You just got hit over the head by a canoe paddle.

The rest of the ad trails off into the usual litany of empty promises – over 2,000 year-round, full-time jobs and much-needed revenue for our schools, seniors, veterans and more! – before Casino Lady asks us to join her and vote yes on this … wait, what is it again?

It’s more of the same in the mailer, which features still shots taken from the video’s “conceptual renderings,” and the Facebook page, where you can’t hit the scroll button without tripping over a cute kid clinging to his or her parents or an American flag beneath a plea to help “protect” our veterans.

(Side note: There’s a special place in hell for people who scheme to get rich by shamelessly exploiting support for Mainers who have served in the military.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that deceptive advertising is anything new when it comes to Maine’s maniacal history of casino referendums.

But this campaign, compared to those that have preceded it over the past 14 years, achieves new lows for its abject failure to openly acknowledge what it is we’ll be voting on in just over five weeks.

In an email Friday, Progress for Maine spokesman Michael Sherry noted that Casino Lady does say “gaming” at the top of the TV ad and a newspaper pullout quote that flashes momentarily on the screen (What, you missed it?) includes the word “casinos.” Beyond that, wrote Sherry, “it’s important for people to know that the goal for this facility is to offer things beyond gambling.”

Got it. Just like the late Hugh Hefner got rich peddling Playboy for its in-depth articles.

If you’ve followed the news at all in recent months, you already know that this referendum is a sucker’s bet if ever there was one.

Should Question 1 be approved, the rights to the casino can go only to Shawn Scott – the wheeler-dealer extraordinaire who more than a decade ago was lambasted by the Maine Harness Racing Commission for “sloppy, if not irresponsible, financial management and accounting practices” among his many casino-related enterprises worldwide.

The same Shawn Scott who never qualified for a license to run Hollywood Casino in Bangor and instead flipped the rights to that operation over to a national gaming company for a cool $51 million – a scenario widely expected to repeat itself, to the tune of $200 million, should the York County referendum pass.

The same Shawn Scott whose backroom orchestration of the York County casino is currently under investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission. More recently, he also came under scrutiny from the Legislature’s Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability, which wants to examine whether Maine’s citizen initiative process may have been abused for mercenary gain here.

“We are not suggesting the people of Maine are not smart enough to understand the referendum question they see on the ballot,” wrote Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, in a letter seeking a review from the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.

Continued Pierce, “I am suggesting that our citizen referendum process is being taken advantage of, as evidenced by the numerous ethical violations, including the behavior of those spearheading the York County casino referendum.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Pierce’s suggestion that Maine voters, by and large, are smart enough to know that, for all the smoke and mirrors now hitting the airwaves, Question 1 is about a casino.

But fellow voters, I would also submit that Scott, his Casino Lady and all the others being paid good money to do Scott’s bidding don’t share that view.

They think we’re ignoring, or unaware of, that man behind the curtain.

They hope we won’t squint too hard at their TV spot and wonder, “Why, if this is about casino gambling, does that snazzy looking Vacationland Resort and Events Center contain not a single slot machine?”

They think they can enthrall us with gauzy promises, see-through virtual actors and a few tacky canoe paddles – while they take the money and run.

They’re betting Maine is that stupid.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 02 Oct 2017 06:01:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Sen. Collins’ rejection of ACA repeal answers grandmother’s life-or-death questions Thu, 28 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 She could have simply waved. Maybe hollered out a few words of encouragement.

Instead, way back on July Fourth as the annual holiday parade wound its way down Water Street in Eastport, Dianne Morrison made a beeline for Maine’s senior U.S. senator.

“Do you have time for a couple of questions?” Morrison asked Sen. Susan Collins, whom she’d known and supported all the way back to Collins’ run for governor in 1994.

“Walk with me,” replied Collins. “We’ll talk.”

“And so I did,” recalled Morrison in an interview Tuesday from her home in Yarmouth. “I wish more politicians were like her, to be honest.”

They talked about – what else? – health care. And the strong possibility that coverage for pre-existing conditions would be weakened, if not rendered completely unaffordable, under various Republican-led schemes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But mostly they talked about Morrison’s grandson, Zachary, who turned 12 at the end of August and has lived all his young life with cystic fibrosis.

Collins had last met Zachary as an infant. Now here he was with his grandmother and his mother, Stacey Morrison, his future entirely dependent on the coverage he receives through his mother’s insurance policy.

“Without insurance, nobody (with cystic fibrosis) would survive,” Morrison said this week. “They just wouldn’t.”

Two months ago in this space, Collins recalled how that meeting with Morrison loomed large in her decision to vote against repeal on July 29.

Now, Collins has done it again. And while it would be a colossal overstatement to suggest that Morrison’s sidewalk lobbying alone put the steel in Collins’ spine as she headed back to Capitol Hill, it nonetheless illustrates, now more than ever, the value in speaking up.

Truth be told, Morrison, who grew up in Eastport and returns there for its annual Independence Day celebration, is no fan of Obamacare.

She and her semi-retired husband, Eldon, saw the premiums on his employer-provided health insurance go up 34 percent in one year under Harvard Pilgrim – with individual deductibles of $10,000 – before they finally switched to something more affordable and hoped for the best.

That said, Morrison knows a thing or two about pre-existing conditions – not only with grandson Zachary’s daily regimen to stay one step ahead of his illness, but with other family members who have confronted prostate cancer, breast cancer and thyroid cancer.

“There’s hardly a household that doesn’t have a member in it who doesn’t have a pre-existing condition,” she noted.

Morrison also has followed politics long enough to know when our leaders in Washington, D.C., are truly representing the people – and when they’re not.

She still bristles even now, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reels from the outright collapse of the latest health bill and other fissures in his political pedestal, at the “disgusting” notion that he and a small group of fellow Republican senators – all men – thought they could ram through health care “reform” with no real hearings, no involvement of the opposition party, no due process whatsoever.

“Mitch McConnell is 75,” mused Morrison. “He’s one year older than me. He should be home doing something else.”

To watch McConnell and Collins in juxtaposition this week – one descendant in his recent defeats, the other ascendant in her self-assurance – is to appreciate what a pivotal time this is not just for the Republican Party, but for the entire body politic.

Uncertainty still swirls around the future of health care – witness Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield’s announcement Wednesday that it’s pulling out almost completely from Maine’s Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The daily news cycle pinballs from collusion with the Russians and confusion over tax reform to the delusion that “the swamp” is being drained when in fact it threatens to suck down the whole republic.

Yet even now, life goes on.

People still stand along a parade route waving flags, hopeful that out of this simple act of patriotism, something good still might blossom.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, marches in Eastport’s July 4th parade. “There was only one issue,” she told the Washington Post – her constituents’ focus was on health care. Photo by Murray Carpenter for The Washington Post

Some elected leaders – we’re looking at you, Sen. Collins – see their stock rise not because they followed the orders handed down by their political bosses, but precisely because they didn’t.

And a Maine grandmother, worried about what will happen long after she’s gone, steps forward to ask the simple question: What about my grandson? Who will be there for him?

Zachary, his grandmother happily reports, is doing fine these days – thanks in no small part to his mother’s diligence, since the day he was born, in ensuring that he takes his medication, keeps his lungs as clear as possible, and gets the nutrition he needs to keep active and ward off the ever-present threat of infections.

“To see him, you wouldn’t think there’s a thing wrong,” Morrison said. “He loves sports – he’s tried them all. Basketball. Soccer, lacrosse – lacrosse is his favorite. And this year, he decided not to do soccer – he said he was going to do cross-country.”

Proud of him? You bet she is.

But she also knows that many of the 30,000-plus Americans with cystic fibrosis are far worse off than Zachary and that recent strides in research and treatment, while promising, come with a huge price tag attached.

Call me cynical, but I’ll bet that whatever discussion took place behind those back doors, as McConnell and his minions tried all summer to jury rig a repeal bill, had precious little to do with the real struggles countless Americans face each day just trying to stay alive.

I also suspect that as they counted noses, cut sweetheart deals and desperately tried to keep their deep-pocketed donors happy, they failed to fully gauge the anger that this week finally stopped them in their tracks.

“I think America is really fed up, obviously,” Morrison said. “People just want things done right. And these politicians aren’t God.”

Let’s hear it for the grandmothers.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 28 Sep 2017 16:42:06 +0000
Bill Nemitz: In dispute over Rockland resident’s Trump signs, city official stays on message Fri, 22 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 When was the last time you thanked your local code enforcement officer?

Probably never. Most homeowners hide in their basements at the mere mention of the title.

But today we honor William Butler, assistant code enforcement officer for the city of Rockland – a man who believes in following the law, even if it means getting run over by the Trump Train.

“I try to go as straight ahead as possible,” Butler said in an interview, one of many he’s given to the media this week. “I look at what the code says and stick to the code and not try to get off on too many tangents.”

Meaning he has no personal or political beef with Susan Reitman, whose home on dead-end Seavey Lane is adorned with two large signs: “I (red, white and blue heart) Donald Trump” and “He Won … Get Over It!”

Butler wants Reitman to take down the signs – but not because they’re too pro-Trump.

They’re too big.

The problem is, Reitman’s not budging.

“Look, I’m a 75-year-old widow living on a fixed income,” Reitman said in a telephone interview from her home. “There is no way I could ever pay that $100-a-day or that $1,000-a-day fine. He can put a lien on my house – I have two mortgages. He can take my house. He can put me in jail or whatever. To me it’s the principle of the thing, you know?”‘

Did she say she’d go to jail? Over a couple of Trump signs?

“Yes, I would. Yes, I would,” Reitman replied. “I know you probably think I’m crazy.”

Let’s go with “passionate.” In a previous chat with cable network NECN this week, Reitman went so far as to proclaim, “I would lay down my life for Donald Trump!”

Believe it or not, there’s a name for this kind of thing.

Psychologists call it “basking in reflected glory,” or BIRG. Often associated with sports teams, it’s the behavior people exhibit after their side wins and, like it or not, they’re going to make darn sure the rest of the world sees them revel in it.

In other words, the theory goes, “He won … Get Over It!” has at least as much to do with Susan Reitman’s self-image as a Trump supporter as it does her love for Donald Trump. As Trump won last fall, so did Reitman – and she put out her signs to prove it.

At least one neighbor, who complained anonymously, sees it a little differently. No Trump fan, she’s told Butler that she thinks the sign is aimed – both figuratively and literally – at her.

(In an odd twist, Butler divulged that the complaining neighbor has a son who’s a pilot and once worked for Trump. Meaning we now have one neighbor who would die for Trump pitted against another neighbor whose son would fly for Trump. Back to the action …)

Being a good civil servant who’s spent decades enforcing codes for four Maine municipalities and the Department of Environmental Protection, Butler wants no part of this political cage match.

His only concern is the city’s sign ordinance, which requires that residential properties be limited to one sign no larger than 2 square feet if affixed to a structure or 4 square feet if it’s freestanding.

Both of Reitman’s signs, which she estimates at 3 by 4 feet, far exceed those maximums. Big league.

“I know I’m not in compliance. I know that,” Reitman conceded. “My point is that he had all the opportunity in the world to tell me that I was not in compliance. He saw the signs. I told him about them.”

She did it once in an email last month in which she announced her plans for the signs. Butler recalls the email but said it was so laden with “pro-Trump political” stuff that the mention of the signs flew right past him.

The second came during a site visit Butler made recently to Reitman’s property to discuss her plans for a new fence. The signs were actually up by then, but Butler, unsure of what the heretofore obscure residential sign ordinance actually said, decided to go back and research it before causing a brouhaha.

Then the neighbor complained, forcing Butler to take action. And with that, a cause was born.

We won’t repeat the content of the voicemails left on the code enforcement office phone by callers who support Reitman and think the world would be a lot better off without Butler.

“They were vulgar, rude,” Butler recalled. “And they suggested (pause) that they didn’t understand (pause) what we were trying to do.”

Sounds like he’s being diplomatic here.

“I’m trying,” he replied.

Smart move. This thing could take a while.

On Thursday, Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell told Courier-Gazette reporter Stephen Betts that the whole thing is on hold until Oct. 2, when the City Council will decide whether the residential sign ordinance needs an upgrade.

Code enforcement officer Butler, for one, thinks that’s a great idea.

“I’m actually hoping that this is a segue to changing the ordinance,” he said.

More help may be coming from another, entirely unexpected direction.

Butler said Thursday that he’d just received a call from someone identifying himself as a member of the “Trump campaign.”

The caller said they’re ready, willing and able to provide Reitman with a compliant Trump sign at no charge – in exchange for the two offending placards she just moved (for safe keeping) from her driveway gate to the front of her house.

And get this: The Trump folks will even try to have the sign signed by Donald Trump himself.

“I think that might satisfy her,” Butler mused, adding that the city would consider waiving its $60 fee for a sign permit as a show of good faith.

How this sits with the angry neighbor will be anyone’s guess. But she too has options – as does anyone in Rockland looking for a way to peacefully shield themselves from all of Trump’s reflected glory., which sold Reitman her signs, is an equal-opportunity offender where Trump opponents – who, according to the shrinks, are suffering from “cutting off reflected failure,” or CORF – can purchase a post-election message all their own.

It sells for a mere $24.95.

It’s easy to read – just black letters on a white background, minus all the fancy-dancy red, white and blue stuff.

And it’s small enough – at least by the city of Rockland’s standards – to plant legally on your front lawn today.

It reads: “Elect a clown, expect a circus.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 22 Sep 2017 12:18:44 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Don’t know the facts? Don’t post a comment Sun, 17 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 “Our busy minds are forever jumping to conclusions,” the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “manufacturing and interpreting signs that aren’t there.”

Epictetus would have made a lousy online commenter.

To wit:

One week ago today, the annual United Bikers of Maine Toy Run turned suddenly and horribly tragic just after noon as the procession headed northbound on Interstate 95 in Augusta.

A pileup involving a pickup truck and several motorcycles left two people dead, four people injured and thousands of Mainers wincing at the sight of something so right, in the blink of an eye, disintegrating into something so wrong.

Police, as they typically do, initially said the incident was “under investigation.”

In a follow-up the next day, Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland reiterated that “we have not drawn any conclusions” about exactly who hit whom.

Didn’t matter. The online peanut gallery doesn’t draw conclusions – it spews them.

“Did anyone notice that the skid marks in the photo looks like the truck made a sudden and abrupt left turn from the passing lane into the travel where the motorcycles were traveling in before the truck went off the road and rolled over on its side into the right hand lane ditch,” posted one reader.

“Perhaps he was being aggressively tailgated in the passing lane and a busy travel lane made it a difficult situation for the truck driver to merge into safely,” chimed in another.

Yet another, responding to an earlier post and self-identifying as a cousin of one of the deceased, pleaded for people to remember that “families of these accidents DO read these comments.”

That person added, “Not all those who ride bikes do it dangerously. And if you read the article A TRUCK HIT THEM.”

Then there’s the reader who goes by “guestnulll.”

“I looked at the photos of the crash scene with tire marks that were posted yesterday,” wrote this person. “It appears the truck driver was in the passing lane and abruptly moved into the travel lane, striking the motorcycles.”

Keep in mind that this comment came under a follow-up story about families and friends grieving the two fatalities. But that didn’t stop this armchair detective.

“I see one scenario the truck driver went to merge into the travel lane and did not look, making the truck driver responsible for the crash,” surmised “guestnulll.”

But wait, there’s more:

“I see one scenario as being the truck driver’s truck was surrounded by other vehicles and being tailgated-pressure to move over. The truck driver attempted to do so in a very busy travel lane and hit the cyclists. Making the tailgaters behind the truck being responsible for the crash.”

Give that poster a thumbs-up for imagination. As for accuracy, not so much.

On Thursday, McCausland announced that police had determined that one of the deceased motorcyclists – not the pickup driver – was in fact responsible for the crash.

It occurred, McCausland said, when that rider “veered his motorcycle into the path of a pickup truck which was traveling in the passing lane. That collision set off the chain reaction crash involving the pickup and several other motorcycles.”

This followed days of speculation that the pickup driver must have been at fault. After all, he was driving the pickup and they were just on bikes, right? He went across their lane, right?

“William Nusom, 67, of Hollis attempted to avoid the collision by steering his truck into the median guardrail,” McCausland reported. “The truck then lost control and traveled across the three northbound lanes, striking other motorcycles taking part in the United Bikers of Maine Toy Run.”

Back to “guestnulll,” whose two “scenarios” – including one that pinned the crash directly on the pickup driver – could not have been more wrong. What says this person now?

“How about an apology to the truck driver from people who blamed the truck driver?” chided “guestnulll” to his fellow posters. “Didn’t think so.”

Sanctimony, thy name is “guestnulll.”

But this is not just about one newspaper reader with way too much spare time and way too little ability to think critically. Or, for that matter, self-critically.

The bigger point here is that tragedies like this aren’t just a headline to click on, a story to pick apart and a virtual public square where, for far too many, the bigger bonfire you can ignite, the better.

We’re talking about real people here, folks. Real lives snuffed out in an instant. Real hearts broken. Real tears shed by those left behind to pick up the pieces.

That is why this newspaper, as a matter of policy, shuts off reader comments on certain news stories – sexual assaults, murders and other calamities where internet trolls are all too ready to pounce. Sure, our online moderators can and do take offensive comments down – but only after they’ve been posted and, alas, the damage has been done.

(In fact, the public comment section was shut down during the Press Herald’s initial online coverage of this incident. Perhaps, in retrospect, the moratorium should have been extended to subsequent updates.)

So here I sit, one week removed from the carnage on I-95, and I can’t help wondering how William Nusom must feel.

One minute, the poor man was driving along the highway with his 99-year-old mother in the passenger seat. The next, there was wreckage everywhere, he and his mother were both being treated for minor injuries, and the tide of public opinion was already turning, however unfairly, against him.

A voicemail message left on Nusom’s home phone Friday got no response. Perfectly understandable.

But what I’ll never get my head around is why some people, when they see catastrophe from afar yet have precious few facts to figure out exactly what happened, still see fit to log on and start doling out the blame.

Old Epictetus was right: For as long as there’s something to see, our busy minds will forever jump to conclusions.

But our busy minds aren’t the real problem here.

All those busy fingers are.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 17 Sep 2017 09:04:58 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Unlikely story behind a life on the street offers a lesson to rest of us Thu, 14 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Maybe, if you live or work in downtown Portland, you’ve seen her.

Each morning for the past month or so, she’s left the city’s tired old Oxford Street Shelter at 7:30 a.m. sharp, along with the 200 or so other people who find refuge there on any given night.

Five feet tall with snow-white hair, she walks the streets of the peninsula pushing a blue metal shopping cart. It’s loaded down with a large green trash bag containing all her possessions and doubles as her walker.

One sideways glance at Deborah Marvit is all most people might need to peg her as homeless and, as so many of us do, give her a wide berth. It’s what happens to those who live on the street and, day after day, find themselves judged by what they are, not who they are.

That changed Tuesday evening.

“Obviously, I’m a member of the older generation, and I certainly wasn’t brought up to have any expectation in my life of being in the situation where I am now,” Marvit told about 50 city officials, social service providers and local residents packed into the State of Maine Room at City Hall.

That said, she added, “I have a couple of comments …”

Called by the City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, the gathering marked the first in what undoubtedly will be numerous discussions of Portland’s new homeless shelter as it moves from the drawing board to fruition somewhere within city limits.

Debate over its proposed location, once announced, will draw far bigger crowds – from those who don’t want the new shelter hidden away in some industrial area to those who don’t want it anywhere remotely near their back yard.

But for now, the focus is on the draft design by Winton Scott Architects – a 27,400-square-foot, 24-hour, 211-bed facility that is everything the Oxford Street shelter isn’t.

Over more than two hours, speaker after speaker rose to offer their impressions of the blueprint.

Some said the “day area” is a major step up from Oxford Street; others said it’s way too small.

Some lauded the idea of an on-site health clinic; others said it too needs to be expanded.

Some praised the sprawling, single-story layout; others said its large footprint would pose a siting challenge and suggested a second-floor sleeping area.

Then, near the end, Marvit stepped up to the microphone.

As she later explained in a post-meeting interview, she first came to Portland in the summer of 2016, chasing down a truck she’d been renting that had been repossessed with all her worldly possessions inside.

She was between permanent homes in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at the time. Upon realizing the truck had been reclaimed because of what she called a miscommunication with the trucking company, she took a bus to Portland and a taxi to Scarborough, money in hand, to work things out.

Or not. She left with only what she could carry and, just like that, found herself at Oxford Street.

This is a woman who traces her ancestry to Mayflower Compact signatories William Bradford and William Brewster, and who was educated at Harvard University and Vassar College before graduating with a degree in art history from Boston University.

A woman who traveled to Europe as a college student in 1950 and, on the transatlantic cruise back home, got a job putting out the ship’s newspaper.

“I was working, as a matter of fact, on the ship’s newspaper when the news came of the Korean War breaking,” she recalled. “I was the one who got that news and wrote it up for the Sea Breeze.”

This is a woman who raised and supported two sons, as a single mother, on her earnings as an artist, a writer and a teacher. Five years ago this Sunday, her 53-year-old elder son was murdered in Baltimore as he left a rehearsal by the choral society in which he sang.

Before her life got derailed, Marvit said, “I actually wanted to go to Baltimore to find out who murdered my son.”

Still homeless after finding her way back to Portsmouth last year, she returned to Portland in August because “I’d established roots here.”

They include the Portland Museum of Art, where she dipped into what little money she had for a “Plus One” membership. It enables her to bring a friend, usually from the shelter, for an afternoon of meandering among the city’s artistic and cultural treasures.

Marvit has a case worker and, like anyone, would much prefer a permanent roof over her head to the laundry room at Oxford Street, where she and 13 other women vie for floor mats each night.

So she lacks the means for her own housing?

“It isn’t lack of means, necessarily,” she replied. “It’s lack of housing.”

She joined Homeless Voices for Justice, which is organized and led by Maine’s homeless on behalf of Maine’s homeless. In fact, she told her audience at City Hall on Tuesday, the group’s first newsletter should hit the streets within the next week or so.

“So, I would suggest that anybody who’s interested make a point of finding out what some of these people are writing about and thinking about,” she said.

Which brings us back to Marvit’s reason for heading to City Hall in the first place. Actually, two reasons.

One was to caution that a new shelter, for all its shiny surfaces, might become a “ghetto” where collective need trumps individual dignity.

“I find that the back stories of these people and their reasons for coming (into the shelter) are as various as the number of people who are there,” she said. “And I think that that needs to be addressed. I think the shelter itself should provide some day areas in which individuals can be themselves, they can have activities which promote their own personal interests, with ongoing encouragement, and which treats them as valued people, just not a member of a homeless entity, which unto itself is subject to a lot of stereotyping.”

Her other message was for those of us whose direct contact with the homeless – if we have any at all – is limited to those oh-so-fleeting sidewalk encounters.

“Whenever you know that somebody is homeless, please do not reject them,” she said. “Try and find out, as you would about a new neighbor, what they’re like as a person, where they come from, what they’re interested in, what they’ve done in the past, what they’re proud of.”

After the meeting, Marvit graciously accepted a packaged salad from Portland Health and Human Services Director Dawn Stiles – it was left over from a bag of takeout for busy officials who’d had no time for dinner.

Outside City Hall a short time later, still holding tight to her makeshift walker, Marvit spoke eloquently about the wonderful immigrant staffers at Oxford Street, about how her $103 monthly check from Social Security morphs automatically into her payment for Medicare Part B, about how she’s been known to sleep outside under a makeshift tent because “I like to be outdoors.”

At her age? (Which, for the record, she asked that I not disclose.)

“Age is a state of mind,” she explained with a smile.

She does not seek our pity. Only our understanding.

“I’m a survivor,” Marvit said proudly. “And I think there’s something about my personality which relishes being a survivor. And not only that, I like the adventure.”

With that, amid the deepening darkness, the woman with the white hair aimed her shopping cart down Cumberland Avenue toward Oxford Street.

She hadn’t yet checked in for the night – and she hoped there would still be room.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 14 Sep 2017 12:19:39 +0000
Bill Nemitz: ‘Uncle Brick’ finally found and heading home to Maine Sun, 10 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 When it comes to his Uncle Alberic, Clement McDonald is one attentive nephew.

“He leaves Hawaii on the 13th of September at about 4:30 in the afternoon,” McDonald said last week. “And then he’s going to arrive in Atlanta on the 14th at 7:15 a.m. Then they’ll change planes and he will actually arrive in Boston on the 14th at 12:52 in the afternoon.”

From there, escorted by the Maine State Police, “Uncle Brick,” who died fighting for his country in World War II, will travel up through Maine to his hometown of Caribou and a family that has long prayed for this moment.

“I’m glad to see it finally come to fruition where he’s laid to rest where he belongs,” said McDonald from his home in Oviedo, Florida.

Seventy-five years ago this past January, at the tender age of 17, Alberic M. Blanchette bade farewell to his parents, Benjamin and Albertine, his sisters, Iris, Louann and Ruth, and his brother, Ludger, and went off to save the world.

By all accounts a happy-go-lucky kid with a strong patriotic streak and a determination to do his part as a young Marine in World War II, Brick headed first to the recruiting station in Augusta and then on to basic training at Parris Island, S.C.

From there, standing just 5 feet 5 inches and weighing a wiry 140 pounds, he volunteered to join the elite 1st Marine Raider Battalion – one of the first special forces units to see combat in the war.

And see combat he did. He landed behind enemy lines on Tulagi in the British Solomon Islands, where some of the fiercest fighting in the war occurred.

He attacked enemy forces on Savo Island and fought in a raid on a Japanese supply base at Guadalcanal. He helped defend the Henderson Field airstrip on Guadalcanal against repeated enemy assaults in what became known as the Battle of Bloody Ridge.

Weary from months of intense battle, Brick’s unit withdrew in October 1942 to Noumea, New Caledonia, for what was then called “rest and relaxation.”

And, it appears, a little romance. According to military records obtained by his nephew, Pfc. Blanchette went AWOL twice – each time for only a few hours in the evening – and was busted back to private and transferred out of the Raiders.

“I think he met a girl,” McDonald surmised. “And he was out trying to see this girl before he left again because I’m sure he knew he was going back into the fight.”

McDonald, born in 1957, missed his Uncle Brick by 15 years. Yet he speaks as if he knew him – part from family lore, another part from the fact that McDonald himself joined the Navy right out of Caribou High School and served 20 years before retiring in 1997.

“I’m sure after what he saw with the Rangers, he thought, ‘They can’t do anything to me. I’ve seen worse things than them busting me down to private,’ ” McDonald said. “He was 18, 19 years old. He had no fear.”

By now attached to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Brick boarded the transport USS Arthur Middleton on Nov. 17, 1943, and headed for Tarawa, a heavily fortified Japanese stronghold in the Gilbert Islands.

The battle, which stretched over four long days, took the lives of 1,006 Marines. Brick, as part of the first assault wave that faced blistering fire from four directions, was among them.

His body, like so many others, first was buried in a makeshift cemetery on the island. Because Brick’s remains were among the 103 that could not be identified, he was first listed as missing in action and then, in February 1944, finally declared killed in action.

Back home in Caribou, his grieving family held a Roman Catholic funeral and purchased a plot at the Old Holy Rosary Cemetery, where they placed a marker in Brick’s name.

But an empty grave provides precious little comfort. And as the years became decades, the Blanchette family agonized over the painful prospect that Brick, with his thirst for adventure and that what-me-worry smile, might never find his way home to northern Maine.

Still, even in death, it felt like he never stopped trying.

Just before he shipped out to Tarawa, Brick wrote his older sister, Iris, that she should look for a Christmas present in the mail. Because the gift was still being made and he was shipping out, he explained, he’d paid a Marine buddy from Caribou to mail it to Iris once it was finished.

But the package, much to Iris’ disappointment, never came.

Years later, Iris’ daughter, Helen, was browsing through an antique shop in Presque Isle when she came across a silver bracelet with name “Iris” engraved on it next to a palm tree. Also etched into the metal were “1943” and “South Pacific.”

Stunned, Helen purchased the bracelet and rushed it to her mother.

They then reached out to the other Marine’s family – he’d since died – to learn that he’d sold many of his belongings to an antique shop in Caribou. When that shop shut down, it turned out, the inventory – silver bracelet included – went to the shop in Presque Isle.

“I just know it’s from Brick,” Iris told the Aroostook Republican four years ago as she traced her finger over the engraving. “I mean, what are the chances?”

Iris, who died in 2015, was McDonald’s mother. A military history buff, he’d already spent a few years researching Uncle Brick’s fate with the help of the Rick Stone & Family Charitable Foundation – a Texas-based organization dedicated to helping families fill in the blanks around loved ones lost to the fog of war.

Stone, a former police chief, once developed a forensic process for identifying deceased crime victims. Starting in 2011, he spent two years applying the same techniques – known as Random Instant Statistical Correlation – for what is now the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

His first case: the 523 unaccounted for Marines who fought and died in the Battle of Tarawa.

“Slowly, over the years, you come to think of them as your kids,” Stone said in an interview from Glen Rose, Texas. “You’re reading the file, finding out where they went to school, what their mom wrote to the agency, what the family concerns were.”

McDonald first contacted Stone in 2013 seeking information on Uncle Brick. Stone responded with a full report on the Battle of Tarawa, including the fact that of the 523 missing Marines, 103 remains had been exhumed from battlefield cemeteries scattered across the island and reinterred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

Over each grave was a stone marked “Unknown.”

Pvt. Alberic Blanchette, Stone reported to McDonald, was likely killed as the battle commenced – a horrifying few hours when several of the landing craft became hung up on a reef some 600 yards offshore amid fierce artillery and small arms fire from the Japanese.

That information, while useful, provided small solace to the family with its still-empty grave. So, McDonald made his elderly mother a promise.

“If he is ever found and identified, I will see that he gets back to where he belongs,” he vowed.

Around the same time, McDonald contacted the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and asked how he could assist in the search. The agency, which now uses maternal DNA to identify fallen military members, sent him a swab to capture his genetic code and enter it into the Tarawa database.

In the last 11 months, the agency has identified 171 remains of fallen soldiers and sailors. The work is never-ending: From World War II alone, 73,012 Americans who died fighting for their country are still unaccounted for.

Last October, Brick’s remains were once again disinterred and tested.

Then in July, a Marine casualty assistance officer contacted McDonald with the breathtaking news: Pvt. Blanchette, missing for almost three quarters of a century, had been found.

McDonald first called his aunt Louann in Louisiana, who was just 4 when her big brother went off to war and is the only surviving member of Brick’s immediate family.

Word then spread quickly throughout the extended family, many of whom still live in and around Caribou.

At Stone’s family foundation, where virtually everyone has worked at one time or another on Brick’s case, the news validated years of painstaking research.

“If you bring one home, it’s a tremendous feeling,” Stone said. “And the real beneficiaries are the families. We’re thrilled for them.”

Brick’s flag-draped casket will arrive under police escort at Mockler Funeral Home in Caribou on Thursday evening.

Hurricane Irma permitting, McDonald will come on Friday for Uncle Brick’s Mass of Christian burial the following Monday at Old Holy Rosary Cemetery.

A military honor guard will salute their fallen comrade. Representatives of Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins will pay their respects, as will the Maine chapter of the Patriot Riders of America.

Then, as Uncle Brick is finally laid to rest, the mournful strains of taps will fill the late-summer air.

“It’s been an honor for me to see him brought home like this,” said McDonald, a loyal nephew if ever there was one. “It’s just an honor.”

So, fellow Mainers, keep an eye out come Thursday afternoon if you’re out on the interstate. Brick Blanchette, the smiling kid from Aroostook County, is coming home from war.

At last.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 10 Sep 2017 08:56:25 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Still waters run deep; so should Collins’ aims Sun, 03 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 It’s a classic Maine summer selfie: Sen. Susan Collins and her husband, Tom Daffron, smiling aboard a canoe on a mirror-calm lake in the heart of Penobscot County.

“My husband, Tom, and I love these late August days at camp,” Collins tweeted above the photo Thursday.

They clearly do. But last week’s retreat to the woods and water by Maine’s senior senator was not all loon calls and canoe paddles. Hanging over her getaway was her future – and that of Maine politics.

As we tiptoe into September wondering what political bombshell or natural disaster will hit next, it’s crunch time for Susan Collins.

Sometime this month, she promises, she will decide whether to hold onto her Senate seat of 20 years – and with it the all-important rank of 15th in seniority among her peers – or walk away from Capitol Hill and set her sights on the governor’s mansion in Augusta.

“I need to determine where I believe I could do the most for the people of Maine,” Collins told reporters in Augusta just over week ago.

A noble sentiment indeed, Senator. To which I’d add only two words: Think bigger.

A few evenings ago, while I watched a network news program, the anchor referred to growing resistance to President Trump from within the ranks of Republicans in the Senate.

As he spoke, a head shot of Collins appeared on the screen – a tacit acknowledgment that Collins has, quite literally, become the face of pushback against Trump from within his own party.

That means something. Come to think of it, that means a lot.

Collins, of course, most distinguished herself in the eyes of many Mainers – and many Americans – when she cast one of three pivotal votes in July against the harebrained “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.

Since then, as she recently told Portland Press Herald reporter Joe Lawlor, she’s been hand-picked by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to come up with a health insurance bill that is palatable not just to Republicans, but to Democrats as well.

“I will be very active,” Collins told Lawlor. “This is what we should have done in the first place. Bring in the experts, bring in the witnesses, and let’s figure this out.”

That, in a nutshell, is why Collins’ stock has risen so dramatically – and so inversely to that of the president – in recent months. And why, whether it’s health care or the debt ceiling or tax “reform,” she’s in a position to do not just what’s best for Maine, but for the entire country.

Collins, to be sure, has taken her lumps this summer from the far-right zealots in her party who still see Trump, bizarrely, as their hero and view Collins as … well, let’s go back to her Twitter account.

Last week Collins posted a tweet thanking an intern for his service this summer in her Caribou office. Innocuous stuff, right?

Not to the Trumpsters who immediately pounced, it wasn’t.

“Working hard to elect your replacement,” responded a guy named Mike with an American bald eagle next to his name. “Lying (expletive) is all that you are. No support for POTUS = No support 4U!”

Others followed, all as venomous as they were fallacious. And in this political climate, alas, they come as no surprise.

But here’s what is eye-opening: For all her standing up to Trump, going all the way back to last summer when she announced she could not vote for him, Collins has yet to incur the direct wrath of the White House.

No adolescent nicknames from @realDoanldTrump.

No calling her out by name, a la Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, at those never-ending campaign rallies.

Not even a presidential peep when Collins said last month that “it’s too difficult to say” whether Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2020.

The moment she announces a run for Maine’s Republican gubernatorial nomination, that will change. Big league.

Gov. Paul LePage all but promised as much when he told WGAN radio last month that it’s “highly unlikely” Collins could win a primary against Mary Mayhew, his longtime commissioner of Health and Human Services and now the heiress apparent to his red-meat Republican base.

Throw a few payback tweets from Trump into that contest and Collins will find herself at war with her own party – or at least its most militant faction – like never before.

Is that truly how she wants her legacy as a proud Maine Republican to end? (See: Olympia Snowe, 2012.)

Sure, Collins could run as an independent and, as even LePage conceded, “she wins.”

But assuming she can raise the money to do so without help from her party, she’d do well to consider that LePage will name her replacement – a search that could likely extend no further than the nearest mirror.

One can only wonder how that would make Collins feel: Depart Washington, D.C., to be of greater service to the Maine people, only to punch LePage’s ticket and tip the Senate’s precarious balance in a direction devastating to the entire country.

And for what? To move into the Blaine House and spend four years battling the Knucklehead Caucus in Augusta?

The truth is that Collins, social media trolls notwithstanding, is on an ascendant trajectory in Congress. The more she shows her backbone, lo and behold, the more people – moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents alike – lately have cheered her on.

At the same time, Collins is not the only political moderate from outside the State House bubble capable of delivering Maine from two terms of toxicity under LePage. Democrat Adam Cote, for one, comes to mind.

Collins undoubtedly was aware of all this last week as she paddled the peaceful waters of Cold Stream Pond and pondered her looming decision.

As she told Don Carrigan of WCSH-TV in a recent sit-down, reflecting on her current role in the Senate, “The work I do across the aisle is very important, perhaps more important than ever in some ways.”


Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 03 Sep 2017 09:02:53 +0000
Bill Nemitz: With Portland Pilots’ price hike, ferry operator gets taken for a ride Thu, 31 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The Cat, Portland’s ferry to Nova Scotia, is undergoing a shakedown.

Not the maritime kind, in which they take a vessel out and put it through its paces to make sure everything is shipshape.

No, we’re talking about a financial shakedown – to the tune of almost $100,000 a year. And it’s brought to us by the good old boys at Portland Pilots Inc. and the Portland Harbor Commission.

“We value all our working relationships with everyone – in Portland and everywhere else,” said a tactful Mark MacDonald, president and CEO of Bay Ferries Ltd. “And we don’t lightly go to the court system.”

But the company, based in Prince Edward Island, is also trying to re-establish a ferry foothold between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. And a recent 70 percent fee increase by the Portland Pilots for every time they guide the ferry in and out of Portland Harbor poses, as MacDonald put it, an “extreme” challenge to the company’s bottom line.

Thus we have a lawsuit filed by Bay Ferries last week in Cumberland County Superior Court against both Portland Pilots and the Portland Harbor Commission.

It alleges, with ample evidence, that by recently rubber-stamping the pilots’ demand for more dough, the publicly appointed commission broke just about every rule in the book.

A little history.

Back in the 1970s, when ferry service was first launched between Portland and Nova Scotia, the ships came and went with no involvement by the harbor pilots whatsoever. The common-sense thinking held that if a ferry captain sailed in and out of the harbor virtually every day, he didn’t need a pilot looking over his shoulder showing the way.

Then in 1981, Maine lawyer and lobbyist extraordinaire Severin Beliveau, on behalf of the pilots, persuaded state lawmakers to enact a statute requiring that international ferries using Portland Harbor hire a pilot for the first 15 days that a new captain was at the ferry’s helm – after that, he could find his own way, thank you very much. (In an ironic twist, Bay Ferries is represented in its battle against the pilots by Harold Pachios, Beliveau’s longtime law partner.)

Fast-forward to 2012, three years after the Portland-to-Yarmouth ferry service was suspended.

With no ferry meaning no opposition, the pilots returned to Augusta and lobbied the Legislature to expand the pilot requirement – in the event a ferry service returned – to every time the ship sailed, in or out.

That’s the law that greeted Bay Ferries when it launched The Cat last year. Because the 349-foot vessel is far smaller than most ships that come this way, the pilots assessed their minimum fee of $709 each way.

Which brings us to the Portland Harbor Commission, overseer of all rates charged by the pilots, and an under-the-radar meeting May 11.

Following a “hearing” that the lawsuit alleges “took approximately four minutes,” the five-member commission voted to increase the minimum fee from $709 to $1,200 each way – meaning every time the Cat arrives and departs, the pilots now pocket $2,400.

“We’re working extremely hard to market the business, build it up, control our costs and do everything we need to do to succeed,” MacDonald said. “We were blindsided and shocked with this.”

They had good reason.

Consider, according to the court complaint, what the harbor commission didn’t do.

Despite a statutory requirement that the commission notify any “necessary party” of its upcoming hearings and votes, it failed to inform Bay Ferries that the minimum pilot fee was about to go through the roof.

Instead, it sent the company an email in advance of the meeting that made reference to a “Portland Pilot Cost of Living rate increase proposal” – a routine action based on the Consumer Price Index. The agenda contained nary a peep about a massive minimum-fee increase.

“Bay Ferries did not appear to contest the minimum fee increase from $709 to $1200 because Bay Ferries did not know the Commission was considering such a fee increase,” the complaint states.

It gets worse.

The commission is required by law to establish that all fee increases are “just and reasonable.” Which they did (wink-wink) in less than five minutes?

The commission is required by law to put its decision in writing. According to the complaint, that never happened.

The commission’s decisions, by law, are supposed to take effect no sooner than 45 days after the vote. Yet Bay Ferries received a letter from the pilots on May 22 informing the company that the fee would go up as of June 1 – just 22 days after the vote.

And if Bay Ferries refused to pay?

“The Pilots threatened to have the ship arrested if the full amount was not paid,” the complaint states.

We need not digress into the impact such a seizure on the open seas would have on the local tourism industry.

But it’s hard to read the words “have the ship arrested” and not picture an extortion scene straight out of “The Godfather.” (As Vito Corleone once said, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”)

The Portland Pilots declined to comment this week, and a request for an interview with the harbor commission went unanswered.

That’s too bad.

It would have been illuminating to hear how the Portland Pilots justify getting paid $1,800 an hour, according to the lawsuit, to stand on the bridge of the Cat and tell the captain what he already knows – maybe better than they do.

Or how the harbor commission, public officials every one, quietly allowed a fee increase that will cost Bay Ferries a whopping extra $96,000 a year for … what?

Or how the Portland Pilots’ services, established primarily to guide foreign vessels and captains unfamiliar with Portland Harbor, could possibly be needed, every day, aboard an operation that is none of the above.

“If you went down to the Cat this morning, you would find that the captain is Capt. Andrew Parker from Winthrop, Maine, who’s a graduate of the Maine Maritime Academy,” said CEO MacDonald. “And he’s driving a ship owned by the U.S. Navy” and chartered to Bay Ferries.

So what’s truly going on here?

“This is a big money-grabbing action, as far as I’m concerned,” said Henk Pols, who served for decades as president and CEO of Prince of Fundy Cruises.

Now retired and living in Cape Elizabeth, Pols has no connection whatsoever with Bay Ferries.

But he does have a few not-so-fond memories of the Portland Pilots.

Take, for instance, the time back in the mid-’70s when Prince of Fundy Cruises added the good ship Bolero to a Portland-to-Nova Scotia ferry fleet that already included the Prince of Fundy and the Caribe – neither of which required a pilot at the time.

Pols will never forget the day the black-and-white pilot boat pulled up alongside the Bolero on its first approach into Portland Harbor and ordered the ferry to slow down and allow a pilot aboard.

How did the Bolero’s captain and crew respond?

“They went straight past them,” Pols replied.

Sounds like a plan.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 31 Aug 2017 23:12:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Whine about insurance? For many Mainers it’s really about surviving. Sun, 27 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 It had to happen. The moment Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap released the wording for this fall’s referendum on expanding Medicaid in Maine, you knew the opposition party would immediately start looking for nits to pick.

Not surprisingly last week, they came up with several. But a group of six Republicans, led by former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett, focused primarily on one single word: insurance.

In its current form, Dunlap’s question asks: “Do you want Maine to provide health insurance through Medicaid for qualified adults under the age of 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line (which is now about $16,000 for a single person and $22,000 for a family of two)?”

Responded Bennett & Co.: “We would ask that … the term ‘insurance’ be dropped and replaced with more appropriate language such as ‘government-funded health benefits,’ ‘taxpayer-funded health benefits’ or language which does not include the term ‘insurance.’ ”

Added state Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, during the State House news conference: “A welfare expansion will take money from Maine taxpayers, from their pockets and put it into the pockets of others who are not disabled and are working-aged adults.”

She’s wrong about the money-in-the-pockets part – in no way would expansion of Medicaid, known here as MaineCare, provide cash benefits for anyone.

But Sirocki, by labeling the proposal “welfare expansion,” provided a ready translation for those wondering what all the fuss is about: “Taxpayer-funded health benefits” is code for “welfare,” which is code for “those shiftless bums are trying to pick my pocket again.”

So, on that note, allow me to introduce a word that needs no decoding whatsoever:


I know this word well.

Two years ago at this time, I found myself preparing to die. As I’ve noted in this space before, I’d been diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma and, after seven months of intensive treatment, things still were not going well.

I’ll never forget how cancer turned my life – and the lives of those dearest to me – upside down during those difficult months. As the saying goes, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

But at the same time, I’ll never forget how lucky I was.

I had insurance. Good insurance.

I had friends who threw me a fundraiser to cover the costs that my insurance didn’t, leaving me both humbled and, truth be told, a little bit embarrassed at this heartfelt outpouring of generosity.

What I didn’t have was a clue of what my many and varied treatments all cost, from the surgeries and blasts of radiation to the hospital stays, immunotherapy infusions and endless trips to my local pharmacy.

Was it in the hundreds of thousands of dollars? No doubt. More than that? Wouldn’t surprise me.

Beyond my deductibles, co-payments and out-of-pocket costs, you see, I didn’t have to worry about the ever-escalating price tag.

I do remember coming across an article on a medical website that said the cost of nivolumab and ipipilimumab immunotherapy treatments, both of which I received, was thousands of times higher than the price of gold. And that had someone relied on Medicare for those treatments, that person would have been on the hook for around $60,000.

But not me. I had good insurance.

And better yet, the treatment eventually worked.

I survived.

Now let’s look at Mainers whose income, as the ballot question puts it, tops out “at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line.”

That, according to Secretary of State Dunlap’s wording, means around $16,000 per year for a single adult. The nitpickers cry foul on that, too – claiming it’s $643 more than that.

Fine. Let’s tack on the $643, which I’ll bet is less than a guy like Rick Bennett spends annually on haircuts.

Now, if you’re making $16,643 a year, life already is not very good.

Your weekly income is $320. Wherever you’re earning that money, you almost certainly don’t have health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave or any other buffer between you and flat-out catastrophe.

Then you get sick. Or hurt.

At first, you try to tough it out because the last thing you need is an emergency room bill hanging over your meager monthly budget.

Eventually, though, you’ll head for the nearest hospital because when it comes to the kind of pain that leaves you doubled up on the floor wishing you were dead, well, everyone has a threshold.

The hospital is legally bound to treat you because, for all the griping about people getting something for nothing, we at least have not (yet) devolved into a society that compels you to die on the street.

So, better late than never, you get your diagnosis and treatment, which overnight can run into thousands of dollars that you don’t have.

Maybe you’re the motivated type who will spend countless hours each week on the computer searching for charitable organizations and other assistance to help you stay financially afloat. Except for one problem – you can no longer afford internet service.

Thus, you fall behind in your payments until you just give up. And your hospital, itself hanging by a fiscal thread, chalks another one up to “charity care.”

Then you get sick again. Really sick. Only this time, remembering what happened last time, you stay put until it’s too late.

Then you die.

The local hospital, meanwhile, goes on serving others like you until it, too, can no longer stay open. Meaning other folks, now without immediate access to health care, also will die.

My guess is that none of this crossed the minds of those six Republicans – Bennett, Sirocki, Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, and Reps. Phyllis Ginzler of Bridgton, Paula Sutton of Warren and Stephanie Hawke of Boothbay Harbor – as they stood in the State House on Tuesday and used their dictionaries to once again demonize the poor.

I’ll also bet that, like me, they take comfort in knowing that should one or another medical calamity befall them, they’ll at least have the necessary insurance – that word again – to protect them from financial ruin.

So enough of the word games.

Enough pitting the haves against the have-nots.

Enough whining from people with precious little to complain about.

In the end, we’re all just trying to survive.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 28 Aug 2017 09:22:36 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Spat over ‘spring’ water is laughable in a world awash in woe Thu, 24 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 They’re called First World Problems, those woe-is-me complaints that pale by comparison to real hardships faced by people far less privileged than you or me.

Last week, as I vacationed on an island surrounded by the sun-speckled waters of Lake Winnipesaukee, I came across a whopper.

Lawsuit says Poland Spring water is mislabeled because it really isn’t spring water,” said the headline above a Portland Press Herald story that, legal bickering aside, spoke volumes about the two Earths.

The one we 1.3 million Mainers inhabit is awash in clean, drinkable water.

In the other, an estimated 663 million fellow humans struggle every day to stay hydrated without killing themselves in the process.

Yet there an aggrieved gaggle of the lucky ones are, with water, water everywhere, tying up a court in Connecticut over the legal definition of a “spring.”

The class-action lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of 11 customers against Poland Spring’s Stamford-based parent corporation, Nestle Waters North America.

The complaint alleges that Poland Spring water actually is nothing more than plain old groundwater pumped from wells throughout Maine.

It also claims that lead plaintiff Mark J. Patane of Vermont has shelled out “hundreds of dollars” for Poland Spring water over the last 14 years.

“Had (Patane) known that Poland Spring was ordinary groundwater rather than ‘100 % Natural Spring Water’ he would not have purchased Poland Spring Water and would have consumed lower cost bottled water products,” the complaint states. “Sometimes he has had no choice but to buy Poland Spring Water because it is the only available option.”

Cry. Me. A. River.

Lower-cost bottled-water products? Only available option?

Just a thought, but has Mr. Patane ever noticed the tap over his kitchen sink?

Now, I’ll leave it to the courts to decide once and for all whether the stuff in those Poland Spring bottles is pristine spring water or pedestrian well water.

(Although it is worth noting that back in 2003, Poland Spring settled a similar suit by agreeing to pay $10 million over five years in consumer discounts and contributions to charity. And oh yes, the plaintiffs’ lawyers reportedly went home with over $1 million.)

Nor am I interested in wading through the debate over the relative purity of tap water – except to say that in this neck of the woods, compared to other corners of the globe, it’s pretty darn clean.

Instead, allow me to introduce Ken Surritte, founder and CEO of WATERisLIFE, a nonprofit organization that might lend a little global perspective to our water wars.

Twelve years ago, Surritte was homebound from an orphanage-building mission to Africa when he stepped into a hotel bathroom for his first shower in weeks. As he stood there waiting for the shower to warm up, he looked down at the cold water running down the drain.

“I had my ‘Aha!’ moment right there,” Surritte recalled in an interview from WATERisLIFE headquarters in Oklahoma City. “I was standing there naked in the shower – which is definitely not a good mental picture, for sure – and it hit me like a ton of bricks: ‘Ken, water is life. And the people you just left would do anything for the water you just let go down the drain just warming up the shower.'”

That epiphany soon led to a well in an African village, which led to more wells, which led to solar-powered water purification systems in over 400 locations around the globe, which led to The Straw.

It is, in every sense, a lifesaver – a durable, plastic straw equipped with membranes, iodine crystals and a charcoal filter. In the time it takes to suck water from its source to the user’s mouth, the handheld device removes everything from typhoid and E. coli to dysentery and other contaminants that so often can lead to severe illness or death.

To date, WATERisLIFE has distributed 750,000 straws where they’re most needed – places like sub-Saharan Africa and India, where 86 percent of the population’s human waste goes back into the surface water untreated.

One straw, which lasts an average of a year, costs $10. That’s less than half the cost of a 24-pack of 16.9-ounce bottles of Poland Spring at Wal-Mart.

Think about that. We’re now buying our water at Wal-Mart.

In March, the New York-based Beverage Marketing Corp. reported that bottled water just surpassed carbonated soda as the No. 1 retail beverage in the United States, with sales in 2016 jumping 10 percent to just under $16 billion.

“When Perrier first entered the country in the 1970s, few would have predicted the heights to which bottled water would eventually climb,” said Michael C. Bellas, Beverage Marketing’s chairman and CEO, in a press release. “Where once it would have been unimaginable to see Americans walking down the street carrying plastic bottles of water, or driving around with them in their cars’ cup holders, now that’s the norm.”

All because an industry – and that includes you, Poland Spring – has managed to convince much of America that clean tap water, liquid gold to a kid in Kenya, is no longer good enough for us.

And because consumers – we’re looking at you, Mark J. Patane, et al – have become so enamored of those plastic, environmentally dubious containers that they’ll actually go to court over the true meaning of “spring water.”

WATERisLIFE’s Surritte has no interest in jumping into the Poland Spring cauldron, other than to note that “we now pay more for (bottled) water than we do gas.”

Still, his organization hasn’t shied away from the whole First World Problem phenomena that now encompass everything from unheated car seats to houses so big they need two wireless routers.

In fact, WATERisLIFE has produced a jarring set of video advertisements in which Third World citizens recite First World Problems in settings as devoid of humor as they are awash in irony.

“When my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold,” laments one girl, sitting in a dimly lit bunkhouse.

“I hate it when I tell them no pickles and they still give me pickles,” deadpans a young boy.

So, stay hydrated, fellow Mainers – one way or another. But as you do, consider that if you swap out one bottle of water for a glass from the tap each day, you’ll easily have $100 or more in your pocket at the end of a year.

That’s 10 straws for 10 kids for an entire year. And it’s as easy as going to and clicking on “Donate.”

No lawyers required.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 24 Aug 2017 08:24:54 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Mary Mayhew lacks even a sliver of remorse for chilling DHHS fiasco Sun, 13 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Forget about her incompetence. Mary Mayhew just descended to downright disgusting.

“There is nothing more important than the health and well-being of our most vulnerable citizens,” the former head of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, now a Republican candidate for governor, said Thursday in response to a federal audit that should leave all of Maine hanging its head in shame.

The report by the Office of the Inspector General lays out, sometimes in chilling narrative, how 133 of those “most vulnerable citizens” died on Mayhew’s watch.

Yet Mayhew did nothing.

The 77-page audit report, which covers the 2½ years between January of 2013 and June of 2015, also cites a litany of unreported “critical incidents” that befell hundreds of developmentally disabled adults – things like sexual assault, suicidal behavior, injuries requiring hospital treatment …

Yet Mayhew did nothing.

“Therefore, Maine failed to demonstrate that it has a system to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the 2,640 Medicaid beneficiaries with developmental disabilities,” concluded the audit team.

Mary Mayhew

So how did Mayhew, who jettisoned her job in May to run for the Blaine House, react to this punch to the gut of her fledgling gubernatorial campaign? By doing what she does best:

She blamed those who came before her, calling the scathing report “a reflection of prior administrations and years of explosive entitlement growth prioritizing able-bodied adults at the expense of our most vulnerable.”

Right. It’s all John Baldacci’s and Angus King’s fault.

She boasted how much better things became during her six-year tenure: “Today the department is prioritizing our most vulnerable, there is financial discipline and stability, and a commitment to accountability and quality results.”

Translation: We count dollars, not dead people.

And never, not once, in her 104-word communique did Mayhew apologize or accept so much as a sliver of responsibility for her utter ineptitude atop Maine’s most vital government operation.

“I cleaned up significant problems within the Department,” she huffed, “and prioritized services for our most vulnerable.”

Cleaned up significant problems? Mayhew, who spent all those years perfecting her skills at dodge ball, was the most significant problem.

This is no longer a politician putting lipstick on her prize pig. This is an obscenity.

As is the response that came from DHHS after the release of the audit.

“We are proud that we have successfully made improvements since the audit period,” the department said in a statement under the letterhead of acting Commissioner Ricker Hamilton.

A word of advice for whoever crafted this piece of artful deflection: When a team of federal investigators charge you with routinely ignoring the deaths of people you’re supposed to be keeping safe, simply decency would dictate that you avoid using the word “proud” in your rebuttal.

And if you’re going to toss around the word “vulnerable,” you might at least pause long enough to consider what it truly means.

It means these people are susceptible to harm, that they need protection – and when they don’t get it, they need someone in a position of authority to dig deeply into what happened and why.

What they don’t need are excuses that are as hollow as they are morally repugnant.

“The Department expressed to OIG that this is a complex system with many programs working together to assist and protect a vulnerable population and that the OIG’s approach did not capture all of the necessary data,” read the DHHS statement.

To the contrary, the Office of the Inspector General captured more than enough data to demonstrate that DHHS failed miserably to ensure that all critical incidents were reported, to analyze those reports to see what trends might exist and, most importantly, to use that information to prevent these nightmares from recurring.

As for it all being such a “complex system,” cry me a river.

Yes, enabling Maine’s developmentally disabled citizens to live in the community rather than behind locked doors is a complicated undertaking. We get that.

But using that as a cudgel to attack the messenger isn’t a fair and legitimate response. It’s grasping at straws – a reflex reaction by the entire LePage administration whenever its lofty rhetoric dissolves in a flash flood of cold reality.

One can’t help but wonder how long Mayhew has seen this coming.

When she announced her candidacy for governor two months ago, she took a shot at fellow Republican Sen. Susan Collins for supporting the long-overdue expansion of Medicaid, known as MaineCare here.

“We have worked too hard to see all we have done undone,” Mayhew said at the time. “We need bold leadership and someone who is prepared to make difficult decisions in the best interests of this state.”

Perhaps, sometime between now and the Republican primary next June, she might explain those “difficult decisions” to the family of the 57-year-old MaineCare “beneficiary” who went to the dentist for a cleaning and ended up having six teeth extracted.

“One tooth was infected and another was cracked, but the community-based provider did not know why the other four teeth were pulled,” the audit report states. “The dentist did not prescribe antibiotics following the extraction of the infected tooth or provide the beneficiary with gauze to stop the bleeding because of concerns that she might swallow it. The beneficiary aspirated blood from the site of the extracted teeth and was taken to a hospital emergency room with a fever 5 days after the extraction.”

Five days. If it were your family member, Ms. Mayhew, how long would you have waited?

The report continues: “The patient was diagnosed with double pneumonia and sepsis and died in the hospital’s intensive care unit 2 weeks later. The beneficiary’s death was not investigated by the State agency or reviewed by OCME (Office of the Chief Medical Examiner). The (DHHS) Mortality Review Committee reviewed the report but no corrective actions were taken and no preventable causes were identified.”

Meaning nobody bothered to ask how a routine trip to the dentist somehow resulted in what was dismissed by DHHS as death from “complication to illness.” Or how such a tragedy might be prevented in the future.

You won’t hear about that debacle – or eight others like it detailed in the federal audit – in the coming months as the heiress apparent to Gov. Paul LePage traipses around the state congratulating herself for “prioritizing our most vulnerable.”

Neglect, injury and death, after all, don’t play so well on the conservative dog whistle.

So go ahead, Mary Mayhew, keep patting yourself on the back. Run for governor to your heart’s content.

But don’t think for a minute you can hide.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 14 Aug 2017 13:39:55 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Tuning out the world, tuning in the Little League World Series Thu, 10 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I admit it. I’m hooked. Try as I might, from day into night, I can’t look away from the big-screen television.

Cable news? Nope – not if it’s August.

Welcome to the Little League World Series.

Every summer around this time, I tune out the politics and mass disasters screaming for my attention up and down the channel guide.

I ignore my overgrown lawn.

While the rest of the world has fun in the sun, I park myself in front of the tube for game … after game … after game …

Why the fixation?

Because when it comes to pure drama, nothing touches these kids, still on the cusp of adolescence, as they chase down their wildest dreams in front of a national TV audience.

You want ecstasy? You got it Tuesday evening when pitcher Aiden Lee of the South Portland American team, Maine’s state champs, got the last hitter to pop up to right-center and thus kept Maine alive in the New England Regionals in Bristol, Connecticut.

(Point of clarification: Tuesday’s game actually was streamed live on ESPN-3, which I called up on my laptop. Like I said, I’m obsessed.)

You want heartbreak? It was etched on the face of the poor opposing pitcher after a passed ball enabled South Portland’s Nolan Hobbs to scamper home with the winning run in the 3-2 squeaker over Cumberland, Rhode Island.

You want grit? Nobody out-hustles South Portland catcher Richie “Big Daddy Hacks” Gilboy, who ran into and through an open gate in the chain link fence behind home plate in pursuit of a foul pop – and then returned to his position with a “What just happened?” smile plastered across his face.

More on the kids from Maine in a minute. First, it turns out I’m not alone.

“I haven’t missed a year,” Paul Pickett, 58, told me Wednesday morning during a short break from his nonstop chimney service business. “I keep telling my wife, I say, ‘One of these years I’m going to go down there and watch it.’ And I will. That’s one of the things on my bucket list.”

Pickett, who now lives in Gray, batted second and played third on the 1971 Augusta East Little League team – one of only three in Maine baseball history that have made it all the way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (The other two were Portland Suburban in 1951 and Westbrook in 2005.)

“It was awesome,” recalled Pickett, who was joined on the roster by his younger brother, Ed “Poochie” Pickett. Their uncle, Charlie Gallant, coached.

“Charlie just forced defense down our throats,” Paul Pickett said. “At practice every day, no lie, each kid would have to take 100 ground balls, and if you missed one, you ran out and got it. And we did that day after day after day. People would call it child abuse if they did it now.”

But it worked.

They marched through the state tournament, in which Pickett remembers hitting an opposite-field triple and scoring on a passed ball to beat Saco, 3-2, in extra innings and keep Augusta’s hopes alive.

They ran circles around the Eastern Regional, fighting back from an 8-6 deficit to beat powerhouse Maryland, 10-8.

And on they went to the big show in Williamsport, where they finally fell to Spain, 5-0.

Back then, ABC televised only the final championship game between Indiana and Taiwan – a far cry from the dozens of games now shown either on cable or online.

But memories? Pickett has tons.

“I remember I first get there and the first thing I see is this kid who looks like a man,” he said.

That would be Lloyd McClendon of Gary, Indiana, who went on to play eight seasons in the majors and manage the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Seattle Mariners. He’s now the hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers.

“I think he swung his bat six or seven times and hit six or seven home runs,” recalled Pickett. “He was just a man among boys. I’ll be damned if I didn’t grow up and follow that name.”

Start to finish, the entire Augusta team felt like royalty.

Despite being knocked out in their first game – unlike today’s double-elimination format, it was “one and done” back in those days – they went to the White House to meet Vice President Spiro Agnew. Then came dinner with Neil Armstrong, who just two years earlier became the first man to set foot on the moon.

But it was the baseball that truly mattered.

“No lie, we had one error in 11 games,” Pickett boasted. “That’s just crazy.”

Back in 1996, almost the entire Augusta team gathered for a 25-year reunion. Two years ago, more than half of them showed up to be inducted, as an entire squad, into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.

Meaning they haven’t forgotten. If anything, Pickett said, memories of that summer sharpen as the years, and now the decades, fly by.

“I still think of it now and then,” he mused, “Especially at this time of year.”

Which brings us back to our current Maine champs.

It’s a Cinderella story in the making: The entire South Portland American Little League, from which these 11 all-stars were drawn, consists of just 33 players divided among three teams – a far cry from other Maine cities and towns with triple that number.

“So, to compete the way we have and to see these kids doing what they’re doing is pretty incredible,” said Jim Poole, the head coach, in an interview Wednesday from Bristol.

Yet there they are, with a 2-1 record, playing their hearts out to avoid that season-ending second loss.

Things looked bleak Tuesday evening after Rhode Island jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. But then pitcher Andrew Heffernan drew a deep breath, dialed in a curve ball that both TV commentators christened “nasty,” and shut his opponents down until reliever Lee took over in the fifth.

“That was a super game,” said Poole. “Very exciting for the kids.”

Three more wins and they punch their ticket to Williamsport, starting today at 1 p.m. against Vermont on ESPN.

And if per chance they don’t make it? Life will go on, as will the tournament.

“I just say, ‘At the end of the day guys, you know why we’re here and there’s nothing that can stop us,’ ” said Poole. “And they believe it. Any challenge that comes at them, they’ve handled it. It’s fantastic.”

That’s why, political winds be damned, I’ll be watching. So will Charlie Gallant, now 70, who guided that Augusta team almost a half-century ago.

“I have not missed one since we went,” Gallant said over the phone Wednesday as he flipped through his Little League scrapbook. “I just love it. To me, that’s real baseball.”

And these are the real boys of summer.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 10 Aug 2017 17:00:58 +0000
Opinion podcast: Sportsmanship personified, election fraud, and cell phones in your car Tue, 08 Aug 2017 20:18:21 +0000 In this episode, our columnists discuss a viral moment of sportsmanship at the 2017 Beach to Beacon 10K; Cynthia Dill argues that our good feelings were misplaced. Also: Bill Nemitz shares a behind-the-scenes story from Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s involvement with President Trump’s voter fraud commission, and our panel sounds off on using handheld cellphones while driving.

Related stories

B2B Maine winner collapses shy of finish, then ‘I felt someone pick me up’

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As session ends, Legislature overrides LePage veto, raising legal age for tobacco to 21

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]]> 0 Gomez helps Jesse Orach cross the Beach to Beacon finish line after picking up the fallen Orach, who had collapsed within sight of the finish, instead of running past him.Wed, 30 Aug 2017 15:57:07 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Maine’s elections chief sees no monsters under the bed Sun, 06 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 So there sits Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a minority Democrat on a commission created to ferret out those millions of people who, according to President Trump, “voted illegally” in last fall’s national election.

The same Dunlap who is already on record saying he doesn’t believe a word of it.

What could possibly go wrong?

“It puts a bullhorn in my hands,” Dunlap explained during an interview in his office Friday.

A bullhorn? For what?

“I think there’s great value in stating the obvious.”

Such as?

Dunlap, rarely at a loss for words, thought about this one for a few seconds.

“What’s obvious to me is that elections run really, really well,” he finally said. “Very committed people do a great job. And the public has a lot to be proud of and to trust. To me, that’s the obvious.”

It’s been three months since Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state for 11 of the past 13 years, accepted an invitation to sit on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

Led by Vice President Mike Pence and Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas, the panel of seven Republicans and five Democrats has stumbled out of the gate after Kobach twice sent letters to all 50 states asking for comprehensive voter information – requests that all but a handful of states, including Maine, have denied.

Critics far and wide say the whole commission is a sham, a transparent attempt to lend credence to a longstanding Republican mantra that our election system is rife with illegal voting by noncitizens, by students, by dead people …

“I don’t think we’re going to find very much,” Dunlap said. “And if this commission has any sense of dignity, if we don’t find very much, then we just stop meeting at some point.”

But what if the commission, as many fear it will, grasps at what few straws it can find and uses them to erect new barriers between the electorate and the voting booth?

“Then I’m going to be out there with that bullhorn,” Dunlap replied.

He joined the commission at the urging of Kobach. Despite their perches at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Dunlap still considers the fiery Kansan “a good guy.”

The two became acquainted through the National Association of Secretaries of State. They bonded over, of all things, guns.

“I set him up with a sporting camp up north. He brought the family. They had a great time,” recalled Dunlap, an avid sportsman who once chaired the Maine Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and served for a short stint as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

“(Kobach) tends to pigeonhole Democrats as holding a certain series of beliefs, guaranteed,” mused Dunlap. “I think I fascinate him in a certain sense. … We can have a conversation about ballistics. It amazes him that a Democrat knows anything about bullet weight, trajectories, the certain load of a .30-06, the 150-grain versus the 180-grain, the hollow point versus the soft point.”

But whatever their shared interests in firearms, they’re way beyond each other’s range when it comes to the integrity of America’s elections.

Kobach has already gone on record claiming that voter fraud poses a real and present danger to the republic.

Dunlap, meanwhile, detects danger in the notion that voters can’t be trusted.

“It’s natural – in fact it goes back to before the founding of our republic – for the public, the citizens of this country, to not trust their government. That’s normal,” he said. “When the relationship becomes dangerous is when government does not trust its citizens. And Trump saying that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally and we all have something to hide tells me that he does not trust the citizens.”

Then why aid and abet that effort by joining the commission? Why not denounce it as a charade like so many others have and walk away?

Two reasons.

First, Maine has been here before: A much-ballyhooed commission formed in 2012 to examine alleged widespread voter fraud here found no such thing.

Thus, when Dunlap consulted his elections staff on Kobach’s invitation to join the president’s commission, they responded with a resounding “yes.”

“If they’re going to do this and they’re asking you to be a part of it, you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to tell our story,” said Dunlap recalling his staff’s advice.

To illustrate his second reason for signing on with Kobach, Dunlap invokes the typical crank at the typical Maine town meeting who rails on … and on … and on about corruption in the public works department and the need to cut out all road funding and blah, blah, blah.

“You know how you handle that?” he said. “You handle it by letting them talk, letting them air their grievance or articulate it in a motion – and then it goes up on its belly and goes down in a sheet of flame. And they’ve had their say. You don’t deal with that by saying, ‘I’m not going to allow you to speak.’ ”

Ditto for the commission. Nipping it in the bud now, as many have demanded, would only provide the conspiracy theorists a bigger platform as they claim that “the truth” is being suppressed by the powers that be.

Far better, Dunlap said, to “lift up the covers and shine the flashlight under the bed and say, ‘Look, there are no monsters there.’ ”

And so he’s in, provided it doesn’t reach the point where “I’m completely ineffective and can’t get that story out” or, even worse, his name is attached to a finding he doesn’t consider valid.

When appropriate, he’ll advocate for improvements in the 50 states’ election systems (see: more interstate cooperation in updating voter rolls). What he won’t do is surrender his steadfast belief that Americans are, by and large, an honest people.

Back when he was in the Legislature, Dunlap spearheaded a survey to gauge how many Mainers obtain a fishing license before they drop a line – and how many don’t.

“We have about 5,000 bodies of water in the state of Maine and 3,000 brooks and rivers,” he said. “Now at any given time, we probably have no more than 40 game wardens on duty. You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than to run into a game warden.”

The survey said?

“The compliance rate is 98 percent,” Dunlap said. “People are law-abiding.”

That’s his message for the voter fraud commission. And that’s why, despite all the pleas to walk away, he’ll stay put for now.

“If you’re not at the table,” Dunlap noted, “you’re on the menu.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 06 Aug 2017 11:03:58 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Strimling as the victim? It just doesn’t play in Portland Wed, 02 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 You’d think, considering he once studied theater at the famed Juilliard School, that Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling might not be so tone-deaf.

Yet there he stood Monday evening in the City Council chamber, cloaking himself in the role of the helpless victim. A role that nobody else in the room could even find in their playbill.

It was billed as a council workshop “To Discuss the Assignment and Duties of the City’s Executive Department.”

But in reality, it was an intervention. And the marathon four-hour session, with no fewer than five former Portland mayors looking on in utter bewilderment, failed miserably.

“Enough is enough,” said former Mayor Cheryl Leeman at the entrance to City Hall. Behind her, nodding in agreement, stood a dozen onetime mayors, city councilors and municipal officials – all calling for an end to the penny opera that for months has pitted Strimling against City Manager Jon Jennings, against the current City Council, against anyone who fails to fully appreciate the sheer awesomeness of Hizzoner.

Strimling told the packed chamber that he came to look forward, not backward. But when Jennings later explained in some detail how “I’m being asked to manage an unmanageable situation,” the mayor too shifted hard into reverse.

At his side: A manila folder brimming with perceived slights by a city manager and a City Hall senior staff fed up with the mayor’s often aggressive, always insatiable ego.

Strimling’s drip-drip list of petty grievances felt like the opening round of a divorce mediation – huge injustices in the eyes of the complainant, not so much for the third-party observers.

Coming up for air at one point, he said, “As I said earlier, these are not all the examples.” Then a dramatic pause, followed by, “I’ll give you a few more …”

Please, Mr. Mayor, don’t.

Truth be told, Strimling’s 20-month tenure as Portland’s second popularly elected mayor in recent times has been, in many ways, a classic tragedy.

Handsome, charming and quick with the smile, he sailed to a 51 percent majority in a three-way race in 2015 that required no second-round count under Portland’s ranked-choice voting system.

With years of television and radio punditry under his belt, he’s taken to the airwaves like a moth to a flame – sometimes sounding off before he has his facts straight and, more importantly, before any of his colleagues have a clue what he’s doing.

Jennings lamented the time Strimling went on the radio and began riffing sans script about overtime for firefighters – at the exact time that issue was being delicately negotiated with the Portland firefighters’ union.

Those same firefighters, Jennings recalled, once called the city manager from a working fire “asking if they had the authority to move the mayor behind the cordoned-off area.”

Then there was the time Strimling showed up at an active crime scene and began peppering a poor police officer manning a checkpoint for information.

“I would never, in my wildest dreams, think of doing something like that,” said Jennings, to whom the police chief actually reports.

But there’s more to this than just Strimling’s hard-wired attraction to the bright lights.

Over and over during Monday’s session, the talk turned to his ever-eroding credibility. In fact, Councilor Jill Duson achieved a linguistic milestone when she decried the mayor’s penchant for what she generously called “misparaphrasing.”

Translation: He hears something that everyone else hears, only to later recount it in terms favorable to him while others scratch their heads and mutter, “Say what?”

To wit: Speaking to the decline in decorum at City Hall, Jennings bemoaned the “individuals and groups” who now flock to council meetings and “say anything they wish about us – including calling one of us a murderer.”

Only minutes later, Strimling lambasted the city manager for “claiming that I called someone a murderer.”


“I don’t think he said that,” observed Councilor Nick Mavodones, who ran the meeting.

Misparaphrasing aside, several councilors brought up Strimling’s notorious lack of preparation and his penchant for asking questions that could easily be answered if he simply read the background material they all get before meetings.

“Questions are important,” counseled Councilor Belinda Ray, a writer and teacher. “It is equally important to do your homework. Before you come to a meeting, read the material.”

She added, “Google is awesome! I get a lot of information that way.”

The longer Monday’s session dragged on, the more apparent it became that Strimling places himself on a considerably loftier pedestal than do the councilors and city manager who wallow in his incessant complaints and demands.

Councilors noted that they get briefed by the city staff on issues, often with Strimling in the room. Why then must he insist on his own private briefings with the same staff on the same issues?

Councilors ask questions of staff members by first going through the city manager. Then why, when the city charter assigns to the manager the “day-to-day operations of the city,” does Strimling chafe at the same protocol?

“We do not sit around in this building or any other city building waiting for you to call us to ask us questions,” Jennings told the scowling mayor.

In the end, it all felt so sad, so futile, so interminable.

Ray recalled how Strimling ran on the promise to be, above all, “listener in chief.”

“That’s the mayor I voted for,” she said. “That’s not the mayor I’ve seen for a very long time.”

Duson said the council must assert itself more to counterbalance “the insistent, singularly aggressive position of the mayor” in his dealings with the rest of the city’s government.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, once viewed as one of Strimling’s close political allies, looked him in the eye and said, “The council is telling you, Mr. Mayor, that you need to get it together.”

Good luck with that one.

In one of the few tidbits of news from the workshop, the audience learned that the city actually paid a mediator to try to patch things up between Strimling and Jennings. It didn’t work.

So there they all sit, pretty much right back where they started.

Strimling and Jennings still can’t stand each other, although they’ll start meeting again weekly with a third party present.

The council, for its part, will keep trying to tune out all the discord.

And Strimling?

He’s the mayor who thrives on improv. And all his city’s a stage.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 02 Aug 2017 00:38:46 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Sen. Collins’ courage isn’t just a talking point Sun, 30 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 It’s no secret that politicians like to talk about themselves. Point them toward a gaggle of cameras and microphones and you can almost guarantee they’ll drone on ad nauseam about all they’ve done, how they did it, what they plan to do next …

Not so for Sen. Angus King on Friday, moments after he touched down in Portland aboard the morning shuttle from Washington, D.C.

“In my public life, or in my life generally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a public official manifest greater courage and commitment to their constituents as Susan Collins has over the last week,” King said. “And the people of Maine need to understand that.”

Hear, hear, Senator. And then some.

The whole nation still buzzes – and rightfully so – about Sen. John McCain’s dramatic, post-brain-surgery arrival on Capitol Hill and his even more dramatic vote in the wee hours Friday to drive a stake through Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But the award for pure courage in this partisan debacle goes, first and foremost, to Maine’s own Sen. Collins.

From Tuesday’s vote to reopen debate on the repeal, to the two failed measures to replace it with Scotch tape and bubble gum, to the final “skinny repeal” showdown around 1:30 a.m. Friday, Maine’s senior senator never wavered.

She thought it was a bad deal and she said so, as did so many of her Republican colleagues who trusted, for no apparent reason, that the House would negotiate a real bill in conference committee rather than simply pass the Senate’s stinker outright and send it on to the White House.

But unlike all of them save McCain and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Collins chose principle over pragmatism. Of the three Republican votes it took to send President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell packing, it was Collins who said “no” first.

Quoting from a text he’d just sent to his son, King observed, “I hope when my moment comes, I’ll have as much guts as she had.”

There have been times during her 20 years in the Senate when critics, myself included, have chided Collins for not taking a strong enough stand against her party’s leadership. Others within her party, on the other hand, have branded her a “RINO” – the Tea Party moniker for a “Republican in name only” who sits too close to the center and thus gives “real conservatism” a bad name.

But last week was different. Despite overwhelming pressure from McConnell and Pence to get with the program and kill Obamacare because … well, just because, Collins staked her ground and never wavered until finally, a half hour or so before the climactic vote, Pence waved the white flag.

“He said to me, ‘You sure are tough,’ ” Collins, still operating on two hours of sleep, recalled in an interview late Friday afternoon. “And he softened it by putting his arm around me when he said it.”

No calls from the Oval Office? No threats of retribution such as those leveled against Murkowski – at the president’s behest – by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke?

“Obviously they wanted my vote, but none of them have been in any way comparable to what Lisa has experienced,” said Collins, who was lobbied directly by both Pence and now-departed White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Her only contact with Trump came late last month when the president hosted an arm-twisting lunch with Republican senators and conspicuously seated Collins and Murkowski on either side of him. In a photo from the event, Collins appears, shall we say, less than comfortable.

“I know,” she said with a chuckle. “I’ve got to work on being more relaxed, I guess.”

Not here in Maine, she doesn’t.

Back on July 4, both Collins and King traveled to Washington County to march in Eastport’s Independence Day parade. On Friday, both recalled how, from start to finish, it was all health care all the time – punctuated by pleas that they stand fast against the House repeal bill that had landed with a thud in the Senate.

“Keep in mind that that’s a county that went heavily for Donald Trump,” noted Collins. “And what I found as I walked the length of the parade is that over and over, people were calling out to me, ‘Thank you, Susan,’ and ‘Thank you for opposing the House bill,’ and ‘Stay strong, Susan,’ and coming out and literally hugging me.”

One woman, a longtime Republican who went all the way back to Collins’ run for governor in 1994, spotted the senator at the end of the parade and made a beeline for her.

“Uh-oh,” thought Collins, expecting an earful about her well-publicized opposition to the House bill.

“Instead, she was bringing her grandson, who has cystic fibrosis, to meet me,” Collins said. “And she said, ‘That bill is terrible. And my grandson has cystic fibrosis, he’s going to have it his entire life – it’s a pre-existing condition for him. And I’m really worried about what’s going to happen to him and whether he’s going to be protected and be able to get insurance.'”

That encounter, more than any other, hit home. It reinforced Collins’ belief that health care “really cuts across party lines” and directly impacts people of all political stripes.

And so it came down to this: On this most critical of issues, Collins’ constituents spoke loudly and clearly. And when it truly counted, much to her credit, she listened.

That said, Collins’ breakaway vote will not soon be forgotten on Capitol Hill. Mused King, ‘How she’ll be treated in the (Senate Republican) caucus and what comes next by the administration, who knows?”

Still, echoing Pence, King added: “Susan is tough. She’s really tough. I think she’ll be fine.”

Friday morning, as she wearily walked off her plane at Bangor International Airport, Collins stepped out into a terminal gate packed with passengers waiting to board their outbound flight.

She recognized no one. But several of them recognized her and began to applaud.

Within seconds, the whole terminal was clapping, many people rising to their feet as their sleep-deprived senator passed.

Never before, throughout her two decades and 6,300 votes in the Senate, had Collins received such a spontaneous welcome home.

“It was absolutely extraordinary,” she said. “It was just so affirming of what happens when you do the right thing.”

Hope, in this summer of our discontent, springs eternal.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 29 Jul 2017 19:01:20 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Bad call by LePage on cellphones, driving Thu, 27 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 It was a carefree Sunday afternoon. I’d just dropped my daughter off at the train station in Saco and, as she boarded the Boston-bound Downeaster, I headed back up Route 112 in my pickup truck reflecting on her visit, how proud I am of her, how the joys of being a parent never really end …

Then I almost got killed.

As I headed into a long curve in the road, another pickup coming the other way failed to navigate the bend and instead sliced across my lane toward the nearby woods.

Instinctively, I crossed the center line to stay out of its way.

Then, a split second from impact with the first tree, the driver lurched back onto the pavement, unaware that I was by now going north in the southbound lane trying to avoid him.

He crossed back across the road diagonally and returned to his lane. I turned sharply back into mine. Our side mirrors missed colliding by an inch or two.

As he passed, I saw that he had only his left hand on the steering wheel. In his right hand, a cellphone.

He kept going, well above the speed limit. I pulled over, shaking like a leaf.

The whole thing lasted no more than five seconds.

I flashed back to my brush with disaster Tuesday after Gov. Paul LePage told WVOM radio that he planned to veto a bill banning the use of cellphones and other handheld devices while driving in Maine.

Why? Because, LePage said, this bill (and another banning tobacco sales to anyone under age 21) is nothing more than (cue the gasps) “social engineering.”

He added, “I don’t believe that social engineering a society is going to create a good society.”

Let’s pump the brakes on that one for a minute.

The Oxford Living Dictionaries define social engineering as “the use of centralized planning in an attempt to manage social change and regulate the future development and behaviour of a society.”

In other words, social engineering is not, by definition, a bad thing. With it, we evolve as a society. Without it, we can easily end up in a ditch.

Yet here we find ourselves once again, stuck with a governor who throws around fancy terms like a toddler plays with the heirloom china.

He’s oblivious to not just what “social engineering” really means in the context of rapidly changing technology but also to his critical role in ensuring that nothing (or no one) gets broken as cellphones consume larger and larger chunks of our time and attention.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, and passed by strong (but not veto-proof) majorities in both the House and Senate, picks up where the current ban on texting while driving leaves off.

That prohibition, while well-intentioned, has had limited success in making the roads safer. Here’s why:

Let’s assume that the guy who almost creamed me that day was texting. And let’s assume a police officer saw the whole thing and pulled him over.

“Were you texting?” the cop would inevitably ask.

“No sir,” the guy would inevitably reply. “Uhmm … a bee distracted me! That’s right, a big fat yellowjacket! You should have seen him, officer – he was huge!”

LePage wrongly claimed this week that the officer in such a situation could simply confiscate the driver’s cellphone and check for recent activity.

Not true – at least not without a cumbersome court order. And as a lover of the U.S. Constitution, including its Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure, you’d think LePage might already know that.

LePage also argued that “there’s all kinds of other issues that are out there in driving,” such as people eating a sandwich or drinking a cup of coffee or women putting on makeup in the morning.

If the texting law and an existing distracted driving law aren’t working, he said, “let’s figure out why they’re not working and make them work.”

Don’t look now, folks, but it sounds like the governor just called for a little social engineering.

The reason the current laws aren’t working is because they contain a loophole big enough to drive two pickups through: The law still permits talking on a cellphone, dialing on a cellphone, checking a cellphone to see who’s calling you, leaving a voice mail, navigating Google Maps and other activities that don’t meet the narrow definition of “text messaging.”

All of those things can be at least as distracting as texting. What’s worse, they provide an instant – and legal – excuse for having a cellphone in hand when things suddenly go bad.

As in, “No, officer, I wasn’t texting. I was dialing up my buddy’s 10-digit number in California.”

What, pray tell, is the difference?

As for LePage’s claim that other things besides cellphones can distract drivers and cellphone use therefore should not be banned, I would offer what I’ll call the “propane rebuttal.”

If you own an outdoor gas grill, you probably already know how retailers tend to freak out if you walk into their establishment toting an empty, 20-gallon propane tank in search of a refill.

Why? Because propane is extremely dangerous in enclosed places and, as the warning signs proclaim at the store entrance, all tanks should be left outside.

Now, matches also can be dangerous. Ditto for cigarette lighters. So why are they allowed inside stores when propane tanks aren’t?

Because propane poses a far greater risk. Just as handheld cellphones, regardless of how they’re being used, threaten public safety far more than a handheld cup of coffee or a sandwich.

And we all know it.

In a 2015 survey by AAA, 80 percent of the drivers polled said it was completely unacceptable to text or email while driving. Yet 42 percent said they’d read a text or email while driving in the past 30 days, while 31 percent admitted they’d typed one.

Meaning they are deterred neither by their own common sense nor, more significantly, by current laws. That crazy guy in the pickup is still out there, cellphone in hand, a menace to anyone who crosses his path.

So how do we end this madness?

Police can only do so much – and they’re not shy about saying so.

Thus, with veto-override day fast approaching, enhanced safety along Maine’s highways and byways now hinges on our last line of defense – our lawmakers.

Also known as social engineers.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 26 Jul 2017 20:47:48 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Chesterville couple get new home built on community action Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Pam and Joe St. Pierre could be forgiven, as they sit in their drafty, leaky, moldy home on Dutch Gap Road in the small central Maine town of Chesterville, if they occasionally looked out their window and daydreamed of a brand-new house right there in their front yard, beckoning for them to come on in and take a load off.

Except it isn’t a dream.

The airtight, 800-square-foot structure is actually there.

They move in this week.

“I never thought in our lifetime that we’d live in a new house,” said Pam, 64, as the final finishing touches went on Friday.

“Show him the light,” Joe, 62, urged his wife of 43 years. Pam flipped a switch and, presto, an illuminated double-door closet inside what will soon be their new bedroom.

“Look at that,” said Joe, beaming.

Drive through rural Maine towns like this one, just south of Farmington, and you’ll have no trouble finding older couples like the St. Pierres.

Their twilight years have come knocking.

Their housing is, to be kind, substandard.

Day after day, season after season, they fight the good fight against those merciless forces of nature – from the black mold in the crawl space to the ice dams on the leaky roof to the squirrels who gnaw through the soffit boards and steal the damp insulation.

And then one day, a miracle happens.

“I call it a senior reboot,” said Bill Crandall, who manages the Housing and Energy Program for Western Maine Community Action. “Because these guys will start fresh with a new budget, new debt, and a new home. And they can age in place and be very comfortable doing so.”

Nearby, at the end of the dirt driveway, a banner extolled the many and varied entities that, in addition to Crandall’s agency, made it happen: Foster Career and Technical Education Center, John T. Gorman Foundation, Hammond Lumber, Mottram Architecture, Skowhegan Savings, Matthews Brothers Windows and Doors, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chretien’s Construction, Franklin County Government, Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, Maine Made, Sandy River Charitable Foundation and Maine Community Foundation (where, full disclosure, my wife works).

Put more simply, the community did it.

Joe and Pam St. Pierre sit on the steps of their old home in Chesterville. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

It all started two years ago when Pam and Joe, weary of putting out pans to catch the drips from the leaky roof and patching in new flooring where the soggy, particle-board underlayment had finally given way, showed up at Western Maine Community Action to ask about a low-interest loan to replace the roof.

Seeking help did not come easily for these two onetime millworkers – Pam spent more than 20 years stitching shoes at G.H. Bass & Co. in Wilton and then Franklin Shoe Co. in Farmington; Joe worked for three decades making toothpicks at Forster Manufacturing in Wilton.

The mills are long gone. As Crandall put it, “They didn’t leave their jobs. Their jobs left them.”

“We’ve worked very hard all our lives for everything we have,” said Pam, who now works part time at a medical call center in Farmington. Joe worked at various odd jobs until he was sidelined by cataracts, for which he recently underwent corrective surgery.

Yet they couldn’t get the loan. Their house since 1978 – half circa-1972 mobile home, half an addition Joe put on when their third child was born – fell short of federal standards for subsidized home-improvement financing. Way short.

In addition to the myriad structural problems, it took 10 cords of wood and a barrel of oil to heat the place.

And when the pipes froze, as they were fond of doing, Joe would unstack the cordwood piled up around the home, crawl under with a hair dryer, and then restack the wood so it wouldn’t get wet in the snow.

Then there were the constant leaks.

“You can stick a tarp up there and it works for a little while, but it don’t keep it all out,” said Joe, looking up at his soon-to-be-demolished roof.

As part of their assessment of the home, Crandall’s team conducted a “blower-door” test to see how airtight it was – or wasn’t.

“We found there were 21 air exchanges per hour,” Crandall said. “Meaning they heated the home 21 times in an hour.”

It all quickly shaped up as a “walk-away,” a worst-case scenario Crandall has encountered all too often in his eight years with Western Maine Community Action: People come looking for help, but their dwellings are so far gone they don’t qualify for further investment. So the agency has no choice but to walk away.

“We can’t help them with anything,” Crandall said. “And that doesn’t make any sense. We have to go on to someone who has a little better house structure than they do. Meanwhile, we’re leaving these folks stranded.”

Not so for the St. Pierres. Crandall had pretty much run out of options when a light bulb went on.

Working with Peter Thayer, his home repair technician, Crandall contacted George Chimenti, who teaches building construction for the Foster Career and Technical Education Center at nearby Mt. Blue High School.

Typically, the kids in the yearlong building class might build an off-campus garage for someone or construct something at the school – only to have the next year’s class dismantle it so they could reuse the wood and other materials.

Crandall’s proposal: How about having the kids built a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient house? A real home. For real people.

At the same time, he sat the St. Pierres down with a financial planner at the community action agency and hammered out a low-interest mortgage that would allow them to consolidate other debts, roll in taxes and insurance through an escrow account and, most important, have a real financial stake in the project.

“I said, ‘I don’t have a problem with that. We’ve paid for everything our entire lives. It ain’t going to kill us to pay for this, too,’ ” recalled Pam, who along with Joe, now receives Social Security retirement benefits.

Finally, Crandall applied his powers of persuasion to drive down the costs through foundation grants, donated and discounted materials and professionals willing to do work the kids couldn’t at generous rates or, in a couple of cases, for no money at all.

And so it began.

They poured the foundation on Nov. 29 – beyond late for starting a building in a place where they measure the snow in feet.

Then in January, the students showed up – two teams of 11 kids working three-hour shifts on alternating days.

They worked through a harsh winter, shoveling the heavy snow and chipping away at the ice as they raced to get the roof on.

They slogged through a nasty spring with rains seemingly sent from on high to test their mettle.

Then, with the end in sight, they faced the biggest test of all: One of their own, 17-year-year old Daniel Emery of Highland Plantation, died in a single-car accident on June 2.

He was one of a handful of kids experienced enough to work largely on his own. With high school graduation just weeks away, he’d already accepted a job offer from a heating contractor who’d worked on the project.

“A lot of life lessons for those kids this year,” said Crandall. “I mean working outdoors in the real world in the snow, rain and ice and then losing one of their peers. It was a tough road for them – and they came still with smiles and a positive attitude on this place. They really did.”

And their work was second to none.

The new house opens to a large, open kitchen-living room, flanked on the far side by the bedroom and a bathroom-utility room. A trapdoor leads down to a large cellar sealed top to bottom with heavy plastic and tape.

Joe and Pam St. Pierre in the bedroom of their new home. The house was built right on their property next to their old home, where they lived for over 40 years. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

The electrical heat pump and energy recovery ventilation system will reduce the St. Pierres’ air exchange from 21 per hour in the old house to just over three per hour – and only after much of the heat is squeezed from the outgoing air.

And no more spongy floors – every square foot of living space is covered with lustrous wood laminate.

Ten cords of wood per season? Try one – assuming the new, high-efficiency wood stove is needed at all.

There’s still clutter to toss out from the old place, but not the family photos and other mementos that stop Pam in her tracks as she sifts through almost 40 years of a life that’s left her and Joe with remarkably few complaints.

And when the wrecker arrives sometime later this week, memories will pull heavily on the heartstrings – like the time 33 years ago when the snow stopped all of Chesterville in its tracks and for three days the St. Pierres and their three now-grown kids hosted a half-dozen relatives and friends seeking shelter from the storm.

They stoked the wood stove nonstop and, with the power out, played games by the light of kerosene lamps. They cooked huge meals on the propane gas stove.

“We had everyone spread out in sleeping bags and mattresses on the floor,” Pam recalled wistfully. “But we had a good time.”

Added Joe, “And we had a 24-cubic-foot freezer.”

Added Pam, “So nobody went hungry.”

Truth be told, though, they’re more than ready to see the old place come down. They plan to start a garden in its place – their new cellar will be perfect for storing the root crops.

Sometime next month, those who had a hand in building the house will gather there to celebrate their good work.

Late the other night, one of the students pulled into the driveway to show his girlfriend what he’d been laboring on the past six months.

“His house,” mused Joe with a smile. “That’s what he called it – his house.”

After things settle down, the St. Pierres will host a housewarming party of their own with family, friends and neighbors up and down Dutch Gap Road who have cheered them on every step of the way.

“I think the whole neighborhood is as excited as we are,” said Pam.

All because a community – in the broadest sense of the word – saw fit to help this aging couple stay put. It’s a model Crandall hopes to replicate all over Maine.

“It’s not something we’re used to,” said Pam. “But it is nice. It kind of makes me feel that all our hard work all these years has paid off.”

So, when the big day arrives, will Joe carry his bride over the threshold of their sparkling new abode?

Joe laughed out loud. Pam too.

“Yeah,” Pam chortled. “He carries me in and I’ll have to help him hobble out and take him to the chiropractor.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0 and Pam St. Pierre will find their new house quite a step up.Sun, 23 Jul 2017 10:57:44 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Anti-vaccine movement’s disregard for reality poses a threat for all of us Thu, 20 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Its formal name was Rosemary Lake, a small body of water in my hometown to which we kids flocked each summer seeking relief from the heat.

But to this day, I remember it by its ominous nickname: Polio Pond.

To be clear, no one to my knowledge ever actually contracted polio from the murky water – although Dr. Bailot, our family physician, often decried the town-operated swimming facility as a petri dish of childhood infections.

But the name was nonetheless telling: Polio, while on the wane in the late 1950s and early 1960s, still scared the hell out of everyone.

And the vaccine that all but eradicated it in the United States – from tens of thousands of cases to virtually none in a mere decade – left parents far and wide thanking God for this modern-day miracle.

Memories of benevolent old Dr. Bailot, syringe in hand, resurfaced this week with the news that the percentage of Maine children showing up at kindergarten without vaccinations jumped from 4 percent to 4.8 percent over the past year.

No big deal? Guess again.

As Peter Michaud, associate general counsel of the Maine Medical Association and chair of the Maine Immunization Council, told Portland Press Herald reporter Joe Lawlor, the uptick is “extremely distressing.”

It’s also a case study in how times can change. Half a century ago, parents welcomed with open arms the array of vaccinations for polio, measles, mumps, rubella and other serious infectious diseases that had long run roughshod over every level of society.

They had seen what those illnesses could do, how a child could be healthy one minute and paralyzed – or in a tiny casket – the next. To not inoculate your child with these readily available remedies was unthinkable.

No longer. Today, for a small but growing number of parents, the vaccines are the bogeymen. The danger of the diseases they target is overblown. It’s the pharmaceutical companies that are trying to kill us.

They could not be more wrong. Nor could they be more self-centered.

Don’t misunderstand. I have no doubt that these parents love their children as much as my mother loved her four boys and four girls.

But this is not just about them or their kids. It’s about all of us.

Much of today’s anti-vaccine movement stems from “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” a 2016 film that alleges a conspiracy by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to hide a purported connection between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism.

The film has since been discredited from every corner of the scientific community as baseless, fear-mongering propaganda. It was directed by Andrew Wakefield, who lost his license to practice medicine in the United Kingdom because of serious ethical violations in his anti-vaccine research.

Such as? Well, Wakefield never disclosed that while conducting his since-debunked 1998 study of possible links between the MMR vaccine and autism, he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by lawyers looking to sue the vaccine producers.

No matter. Despite that and other transgressions, an anti-establishment star was born.

Which brings us back to those Maine parents who think they’re doing the right thing by not vaccinating their kids and sending them off into the general population.

Two years ago, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would require parents with a “philosophical objection” to vaccines to at least consult with a medical professional before opting their kids out of their preschool shots. He wrote nonsensically that the legislation “unwisely leads the horse to water and tries to make it drink.”

LePage also maintained that, while he personally supports vaccinations, parents who opt out “have as much right to their opinions as the parents who choose to vaccinate.”

Their opinions, however, aren’t the problem here. It’s their blinders.

Many in the anti-vaccine crowd maintain that the danger is overblown – the diseases in question are now so rare that the risk of contracting them is outweighed by the perceived (albeit unproven) risk of vaccination.

But it’s precisely because of decades of vaccination that the diseases are so rare. All of society has benefited from diligent adherence to vaccine protocols – including those parents who now turn up their noses at the needles and say, “None for my child, thank you.”

It’s enough to make my dearly departed mother, and millions like her, turn in their graves.

The simple truth is that the “herd immunity” created by vaccines protects us all, including those with compromised immune systems and other medical conditions that legitimately prevent them from getting their inoculations.

Still, herd immunity is a fragile thing. Chip away at it or, worse yet, create clusters of non-vaccinated children – the number of unvaccinated kindergartners exceeded 20 percent in six Maine public schools during the just-completed school year – and bad things inevitably will happen.

To wit: To maintain herd immunity from the highly contagious and potentially lethal measles virus, a society must vaccinate 96 percent to 98 percent of its population.

But according to a 2016 mathematic modeling study published in JAMA Pediatrics, the population exposed to the virus at Disneyland in late 2015 – an outbreak that eventually sickened 145 Americans – had a vaccination rate no higher than 86 percent and possibly as low as 50 percent.

This for a virus that was declared “eradicated” in the United States back in 2000.

Here in Maine, the first measles case in 20 years was reported last month in Farmington – a female who contracted the virus during overseas travel.

Considering that a whopping 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed to measles end up infected with it, imagine what would have ensued had that patient walked into a kindergarten class where a quarter or more of the students had never received their MMR shots.

And for what?

Because a crusading quack made claims 20 years ago that have never, not once, been backed up by real science?

Because we live in an age when people first decide what they believe and only then seek out the “facts” to back it up?

Because it will never happen to their kid … until it does?

Not too long ago, I drove through my old hometown to revisit my childhood haunts.

Sure enough, Polio Pond is still there. But decades ago, the town actually inserted a separate – and much cleaner – swimming pool into the portion of the lake where our young immune systems once battled Lord knows what.

I saw plenty of kids splashing in the crystal-clear water.

I saw no one swimming on the dirty side.

Chalk one up for common sense.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 28 Jul 2017 08:00:35 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Maine singers’ refrain sends message of finding home Sun, 02 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The heck with the political dissonance. Let’s talk harmony.

Friday morning, while Maine careened toward a government shutdown and President Trump drowned in yet another misogynistic Tweet storm, 24 young women got on a chartered bus in Portland bound for Washington, D.C.

No, they’re not there to march or to chant or to protest all that’s wrong with the world in this summer of our discontent.

They’re there to sing.

“It gives me serenity, it gives me peace. Singing is fun to me,” Nyawal Lia said last week outside the community room of the Riverton Park housing complex in Portland.

Nyawal, 23, is one of the “elders” of Pihcintu – a girls chorus made up almost entirely of refugee immigrants who represent Maine at its finest.

They’ve sung from Harpswell on the coast to Wilton in the western mountains.

They’ve sung for small church groups, for NBC’s “Today” show and for the United Nations’ World Refugee Day.

In a world beset by vitriol and violence that many of them have experienced firsthand, they sing not of war, but of peace, not of enmity, but of love, not of what divides us, but of the common ground we all share.

This holiday weekend, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts celebrates the centennial of President John F. Kennedy’s birth with “2017 Serenade! Washington D.C. Choral Festival.” The assembly of choruses from more than a dozen countries commemorates JFK’s legacy as creator of the Peace Corps.

Estella Mutoni, 15, left, Kethia Ishami, 15, and Doki Yanga, 16, rehearse with the Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus in Portland. The chorus, which is made up of young singers from immigrant families, is performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Pihcintu – Passamaquoddy Indian for “when she sings, her voice carries far” – will represent the United States.

It all started back in 2005, the brainchild of Con Fullam, an accomplished musician, composer and producer known in these parts for “The Maine Christmas Song” and, more recently, the TV show “Greenlight Maine.”

His goal: Gather a group of girls, many newly arrived here in Maine from the most war-torn corners of the world, and give them back the one thing they so often lose along the way: their voices.

Brenda Viola, 17, soon to be a senior at Deering High School in Portland, joined the chorus in January. She grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya, where school was nonexistent and a good day was defined as a single a cup of rice.

Yet through it all, Brenda loved to sing. She still does.

“Pihcintu just reminds me of back home, where I’m from, where I lived,” Brenda said during a break from rehearsal last week. So much so, she confided, that she’ll sometimes find herself blinking back tears as she wraps herself in the songs – the majority of which are composed and written by Fullam.

Con Fullam directs the group at a rehearsal last week. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“It is emotional,” Brenda said. “Every time I remember, it just makes me want to cry. It’s like wow, I am here, but how about my friends who are living back there?”

It’s a common refrain: Joy at being alive, worry for loved ones left behind and an unspoken assurance that here, you are safe.

Here, you can laugh, cry and above all, as Brenda put it, “send a powerful message” about finding refuge in a strange place, about finding a new home.

For founder and director Fullam, 69, it’s long been a labor of love. While Pihcintu has attracted generous financial help in recent years from the Davis Family Foundation, The Lunder Foundation and Wex Inc., to name a few, the chorus still hinges on one man’s lasting dedication, infinite patience and faith that when it truly counts, these girls know how to deliver.

“I’ve never had a good rehearsal with them,” Fullam said dryly after last week’s chaotic run-through. “And we’ve only had one bad performance.”

Once a week, he hops into a small Portland Housing Authority bus and makes the rounds among the city’s subsidized housing projects and other low-income neighborhoods. Guitar at his side, he picks up his young singers, ferries them to rehearsal at Riverton Park and then drops them back home.

“Without that bus, it never would have started because I have always and forever had a massive problem with transportation,” he said. “These kids don’t have parents like those in the suburbs who drive their kids to soccer. I have a lot of parent support in terms of the chorus, but these are refugee people. They’re just trying to survive.”

Fullam estimates that since Pihcintu’s founding, more than 200 girls have cycled through the chorus. Some stay a few years; others never leave.

Nyawal Lia, now a senior majoring in political science at the University of Southern Maine, joined Pihcintu as a shy sixth-grader.

Way back then, she said, it was all about the singing. But then one day, Fullam invited her to speak to a church group in Waterville about her childhood – first in South Sudan and then in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

She told the audience of the genocide sweeping her homeland, of a world few Mainers could imagine. She will forever be grateful for Fullam’s gentle prodding.

“I feel like I’ve known Con my whole life. He’s the first person who has ever given me the opportunity to speak up,” said Nyawal, who will spend this summer as a supervisor for the Muskie School of Public Service’s “Gateway to Opportunity,” a mentoring program for high school students.

“It fits perfectly,” she said. “It’s no longer just singing. It’s advocacy.”

Thirteen-year-old Sandy Truong, above, sings a solo part while rehearsing with the Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus in Portland. At left, Con Fullam directs the group at a rehearsal last week. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Ekhlas Ahemed, 25, originally from Sudan’s Darfur region, joined Pihcintu when she was 17 and a student at Casco Bay High School. Now, with a degree from USM in sociology and international studies, she’s back at her old high school teaching English as a Second Language and overseeing “Make It Happen,” an after-school tutorial and college-prep program for some 180 multicultural and multilingual students.

Ekhlas also keeps an eye on the younger girls – including a few of her students – in Pihcintu.

She’s stayed with the chorus this long, she said, because it “tells my life story.”

How so?

“A lot of the songs we sing represent emotion, represent the stories where we come from, the pain that we suffered,” she explained. “So, for me, the second I start singing, my head right away goes back home and to missing all of my friends, to the memories. And then we come back and sing a different song and I remember all the peace and beauty that we live in here in Portland, Maine.”

Pihcintu’s itinerary this weekend includes three performances – an appearance on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on Saturday (where they first performed in 2014), a concert in Baltimore on Sunday, and, on Monday, the grand finale on the main stage of the Kennedy Center’s majestic concert hall.

Along the way, Fullam undoubtedly will be asked to list the various countries of origin for these world-class singers.

His reply: “Here we go: Iraq, Cambodia, Vietnam, El Salvador, Burundi, North Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, Eritrea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia …”

If the mere mention of such places makes you nervous in these turbulent times, relax. You’re not listening hard enough.

Shy, confident or somewhere in between, these girls and young women are our neighbors now.

And as they ascend to one of the nation’s biggest stages, they’re doing Maine proud.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 01 Jul 2017 22:57:42 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LePage drives Maine toward irrational day of reckoning Wed, 28 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Dear Gov. LePage,

Go ahead. Admit it. Maine’s state government is on the brink of total collapse and you’re loving every minute of it.

I listened, more than once, to your WVOM radio chat with Ric Tyler and George Hale on Tuesday. I tried and failed to detect any regret that, come Friday at midnight, the government over which you preside will shut down for the first time in 26 years.

Instead, I heard anger. I heard bluster. I heard you say, in answer to a slow-pitch softball question from Tyler, that pulling the plug on Augusta is “what I have to do.”

No argument there, Big Guy.

Seven years ago, you introduced yourself to Maine as the politician who hates government. Now, in the twilight of your second term, what better way to prove it than to grind the whole apparatus to a halt.

Yeah, I know. You claim to be digging in your heels against three of the four caucuses in the Legislature, including the Senate Republicans, because only you and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette care about Maine people.

But let’s back up a second here. Last November, a majority of Maine people voted to finally fix state funding for education at 55 percent and to get there by adding a 3 percent surcharge to taxable income above $200,000.

Democrats in both the House and Senate have indicated a willingness to forgo the 3 percent and reduce the extra revenue for education from an estimated $320 million to somewhere around $200 million.

That’s called negotiating. Some of us who voted “yes” in that referendum aren’t wild about it, but it’s how compromise is ultimately achieved.

Republicans in the Senate reportedly have upped their offer to within $25 million of the Democrats, a gap that in normal times would have been closed days, if not weeks, ago.

Again, the Senate Republicans are doing what they’re supposed to do – looking long and hard for middle ground.

Yet here we are, with you and Fredette chained to your hopelessly low-ball proposal of $125 million in additional education funding, your already-defeated demand that Maine’s entire education system be overhauled post haste, your non-starter welfare reforms and (this just in) your out-of-nowhere complaint that land trusts are the cause of rising property taxes.

All of this while the clock ticks inexorably toward zero hour.

“They’re playing chicken with me,” you told your radio pals. “And I’m the worst guy in the world to play chicken with because I don’t veer on either way. I go straight ahead. So, if there’s a collision to be had, it’s coming Friday night.”

Governor, wake up. This is not “Rebel Without a Cause,” the classic 1955 film in which James Dean at least had the sense to jump out of his speeding vehicle while the other guy, his sleeve caught on the door handle, went over the cliff.

This is real life. This will do real damage. This is a road to disaster – both in the short term for those who work for the state or depend mightily on its services, and in the long term for a state whose reputation you’ve already spent the last seven years torching with your far-right flamethrower.

One suggestion: It would be helpful to all parties if you at least spoke coherently.

Instead, you told Ric and George, “They asked me last night, ‘What’s the cost of shutting down?’ The future of Maine. The future of Maine is worth shutting it down.”

Point of clarification, Governor? If the “future of Maine” is the cost of a shutdown, how can the “future of Maine” simultaneously be “worth shutting it down?”

I know, you’re having trouble sleeping. And let’s be honest, if Maine had a dollar for every time you said something nonsensical, we’d be drowning in revenue and everyone would be out stocking up on fireworks for the July Fourth holiday.

Instead, you’re sitting on the mother of all powder kegs, playing with matches.

My guess is that you see this as a can’t-lose proposition.

You either get your way before Friday, which looks highly doubtful at this point, or you seal your legacy as the tough-talking chief executive who rode in on the tea party wave and rode out with nothing but smoldering ruins in your wake.

To some in your base, that’s the ultimate dream come true. If all government is bad and all taxpayer dollars are wasted, what better way to combat it than by blowing the whole thing to smithereens?

But that’s not governing, Governor. That’s political terrorism.

You also seem to think that if and when the smoke finally clears, the consensus will be that this was all the Democrats’ fault, that you’ll walk away with clean hands.

Dream on, Big Guy, dream on.

Remember back in 1991? After then-Gov. John McKernan forced a shutdown by refusing to budge on his demand for worker compensation reforms, legions of state workers and other protesters filled the State House and the park across the street.

“We want his head! We want his head!” they chanted through bullhorns day … after day … after day …

They were talking about McKernan. And a quarter-century later, when that fiasco is recalled, his is the first name that comes to mind.

McKernan, at least, was fighting for something in which he deeply believed. You, on the other hand, have spent the last seven years fighting for the sake of fighting.

You want meaningful school reform?

With an open hand rather than a clenched fist, I suspect you could have achieved it.

You think the 3 percent surcharge is bad?

Don’t just claim that everyone making more than $200,000 is fleeing Maine, as you did once again on Tuesday. Prove it.

Your first priority truly is the average Mainer’s well-being? Then, for once, stop treating us all like idiots.

We can only wait now and see just how far you’re going to take this game of “chicken,” as you so aptly put it.

Will you make good on your threat to take 10 days to veto whatever the Legislature finally produces – and during that time watch real people suffer – out of mere spite?

Will you try to break McKernan’s record of 16 days because, in LePage Land, that will make you Maine’s all-time greatest disruptor?

Are you so stuck to your ideology that you’re prepared to take the ship of state over that fast-approaching cliff?

Move over, “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Make way for “Governor Without a Clue.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:24:32 +0000
Opinion podcast: Is a shutdown inevitable; millennial bristles at avocado toast Tue, 27 Jun 2017 21:45:17 +0000 Is the state shutdown the inevitability that the governor assumes it to be? Editorial page editor Greg Kesich and columnist Bill Nemitz forecast the financial and political fallout from the closure of state services and halting of payroll. They also examine the purpose of the American Health Care Act and how U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ public opposition could affect negotiations.  (Since we recorded, Collins announced her dissatisfaction with the bill and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed the vote until after the July 4 recess.)

Also in this episode, reader Victoria Hugo-Vidal joins Kesich to talk about her letter explaining millennial economics and personal finance. Her frank and funny personal writing earned her the May Letter Writer of the Month crown, which now comes with the offer of a podcast appearance.

Related Stories:

LePage says he believes the government will shut down Friday

Maine Voices: Senate health care bill will put older Mainers, cancer patients at risk

Letter to the editor: Forget avocado toast—many millennials barely surviving

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]]> 0, 27 Jun 2017 19:56:52 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Obamacare’s a lifeline for our smallest hospitals Sun, 25 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Let’s say you live in or near the western Maine town of Bridgton.

You’ve been following this Obamacare repeal business, sort of, and you think you heard something last week about the Republicans in the U.S. Senate finally unveiling a bill that’s supposed to be less “mean” than the one passed last month by the Republican-controlled House.

Now, a question. Have you visited Bridgton Hospital lately?

“Anybody who will listen, I’m talking to,” said David Frum, the hospital’s president and CEO, in an interview Friday. “In the barbershop, I might be getting my hair cut, but I’m still preaching.”

His message: If you’re not paying close attention to what’s happening to health care in this country, start.

And if you’re partial to your community hospital – Bridgton is one of 16 small, critical-access hospitals scattered across Maine that stand to lose big league under the bill released last week by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – you have precious little time to speak up.

“We generally think more people on insurance is a better thing,” Frum said. “Whether it’s a Republican model or a Democratic model or somewhere in between, people being insured means they’re healthier.”

And make no mistake about it. From massive cuts in Medicaid to sky-high premiums on private policies to five-figure deductibles that many Mainers couldn’t begin to pay, the so-called “reforms” circulating on Capitol Hill aren’t just bad news for patients.

They’re a potential death knell for Maine’s small hospitals.

Bridgton Hospital, founded 100 years ago as the Northern Cumberland Memorial Hospital, is no Maine Medical Center.

A tour of the 22-bed facility on Friday took just over 20 minutes. As tour guide Nicki Van Loan, R.N., coordinator for the emergency department, put it: “We’re family. It’s kind of a palpable feeling that you get. We’re happy.”

At the same time, they’re essential.

The hospital logs about 1,100 inpatient admissions annually, while 12,000 people – locals and vacationers alike – seek treatment in its emergency department. Physician office visits number between 35,000 and 40,000 each year.

In addition to the cuts, bruises and those other calamities Nurse Van Loan lumps under “Hold my beer, watch this!” – Bridgton Hospital offers treatment through 17 specialty clinics: a six-chair infusion room for chemotherapy and other treatments, a two-room labor and delivery unit for the 100-plus babies born there each year, a diabetes clinic, medical nutrition, urology … the list goes on.

But here’s the rub: Reduce the number of people coming through the door with insurance cards, as the legislation now before Congress most definitely will do, and some of those clinics will start to disappear.

Drive up the hospital’s “bad debt” via those with no insurance or those with mammoth deductibles that far exceed their ability to pay and, sooner or later, the hospital’s very survival comes into question.

Bridgton, along with the neighboring Rumford Hospital, has been recognized nationally for its efficiency and quality of care. They’re both part of Central Maine Healthcare, which also includes Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, and they both represent community medicine at its finest.

To wit: Last summer, a man who was terminally ill and on palliative care had only one request – and a big one at that – before he died. He wanted to marry his sweetheart.

“So we pulled off, over one weekend, a wedding,” Frum proudly recalled. “The staff found flowers, they got a few key family members together. And it wasn’t a justice of the peace – it was an ordained minister who happened to be the relative of one of our staff members.”

Compare that with being hospitalized an hour or more away in Lewiston or Portland, where everyone is a stranger and visitors are few – if they can make it at all.

Or worse yet, compare it to skipping this week’s infusion therapy, or that life-or-death MRI, because it’s snowing outside and there’s no safe way to get to an appointment, let alone pay the bill.

“There’s a portion of the population that, if the service is not available locally, they just won’t get it,” Frum said.

As threatening as the current political climate might be to the Bridgton area, it’s even more so in the farthest reaches of Maine.

Calais Regional Hospital currently is phasing out its obstetrics department and will shut it down completely by the end of the year.

By the end of this summer, the Jackman Community Health Center will no longer provide overnight emergency service – forcing those in need to drive more than an hour to Skowhegan for help.

And all of that comes before the latest assault on health care – not just in the back rooms of Washington, D.C., but also in a state budget (assuming one ever passes) that cuts Medicaid, or MaineCare, reimbursement rates and ratchets up the state hospital tax.

Jeff Brickman, CEO of Central Maine Healthcare, said in a separate interview Friday that he’s seen the numbers faced by Maine’s most remote hospitals and “they’re quite dire. I don’t know how many of those organizations will be able to survive much longer.”

And should they fall, it won’t just be bad for local folks’ health. The loss of a community hospital – and all the jobs that come with it – also undermines a local economy.

Bridgton Hospital, with close to 350 people on its payroll, dwarfs any other workplace in the entire Lakes Region.

That explains why President and CEO Frum has spent much of his time lately speaking to service clubs, church groups, anyone willing to learn more about this oncoming train wreck.

He urges them, for starters, to get involved: Call Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a pivotal vote in the coming days, and tell her in no uncertain terms that Maine can’t afford to lose Bridgton Hospital – or the 15 others like it.

But in order to do that, Frum said, everyone first must sit up and pay attention.

“Take the time and effort to fully understand the truth,” he implored. “It’s not an issue that can be resolved by a sound bite. It just can’t.”

Sitting behind Frum as he spoke was a large white board, covered with a roughly drawn map of western Maine and all the health facilities in places like Bridgton, Norway, Rumford, even North Conway, New Hampshire.

It was part of a recent strategic planning exercise, Frum explained.

But at the same time, it stands as a stark reminder of how much the “other Maine,” the Maine without a huge medical center minutes away, stands to lose should the Affordable Care Act collapse into a mammoth tax cut for the rich and misery for everyone else.

In the past few years, Bridgton Hospital’s bad debt has more than doubled to $5 million. The hospital is legally required, after all, to treat anyone and everyone, with or without insurance, who comes through the door – but how long can that door remain open?

“In a small setting like this, we truly believe we are a critical asset to a community,” Frum said. “They’re also our neighbors, our family and our friends.”

Forcing a weary smile, he added, “We’d like to have another 100 years.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 25 Jun 2017 07:54:53 +0000
Bill Nemitz: U.S. Capitol changes from the way life should be to armed camp Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 They leaped into the national consciousness last week as bona fide heroes.

U.S. Capitol Police Special Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner, both wounded in Wednesday’s attack by a deranged gunman during a Republican congressional baseball practice, now symbolize our last line of defense against a world gone mad.

They represent law enforcement officers everywhere who don their uniforms each day wondering what awaits them out there, who among the masses might be the next psychopath with a semi-automatic rifle in his hands and murder on his mind.

“I give them a lot of credit,” said Severin Beliveau during an interview in his Portland law office Friday morning. “They’re far better trained than we were back in those days.”

Most people know him as a founding partner of the law firm Preti Flaherty, a former state legislator, a mover and shaker throughout Maine and beyond who long has thrived at the nexus of law and politics.

What few know is that Beliveau, now 79, was once a U.S. Capitol cop.

It was the late summer of 1960. As John F. Kennedy charmed his way toward the White House, Beliveau, then just 22, began his first year at Georgetown University Law Center.

He needed a job to support himself. And he had three choices, all patronage positions controlled by then-Maine Sen. Ed Muskie and Rep. James Oliver.

“Elevator operator, the Post Office and the police department,” Beliveau recalled.

He chose the latter, working the 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift as a guard on Capitol Hill.

It paid well at $100 per week, included uniforms that could double (without the jacket) as classroom garb and offered hours of time at a desk – in the pin-drop quiet of the Capitol building – that Beliveau could spend studying his law books.

He did carry a weapon, although for the life of him he couldn’t figure out why.

“They gave you a gun, a .38,” he recalled. “Then they took you to the White House police range and placed a body silhouette 25 yards away. If you struck any portion of the anatomy, you qualified. On my sixth shot, I got the guy in the knee.”

So much for firearms training. So much for bullets, too – more often than not, when he began his shift, Beliveau left his ammunition in his locker.


“I didn’t want to shoot anybody,” he said.

His duties?

He’d direct traffic from 4 to 6 p.m. out on Constitution or Independence avenues.

He’d chat with then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and Minority Leader Everett Dirksen while they and other legendary lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, poured the whiskey in Johnson’s palatial office at the end of a long day of debating.

He’d even walk May Craig, the legendary reporter for the Portland Press Herald, home to her nearby apartment because “she was a fragile little lady” and much appreciated the escorts by a friendly young man from Rumford.

“Not that there were any problems back then,” Beliveau said. “There were no criminals, no drugs, nothing.”

Not once during his entire nine-month tenure did Beliveau log an arrest. Which was a good thing – his superiors provided him with written instructions on how to write a parking or speeding ticket, but at no point was he schooled in how to take someone into custody.

“The greatest threats were the bums passed out under the bushes,” he said. “We’d prod them along across the street, off into the Metropolitan Police jurisdiction. Then we’d call those guys to come pick them up.”

There were no security stations, no metal detectors, no bomb-sniffing dogs, no surveillance cameras, no machine guns, no automatic lockdowns at the slightest hint – real or imagined – of trouble.

Rather, a law student with a badge greeted late visitors to the Capitol with a handshake, a smile and a wave on through. And if a family on vacation came along, he might take a break from his studies and walk them through National Statuary Hall and then on to the Rotunda.

It was, to borrow an oft-used Maine phrase, the way life should be.

Contrast that with last week.

Special Agents Bailey and Griner, two of more than 2,000 members of a force that numbered not much more than 100 back in Beliveau’s day, were at the baseball practice as part of the permanent security detail for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Scalise remained in critical condition Saturday at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

While others dove for cover under a fusillade of bullets, the two officers ran toward gunman James Hodgkinson, loaded weapons drawn, hollering for him to put his gun down.

Griner took a bullet to her ankle and Bailey sustained a minor, non-gunshot injury before Hodgkinson was finally shot and killed. Had the two officers not been there, many witnesses have said, it would have been a massacre.

“I think the evolution of the Capitol Police department is representative of what’s happened in this country,” Beliveau said. “We’ve gone from a passive guard system to active, professional law enforcement.”

We’ve also become a country where mass shootings – defined by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive to mean four or more victims, not including the shooter – occur at the rate of almost one a day. Wednesday’s was the 154th since the start of 2017.

Will this attack, unlike the hundreds that have preceded it, change anything?

Some say the political bomb-throwing, at least, might give way for a while to a more civil body politic – as it did Thursday evening after Special Agent Bailey threw out the first pitch at the annual Democrats-versus-Republicans baseball game.

But beyond the baseball bonhomie, Washington, D.C., remains, as Beliveau put it, an “armed camp.” Even as his brief stint with a badge, a gun and not a worry in the world remains a gauzy, increasingly distant memory.

“It was collegial. You never felt threatened,” Beliveau said. “Now you go to the Capitol and, because of the overwhelming police presence, you just feel that something’s going to happen.”

Welcome to the new America. Land of the free and home of the wary.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 17 Jun 2017 19:47:53 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Sen. King’s frustration at hearings a reflection of disbelief Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Put yourself in Angus King’s place.

You’re a member of the U.S. Senate, the greatest deliberative body in the world.

You’re looking for answers to questions that go to the core of a scandal rocking our very democracy: Who said what to whom about President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey last month? And when, where and why did they say it?

Yet even as you press ahead, one after another sworn witness from the Trump administration essentially replies, “Sorry, Senator. I don’t feel like answering that right now.”

Now I’ll add my question: In two widely watched Senate Intelligence Committee hearings – one last week and the other Tuesday – was Maine’s junior senator as genuinely ticked off as he appeared to be?

“Yes,” King replied flatly in an interview Wednesday. “I just got more and more irritated that they weren’t answering the questions and had no basis for doing so.”

Some would say that King, whose comfort with the camera goes back to long before he entered politics more than two decades ago, was tailor-made for the daytime TV drama now playing out on Capitol Hill.

Starting a week ago with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers, and then again Tuesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, King has drawn widespread praise for telling it like it is to Trump’s three stooges.

His spot-on message: With no justification whatsoever, they’re turning a blind eye to their legal obligation to answer the committee’s questions about Russia’s involvement in last year’s election, as well as Trump’s tampering with efforts to get to the bottom of it.

Rogers famously told King last week, “I feel it is inappropriate” to testify about his communications with the White House. That prompted a visibly irked King to retort, “What you feel isn’t relevant, Admiral. … Answer the questions.”

Then there’s Sessions, who informed King that he was “protecting the right of the president” to assert executive privilege and keep private all communications in question – even though Trump has asserted no such privilege.

Looking back on Sessions’ bizarre claim, King said, “I fully expected going into that hearing yesterday that the first thing he was going to say was, ‘The president has instructed me, under the executive communications privilege, to not answer questions about conversations I may have had with him.’ I fully expected that. But he didn’t.”

Instead, Sessions and the rest of Team Trump are playing King, the committee and, for that matter, the entire country, for idiots.

And they’re getting away with it – at least for now.

Maddening? You bet it is.

Case closed? Not even close.

As King noted, the intelligence committee’s work in recent weeks has mushroomed far beyond well-documented Russian interference with last year’s election (including troubling evidence that they attempted to attack state election systems).

It now envelops a White House stuck in what King calls a “defensive crouch,” for no apparent reason other than to shield its collective backside from rumblings of collusion and/or obstruction of justice.

King likens it to the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” with Trump blurting out startling revelations one minute, while in the next his underlings hide behind the protection of a “privilege” that is as disingenuous as it is transparent.

Take Sessions, for example. Having recused himself from all things Russian, how can the attorney general possibly explain away his involvement in Trump’s decision to fire Comey – when Trump himself has publicly admitted that he canned the FBI director because of the “Russian thing?”

And how can guys like Coats and Rogers refuse to answer questions without clearance from the White House, even while Coats conceded to King last week, “I’m not sure I have legal basis” for doing so?

Which brings us to the stark contrast between the Senate’s investigation into this burgeoning mess and the one underway – at least for now – by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Theoretically, the Senate Intelligence Committee could find Sessions, Coats and Rogers in contempt of Congress for refusing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But with a Republican majority in control, don’t hold your breath.

Mueller, on the other hand, can charge tongue-tied witnesses with obstruction – or worse. Tell him you don’t “feel” like answering and he’s likely to ask how you feel about a five-figure fine and a few months in the slammer.

“He has tools more readily available,” King said. “He will get at these questions, I suspect.”

Meaning this show has only just begun.

If you’re looking for a sequel to Watergate, in which a clumsy cover-up dwarfed a two-bit crime and brought down a presidency, stay tuned to Mueller. Nothing, after all, gets people chatting like the threat of a grand jury indictment.

But if you’re looking for something “really dangerous,” as King put it, keep an eye on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Of all the things he’s heard (or not) from the executive branch in recent days, King said, perhaps the most galling is its complete lack of curiosity over what exactly Russia did to us last year.

Sessions actually told King this week that, when it comes to the intelligence community’s rock-solid belief that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election, “I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper.”

(Cue good old Sgt. Schultz, from the classic 1960s hit series “Hogan’s Heroes,” as he backs toward the nearest exit: “I see nothing! I know nothing! …”)

“He said that!” King marveled. “That’s what’s so worrisome to me. They’re so focused on defending themselves that they aren’t focused on the threat, which is very, very real and continuing. This is not a one-off. This is not the Watergate burglary. This is a year-and-a-half-long effort by an adversary to infiltrate and interfere with our most basic democratic process.”

Trump apologists, as always, will call this fake news.

They’ll point to people of intelligence and integrity like King and, just as Trump did with Comey, scream “Showboat! Grandstander! Nut job!”

Let them.

Our country is in crisis. And this is no time to stop asking questions.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:30:36 +0000
Opinion Podcast: Budget drama, Governor’s race party shuffle, Angus King’s star turn, and just a little nips Tue, 13 Jun 2017 19:38:53 +0000 Portland Press Herald Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich along with columnists Alan Caron and Bill Nemitz discuss who needs to compromise with who in order to get the state budget passed, do some speculating on how Maine’s undefined political soul could lead gubernatorial candidates to switch parties as they try to get through the primaries, take a teeny, little sip from the nips controversy, and admire Angus King’s litigation skills on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Related stories:

Paul LePage ashamed to be part of ‘this government’

LePage moves to end sales of ‘nips’ mini liquor bottles

Sens. Collins, King question Comey in high-stakes hearing

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]]> 0, 15 Jun 2017 13:02:24 +0000
Bill Nemitz: What’s best for ‘Maine people’ is abiding by their wishes Sun, 11 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Brace yourselves, folks. It’s “Maine people” time in Augusta.

Over the next few weeks, as the 128th Maine Legislature careens toward its legal deadline for wrapping up its business and going home, we’re going to hear a lot from our lawmakers about what’s best for “Maine people.”

For example, Republicans will insist that “Maine people” simply can’t afford a 3 percent surtax on incomes over $200,000 to help pay for public education statewide.

Democrats, meanwhile, will insist that “Maine people” are tired of waiting for the state to meet its 13-year-old obligation to fund 55 percent of Maine’s school costs. Despite last fall’s vote, however, the Dems already have signaled their willingness to dicker on how best to reach that elusive goal.

But here’s the kicker: Even as they wrap themselves in the mantle of “Maine people,” both sides will labor long and hard to ignore us altogether.

The sad irony is that Maine’s people have already spoken.

Remember back on Nov. 8, when “Maine people” went to the polls and passed Question 2 on the statewide ballot?

It couldn’t have been clearer: “Do you want to add a 3% tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education?”

A majority of voters said yes. And with that, as required under Maine’s 109-year-old citizen initiative process, the referendum became law.

At least that’s what’s required under the Maine Constitution.

Six months later, in the above-it-all chambers of the State House, it’s as if it never happened.

Take, for instance, this email blast on Tuesday to the party faithful in which Maine Republican Political Director Joe Turcotte tiptoed around any mention of Question 2 whatsoever.

“One of our most crucial tasks here at the Maine Republican Party is making sure that Democrats are held accountable for every single choice they make,” he wrote. “Right now, a group of Democrats is threatening a government shutdown if they can’t get a massive spending increase.”

See that? The voters didn’t do it – the Democrats did!

God bless the Republicans. They’re holding those dastardly Dems accountable for their “choice” – even if the choice was, in reality, made by 383,428 Maine voters.

And speaking of Democrats and their choices, where are they as push comes to shove and the Legislature’s statutory June 21 adjournment dates looms ever closer?

They could, for once, show the same spines of steel as their Republican counterparts and say enough is enough, we take our orders from the voter. If that leads to a state shutdown, so be it – it will be the Republicans, not the Democrats, who defied the will of “Maine people.”

Instead, House Democrats unveiled a plan last week whereby the 3 percent surtax will be reduced to 1.75 percent and the $200,000 threshold will be bumped up to $300,000.

And oh yes, they’ll make up the difference by tacking an extra quarter-percent onto Maine’s 5.5 percent sales tax and hiking the lodging tax from 9 to 10 percent.

Translation: Rich people get yet another tax break while everyone else digs a little deeper.

The Democrats argue, as always, that theirs is a winning strategy in the long run: By portraying themselves as the adults in the room, the ones most willing to compromise, they will endear themselves to “Maine people” and thus reap political rewards for generations to come.

Two problems here.

First, like the peacemaker in a bar fight, the Democrats will inevitably end up on their collective keister.

Second, this is not their compromise to make.

As Abraham Lincoln once said back when Republicans stood for more than just entitled self-interest, “The people themselves, and not their servants, can safely reverse their own deliberate decisions.”

Not political parties. Not tone-deaf legislators. The people themselves.

There was a time in Maine’s not-too-distant past when citizen initiatives were considered sacrosanct.

Remember back in 1993 when Maine voted overwhelmingly to impose term limits on the Maine House and Senate?

Lawmakers hated it from the get-go. But despite all their grumbling after it passed, they dared not put their own political interests above the explicit desire of so many “Maine people.”

Contrast that with today, when it’s hard to distinguish between a successful citizen initiative – in other words, a passed law – and any other run-of-the-mill piece of legislation.

Ranked-choice voting drew strong support at the polls before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court opined this spring that in general state elections (unlike primaries and congressional elections), it runs afoul of the Maine Constitution.

So what’s a legislator to do? Here are their current choices:

They can do nothing and let the candidates duke it out, post-election, in the courts.

They can pass a constitutional amendment to allow for ranked-choice voting – a heavy lift requiring a two-thirds majority – and dutifully send said amendment back to voters for their consideration.

They can sidestep the constitutional conflict and at least allow elections not covered under the court’s opinion to proceed via ranked choice.

They can hit the “pause” button and study the issue.

Or they can decide voters didn’t know what they were doing last November and, by a simple majority, scrap the entire ranked-choice law altogether.

The only suspense at this point? How lawmakers will manage to repeal ranked-choice voting on the one hand, and claim they’re looking our for the interests of “Maine people” on the other.

The simple truth is there are two moments in our democracy when our will, the real will of Maine people, should trump all else. Actually, make that three.

The first is through the referendum, that extraordinary moment when we bypass the legislative and executive branches and specifically assert, “This is what we, the people, want to do.”

The second is election to office, when we tell a winning candidate, “Go, represent us on matters large and small.”

And the third?

When, having determined they no longer give a hoot what we think, we return to the polls and throw the bums out.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 10 Jun 2017 17:12:19 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Young man’s character already has passed the toughest test Sun, 04 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 If only his mother could see him now.

On Monday, as Gabe Brady graduates from Washington Academy in East Machias and sets his sights on the University of Maine, he’ll bask in the glow of a $2,500 scholarship.

It’s not for academic achievement, although he’s performed well in the classroom.

Nor is for athletic prowess or musical mastery or any of the other talents that typically get kids recognized this time of year.

It’s for character.

“I was forced to grow up much earlier than I should have,” Gabe, 18, said during an interview on Friday in his school’s guidance office. “And I think that after seeing all that I did, I want to help people who are in my shoes. Help kids who have been through domestic violence.”

Gabe is one of four students across Maine who depart high school this spring under the spotlight of Mainely Character. Since 2000, the scholarship organization has awarded $107,000, and counting, to kids who stick out for their courage, integrity, personal responsibility and concern for others.

None is more deserving than Gabe Brady.

He was but 9 years old when, on the night of Feb. 23, 2008, he and his two younger siblings watched their mother’s deranged boyfriend shoot and kill her in cold blood.

Her name was Katie Cabana, although she’s now remembered with the surname Wilder, her mother’s maiden name.

Katie was 29 and a loving mother to Gabe and his younger half-siblings, Autumn and Ethan. But she suffered from bipolar disorder, along with a string of violent relationships to which the kids were all too often the only eyewitnesses.

Gabe became the family caretaker, the protector, the man of the house – if such a thing can be said of a boy at the age of 6 or 7.

But on that awful night nine years ago, when an enraged Richard Widdecombe Jr. showed up at the family’s home in rural Marshfield with a rifle, there was nothing anyone could do.

First Widdecombe shot Katie, who collapsed in the hallway trying to get to her children. Another shot hit 6-year-old Autumn in the foot.

Widdecombe next headed outside, where he shot and killed Aaron Settipani, 41, a family friend who had come to help pull Katie’s stuck vehicle out of a snowbank.

“I ended up grabbing a towel and wrapping Autumn’s foot up,” Gabe recalled with crystal clarity. “There was a lot of blood.”

Before Katie and Settipani died, both had called 911. Gabe called his grandmother, Ray Ann Wilder, long his most trusted first responder.

But Marshfield is close to nowhere. For what seemed like an eternity, there was only darkness, silence and, for two young children and their big brother, sheer terror.

Gabe carried Autumn to his bedroom, with Ethan close behind.

“I tried to get them both under the covers to hide them because I wasn’t sure if (Widdecombe) was going to come back,” Gabe said. “That was probably the worst part of the night – not knowing if we were going to die or not. Not knowing if he was going to come back into the house with the gun.”

Police finally arrived and the rest is that all-too-familiar blur of endless questions, forensic reconstruction and unfathomable grief.

“It was heartbreaking,” said Gabe, recalling how his grandmother and two aunts rushed to the hospital only to learn it was too late – Katie was gone. “But at the same time, I don’t remember being able to cry.”

Police arrested Widdecombe that night at his home in Machias. He eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and now, at age 35, is serving a life sentence at the Maine State Prison.

The three children went to live with their grandmother in nearby Dennysville. That is until Autumn’s and Ethan’s father obtained custody over them after a protracted legal battle and, just like that, they too vanished.

“I haven’t seen them since,” Gabe said, the loss plainly visible in his eyes. “I grew up with them and seeing all this domestic abuse, all this terror, all of my life, they were kind of … I loved them so much.”

He easily could have drowned in his own anger. Like so many men whose hellacious childhoods devolve into violent and abusive adulthoods, he could have gone on to subject others to the same nightmares once inflicted on him.

Not a chance.

Gabe was no older than 10 when, with the help of his grandmother, he began donating his birthday money and other gifts to the Next Step Domestic Violence Project, which covers Hancock and Washington counties.

Through the project, he helped found “Katie’s Quest,” a fund named after his mother that aims specifically to help other kids still trapped in the maelstrom of domestic violence.

More than once throughout his four years of high school, Gabe also has reached out quietly to fellow students whose home lives leave a lot to be desired.

His unyielding message: Domestic violence is the fault of the abuser. Period.

“There’s no excuse,” he said. “No excuse.”

He still grapples at times with depression. And when the hunters fire their guns in the woods around his grandmother’s home, he struggles to keep the flashbacks at bay.

Still, there’s a reason Gabe is the youngest-ever recipient of the Maine Department of Public Safety Bravery Award. Just as there’s a reason he’ll gravitate toward either nursing or psychology when, bolstered by his scholarship, he heads for the University of Maine this fall.

“Those are jobs where you can basically make other people’s lives better,” he explained.

Little wonder that when Mainely Character’s board sat down this spring to review the 200 or so scholarship applications from the Class of 2017, Gabe’s stood out immediately.

As did three others:

Noa Sreden Courtesy photo by Soggydogdesigns

Noa Sreden arrived at Morse High School in Bath four years ago cloaked in self-consciousness due to a speech deficit.

She leaves a confident young woman who founded Shipbuilders Committed, a student organization that strives to build a culture of success for all. She also started YEL!, which matches elementary-age children with high school mentors.

Katie Waeldner Courtesy photo

Katie Waeldner of Yarmouth is all about fighting hunger.

In addition to expanding the Nutrition Closet for her fellow high schoolers in need of weekend sustenance, she helped Yarmouth Community Services launch Lunch Crunch, a weekend and summer program for younger children without enough to eat.

Caitlyn McNulty Courtesy photo

Caitlyn McNulty refused to look the other way when she saw a friend and classmate at Scarborough High School verbally harassed and then physically bullied because she was gay.

Instead, McNulty spent more than a year gaining school approval for the Gender Sexuality Alliance, which provides a refuge for gay students and works to raise awareness around LGBT issues.

Self-motivated kids every one. As Anne Frank once wrote in her diary when she was but a teenager, “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

“You can be a good student. You can get a good job,” said Curtis Mildner, president of Mainely Character’s board. “But these kids are making their community better.”

And, in Gabe Brady’s case, safer.

Among those cheering him on when he ascends the stage on Monday will be Ray Ann Wilder, his grandmother.

In an interview Saturday, she called her grandson “an old soul.”

And yes, she admitted, she’s bracing herself for what will be the most bittersweet of days.

But she’ll see her deceased daughter in Gabe’s face, especially those eyebrows. And she’ll know that out of all that madness almost a decade ago, something truly good has blossomed.

“I’m so proud of him,” Wilder said, “He’s going to be a good man.”

A man of character.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 04 Jun 2017 07:52:33 +0000
Bill Nemitz: An appeal to Ayla’s killer: Listen to your conscience Thu, 01 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 She’s back. More than five years after 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds vanished without a trace, there she was Wednesday once again on the front page, smiling back at a world she no longer inhabits.

Somewhere out there, we can only hope, that photo is driving someone insane.

Ayla Reynolds

The latest news, as always, is maddeningly insufficient: Ayla’s mother, Trista Reynolds, is asking a probate court to formally declare her daughter dead and thus pave the way to a wrongful death lawsuit against the child’s father, Justin DiPietro.

It’s a tragedy most of Maine can recite by now:

On the morning of Dec. 17, 2011, Ayla was reported missing from her grandmother’s home in Waterville, where she’d been staying with DiPietro, his sister, Elisha DiPietro, and his girlfriend at the time, Courtney Roberts.

Police found the toddler’s blood inside the house. But the three adults there all claimed that she’d been abducted during the night and that they saw nothing, heard nothing and had nothing whatsoever to do with her disappearance.

Investigators, who long have assumed that Ayla was the victim of foul play inside the home, don’t believe them. In a statement six weeks after the little girl went missing, Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said the trio’s claim “doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”

Fast forward to a year ago last week. In an interview with the TV show “Crime Watch Daily,” a tearful Trista Reynolds said, “Part of me always wonders if she was yelling out for me and wondering why I wasn’t there to save and protect her like I was supposed to. … It haunts me every day.”

Indeed it must. Grief, especially for a lost child, never fully evaporates.

Nor does guilt. Assuming Ayla was in fact murdered, what do we make of the person who killed her and, to this day, hides in silence?

Put more simply: Can a murderer have a conscience?

Some would say no. Once someone descends into the depravity of taking another person’s life, this thinking goes, the murderer’s only priority is to evade apprehension and avoid a dark future behind bars.

In most cases, that’s probably true.

But not in all cases.

Two months ago, a full 35 years after he killed 13-year-old Carrie Ann Jopek and buried her under a neighbor’s porch in Milwaukee, Jose Ferreira Jr., now 51, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Long a suspect in the case, Ferriera finally snapped in October of 2015. He confessed first to his wife, then to a crisis hotline, a TV station and finally police.

On the day he was to be tried for second-degree murder, Ferreira waived the statute of limitations and accepted a plea deal on two lesser charges – attempted second-degree sexual assault, with use of force, and false imprisonment.

What drove him to confess?

The victim’s mother, Carolyn Tousignant, in a recent interview with the Huffington Post, shared something Ferreira told her way back when her daughter’s remains were discovered in late 1983.

“He told me, ‘Your daughter’s haunting me,’ ” she recalled. “And I believe she was.”

Next up is Steven Goff.

In April of 2013, the 41-year-old mechanic turned himself in to police and confessed to the 1990 murder of Frederick “Ricky” Hart behind a condominium complex in Galloway, New Jersey.

A hunter tripped over Hart’s decomposed body a year after the killing. The cause of the 15-year-old boy’s death: multiple stab wounds.

Alan Rickel, a friend of Goff’s, later explained to ABC News what compelled the confession.

“He said he’d been living with this since he was 17, 18, having nightmares,” Rickel said. “He sees the kid’s mother in nightmares, saying, ‘How can you do this to my family?’ He had a 1,000-pound elephant sitting on his chest. He said that he had to confess, to tell the truth, and meet his maker.”

As Goff himself later put it to the Press of Atlantic City, “I didn’t develop compassion and remorse until I got older.” But when his guilt finally caught up with him, “it tore into me. It tore into me like razors.”

Closer to home, Steven Cutting, then of Palmyra, wasn’t even a suspect in the 1995 murder of 26-year-old William Greenwood of Westbrook.

Yet there Cutting sat 13 years later, confessing to a relative that he’d shot Greenwood after he’d picked him up hitchhiking in Portland and the two got into a fight.

The relative then told police, to whom Cutting repeated his confession. After he eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter, prosecutors said the case would not have been solved had Cutting not put the spotlight on himself.

And now we have Ayla Reynolds. An innocent child who, if her mother’s request is granted at a probate hearing scheduled for September, at long last will be declared legally dead. Forever gone.

My guess is that the person who killed her, whoever you are, knows all about this latest development.

I’ll bet that every time that cherubic face appears in Maine’s newspapers or on the 6 o’clock news, you have to avert your eyes – not out of anguish, but out of pure, unremitting guilt.

And late at night, while the rest of the world sleeps, I imagine you lie awake, trying to outrun those flashbacks that run roughshod over your memory.

If her mother has achieved one thing these past five-plus years, it’s that Ayla will not soon be forgotten.

That picture – the clear blue eyes, the toothy smile, the sheer happiness at being alive – leaves all of Maine with the distinct impression that she’s looking at each and every one of us.

So go ahead, whoever snuffed out that smile. Have the courage at least to look back, long and hard, at the happy little girl who should now be finishing first grade.

May she haunt you every day of your life.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 01 Jun 2017 10:32:14 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Tending to veterans’ graves still important Sun, 28 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Some families celebrate Memorial Day weekend with a cookout.

Others may take in a parade.

Then there’s the progeny of Henry Rivard.

“I want these flags standing straight,” Ron Rivard, 82, told the two dozen people, just about all of them relatives, gathered Saturday morning in the parking lot of the Southern Maine Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Springvale.

Behind Ron on the bed of his pickup sat bundles upon bundles of small American flags. Next to them rested a pile of “pokers,” simple tools designed to make a perfectly vertical hole exactly 16 inches out from the left-front corner of each headstone.

Holding up a poker, Ron instructed, “When you have it in there, do not wiggle it around because you make the hole bigger and the flag won’t be straight.”

Jerry Rivard, 92, Ron’s older brother, couldn’t resist.

“Do you have any levels that we can use?” he asked, tongue planted firmly in cheek, while the rest of the clan erupted in laughter.

Deadpanned Ron, “You don’t know how to read one, so …”

More laughter.

And with that, the family got to work. They had an entire cemetery to honor.

In a 2011 report titled “The Military-Civilian Gap: Fewer Family Connections,” the Pew Research Center found that American families with a direct connection to the military are at their fewest since the peacetime era between World Wars I and II.

The study also showed that veterans tend to beget more veterans and that the more tethered a family is to the military, the more likely they are to go out of their way to help – or honor – others in uniform.

This is not news to the Rivard clan.

Born on March 18, 1892, Henry Rivard served in the Navy during World War I. He came home to Maine after the Armistice of 11 November 1918, bought a 100-acre farm in Springvale and, along with his wife, Laura, raised 13 children – seven boys and six girls.

All seven boys went on to join the military. Twenty more of their offspring did the same.

None died while serving, although oldest brother Don was twice wounded and twice taken prisoner during World War II. An Army infantryman, he and several comrades finally managed to escape and hid high up in a cherry tree while the Germans searched for them below.

“The Germans never looked up,” Ron said. “They were up there for three days in the tree. And when they saw that the Germans weren’t coming back, they climbed back down and hiked 10 miles to Rome.”

Ron served in the Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga during the Korean War and was spared the horrors of combat – most of his tour was spent in the Mediterranean.

Now, more than half a century later, he’s made it his late-in-life mission to honor veterans – from all branches, from all eras, for as long as he can be of service.

“I’m 82, going on 40,” Ron quipped. “When I get old, I’ll probably join the Y and play shuffleboard. But until then, I’m going to be out here working.”

In his hometown of Shapleigh, Ron and two younger local veterans – Dick Langlais and Curtis Mills – mow, weed-whack and otherwise care for the veterans’ plots across 59 private cemeteries throughout the community. Some sit as far as a half-mile from the nearest road.

One grave dates all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Another holds Earlsworth Pillsbury, who fought in the Civil War and soon will be honored with a granite headstone now in the back of Ron’s truck – one of three markers awaiting placement and dedication.

“The pastor of the Baptist church helps me with the genealogy,’ Ron said. “He does the brain work and I do the bull work.”

But for all Ron’s labors, it doesn’t get any better than the last weekend in May.

Since its opening in 2010, the Southern Maine Memorial Veterans Cemetery has seen 935 interments. As the World War II, Korean and now the Vietnam veterans reach their final years, it’s not unusual for the cemetery to host five burials in a single day.

That’s a lot of flags. But Ron, who serves as secretary of the all-volunteer cemetery association, has a lot of boots on the ground.

“We’ve made it a family affair,” said Theresa Ouellette, 90, Ron’s older sister, as she planted flags alongside her niece, Cecile Frye.

Theresa’s two sons were in the Air Force. Cecile’s father (Theresa’s brother-in-law) was in the Army, her younger brother was in the Air Force and his son chose the Marines.

What draws them here when they could be out ringing in the summer?

“It’s a time to get together,” Theresa replied. “And to thank God that all our family came back.”

Marianne Theriault, 85, another sister, paused between flag bundles just long enough to share another incentive.

“We keep busy,” Marianne said, her smile as bright as the morning sun. “We don’t have time to die!”

But time does march onward. As Henry Rivard’s children and great-grandchildren darted from gravesite to gravesite fulfilling the family legacy, Betty Rivard stood by herself off in the distance for several moments, staring at one plot in particular.

There lay her late husband, Urbain, Henry’s fourth son. He served on a Navy destroyer during World War II and passed away a year ago in April.

“It’s hard. It’s been a long year,” said Betty, who met her husband while he was working in the Dominican Republic. “He was a good person – and this is an unbelievable family. Such wonderful people.”

Henry’s sixth son, Richard, who served in the post-World War II Army, is also gone.

As is second-oldest brother Paul, a Seabee in the South Pacific during the war. A heart attack took him in 2011 while he cleared brush from Soldiers and Sailors Park across the street from his home in Sanford.

In addition to Ron, that leaves brothers Louis, another Army vet, and Jerry, who rode as a bombardier on a Navy seaplane in the South Pacific. He remains with his wife, Theresa, on the old family farm, where they still grow and sell fruits and vegetables.

“I was 2 when my father bought it and I’ve been there ever since,” Jerry said with palpable pride. “Ninety years …”

Atop the nearby hill, not far from the entrance to the cemetery, a stone memorial to Henry Rivard awaited its flag.

The large slab notes that Henry left this world on Nov. 11, 1958 – 40 years to the day after the end of World War I. Now known as Veterans Day.

“And he died at 11 a.m.,” said Ron, the hour the armistice took effect.

Ever the organizer, Ron had one more instruction for his small army of flag planters.

“For you who are looking ahead to next year, mark your calendar,” he said. “May 26, 2018, at 9 a.m., we’ll be planting the graves again.”

Jerry, now the family elder, couldn’t let such an order go unchallenged.

“And what if we’re not here?” he called out to more laughter.

His kid brother didn’t miss a beat.

“If you’re not here,” Ron promised, “we’ll be sure to flag your grave.”

Correction: This story was updated at 10:37 a.m. on May 28 to correct the spelling of Cecile Frye’s name.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Frye, left, and Theresa Ouellette place flags at veterans' gravestones at the Southern Maine Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Springvale on Saturday.Sun, 28 May 2017 10:37:04 +0000
Bill Nemitz: After a few misses, LePage nails argument against nips Thu, 25 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Ever heard of the infinite monkey theorem?

It’s a fancy name for the theory that a monkey, pounding away at a typewriter for an infinite period, sooner or later will replicate a great work of Shakespeare or some other literary masterpiece.

Which brings us to Gov. Paul LePage.

Last week, after flailing away at the Legislature for daring to slap a 5-cent deposit on those tiny bottles of liquor, or “nips,” cluttering Maine’s roadsides, LePage stumbled upon a remarkably sound rationale for banning the little buggers altogether.

“The problem isn’t the waste stream,” LePage said in an interview on WGAN’s morning show last Thursday. “The problem is people drinking behind the wheel with the little nips. They throw them out of the car because they don’t want to keep the evidence in the car.”

Eureka. LePage is 100-percent, hit-the-nail-on-the-head correct.

Of course, he did not come by his Shakespeare moment easily.

He got here only after tripping over himself in search of a good reason to veto the Legislature’s overwhelming approval of the nip deposit.

“This is yet another anti-business vote that threatens jobs, increases costs to do business and puts the state’s financial health at risk,” LePage fumed in a prepared statement two days earlier. “Unfortunately, this kind of secretive backroom deal that burdens the taxpayers is what I’ve come to expect.”

See that? Pure babble.

He also vowed to have overseers of the state’s liquor industry remove, or “delist,” any and all nips from retail shelves. That way, he said, “they are not sold in Maine, and fewer of them end up as litter.”

Warmer … but not quite there yet.

Finally, even as his threat undermined the carefully brokered deal behind the legislation, LePage finally said what too few have during this entire, environmentally driven debate: “This issue is drinking and driving. That’s the issue.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have achieved Shakespeare. To tolerate swilling alcohol in automobiles or to not tolerate swilling alcohol in automobiles, that is the question.

Don’t get me wrong. I get as incensed as the next guy when I head out to get the mail and stoop down to collect the latest crop of empty, grimy, sun-bleached nips of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, Jim Beam Bourbon and Black Velvet Toasted Caramel embedded in the roadside sand.

But of more immediate concern than the litter – at least for those of us crossing the street – should be how all those shots-in-a-bottle got there in the first place.

People inside passing cars drank them and threw them out the window. And in doing so, they broke the law not only by littering but also by having an open alcoholic container, however fleetingly, in their moving vehicle.

Oh yes, and there’s a decent chance they were on their way to operating under the influence.

Testifying at a legislative hearing on the deposit bill back in February, Greg Mineo, director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, noted that the state’s agency liquor stores sold 8.4 million nips in 2016.

This year, Mineo projected, those sales will jump to a whopping 12 million of the 50 ml bottles – a phenomenon that he said “exists up and down the East Coast.”

Think about that. A product clearly designed for easy, surreptitious consumption while pulling out of the parking lot of the nearest liquor store finds itself in the political spotlight not because it flies in the face of public safety.

Rather, it’s because the numskulls who imbibe while behind the wheel are cagey enough, as LePage so accurately put it, to immediately chuck the evidence out the car window.

(How careful are they? Of the six empty nips I just picked up within 50 feet of my mailbox, three actually had the caps tightly screwed back on.)

Liquor peddlers and their apologists will tell us that we’ve got nips all wrong: They’re for people who need a dollop of liquor for a food recipe, or people who only drink a little, or people who want to try out a particular brand for 99 cents before investing their hard-earned cash in a 200 ml or 750 ml bottle.

Right. And all those little bottles around my mailbox were dropped by drunken fairies.

Mark Brown, the CEO of Sazerac Co., which bottles Fireball Cinnamon Whisky at its plant in Lewiston, told Senate President Mike Thibodeau in a letter last week that Fireball alone accounts for 50 percent of all nip sales in Maine. (That’s no easy feat – the state liquor website lists close to 350 nip brands.)

What’s more, Brown said, nips sales are on their way to comprising 15 percent of the state’s total annual liquor sales.

“While we could have lived with a 5-cent redemption sticker if the state really thought that would solve the littering problem, we can no longer support the legislation while under the threat of having the 50 mls delisted,” Brown wrote.

Translation: Sure, we’ll help you clean up the roadside. But don’t you dare go after our hottest selling product – even if the lion’s share of it is consumed on the wrong side (wink, wink) of the law.

The simple truth is that, deposit or no deposit, every empty nip lying on the side of a Maine road is evidence of a crime that went unpunished.

And so it will continue as long as nips multiply like weeds and companies like Sazerac entice the dimwitted (or addicted) with website sales pitches like this one for their red-hot Fireball:

“If you haven’t tried it yet, just imagine what it feels like to stand face-to-face with a fire-breathing dragon who just ate a whiskey barrel full of spicy cinnamon. Live it, love it, shoot it – what happens next is up to you.”

Or not, assuming LePage sticks to his guns and, after vetoing the nips bill between now and June 2, then moves to take them off the shelves altogether.

So don’t stop now, Governor. Keep pounding away against the clowns who chase the “fire-breathing dragon” down our highways and byways because … they can.

As Shakespeare himself once put it, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 24 May 2017 23:32:42 +0000
Podcast: Threats to shut down the state and defy the voters, plus why Trump won’t get impeached Tue, 23 May 2017 17:39:21 +0000 Portland Press Herald Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and columnists Bill Nemitz, Alan Caron and Cynthia Dill discuss the State budget and if conflict over the voter-approved surcharge on high-income earners could lead to a state shutdown. Then they weigh in on why some think it’s unlikely that President Donald Trump will be impeached.

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]]> 0, 23 May 2017 13:39:21 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Remembering a math teacher whose lessons still add up Sun, 14 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The text message came from my wife on Tuesday.

“It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week,” she wrote. “Who do you remember most – Brother B?”

She meant Brother Bede, who taught me algebra way back in 1968-69 and, as coincidence would have it, died a year ago Wednesday at the age of 95.

And yes, dear, for reasons that have little to do with integers and a lot to do with integrity, he is to this day unforgettable.

You never know which teachers are going to stick with you as the months turn into years and the years turn into decades.

The young, too-cool-for-school teachers often fade as we reach and then surpass their age when we knew them. Yes, they were a blast to be around – but what did they actually teach us?

The taskmasters, if we remember them at all, remind us now of a bad boss. Checking every box and following every instruction to the letter might get you an A – but what did you learn about the balance between getting the job done and cultivating relationships with those around you?

Then there were teachers like Brother Bede.

He arrived at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, Massachusetts, a year or two before I enrolled as a freshman in 1968. Standing there at the head of the class that first day in his black cassock, he made an indelible first impression the moment he opened his mouth.

He had a slight speech impediment, compounded by the heavy Boston accent acquired from his childhood days – back when he went by Richard Joseph Benn – in Somerville.

“Brother Bede” thus sounded more like “Bwuddah Bede.” And as he introduced himself and talked about the year ahead, many of us strained to understand exactly what he was saying.

But we got used to it – along with his many other disarming attacks on the language.

“Square root of” became “scootz-ah.” As in “Ten, multiplied by scootz-ah 36, is 60. Got that, gentlemen?”

“Smash” became “smatch.” As in, “Keep up that talking, Billy Nemitz, and I’m going to smatch you!” (As if the man would ever hurt a fly.)

You’d think, in this sea of adolescent insecurity, that Brother Bede would have been an easy target for those who saw nothing wrong with snagging a cheap laugh at his expense. And, truth be told, some kids did.

Yet the mimicry never fazed him as he walked through each day with that eternal, other-worldly smile on his face.

It seemed he knew every kid in the school – and there were close to 1,000 of us – by first name.

When he said hello, it wasn’t just a robotic greeting for the masses with whom he crossed paths each day. Rather, you walked away with the buoyant thought, “Wow, he seemed really happy to see me.”

His motivational speeches were short and not always sweet, but how could you not laugh out loud?

“Don’t shake your head ‘no’ like that,” he’d advise a stumped student midway through class. “We can all hear the rocks rolling around up there!”

Me? I’ve never been a numbers person. As my peers sprinted through algebra, breezed through trigonometry and analysis and set their sights on calculus, I struggled from the get-go – and Brother Bede knew it.

“Let’s try it again,” he’d say patiently after class, as we perused my botched homework assignment. “See here, ‘x,’ which in this case is 12, minus ‘y’ which is scootz-ah-4, which is 2, times ‘c’ cubed, which is 9 times 9 times 9, which is 729 … so that gives us 7,290. OK now?”

“Holy (expletive),” I’d silently marvel. “How did he do that so fast?”

Brother Bede had great respect for the rules of mathematics, although that didn’t stop him from editorializing.

Take what was then called the “new math,” promulgated in the early 1960s by the School Mathematics Study Group, or SMSG. Also known, at least to Brother Bede, as “Some Math, Some Garbage.”

He was, like so many great teachers, a perpetually open book.

And then, as we began our junior year, he was gone. Not to another assignment at another Xaverian Brothers-run high school, but to the Lakota Sioux Rosebud Indian Reservation in the far reaches of South Dakota.

He would teach there, both at the small St. Francis Mission school and later at Sinte Gleska University, for the next 23 years.

A world away from the comfortable confines of suburban Boston, it was nonetheless a fitting destination.

The Xaverian Brothers, or Congregation of St. Francis Xavier, were founded in 1839 in Belgium by Theodore James Ryken, who previously had spent three years traveling in the United States and resolved to create a mission here to educate Indian children.

But when he finally returned in 1854, Ryken instead focused the budding order’s efforts on Catholic schools, largely populated by immigrant children, in such places as New Orleans and Baltimore.

Now, more than a century later, here was Brother Bede devoting what would be a third of his adult life to Native Americans who came to cherish him as much as we had. He became their friend, their teacher, their spiritual adviser and, for many a child born in those years, their godfather.

I got the news via a letter to alumni last May. After returning to Massachusetts in 1993, Bede had gone on to teach for another 16 years at Malden Catholic High School – where he’d previously taught a half-century ago. Finally in 2009, just shy of 90, he retired to the Xaverian Brothers Residence in Danvers.

At the time of his death just over a year ago, he was the oldest surviving member of the Xaverian Brothers congregation. And, as the tributes poured in, perhaps the most beloved.

“Brother Bede brought passion, dedication and energy to every aspect of the Malden Catholic community,” wrote U.S. Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, class of 1964. “He was an inspiration to us all.”

Gene Trainor, who worked alongside Brother Bede at my high school and went on to become a Roman Catholic priest, would second that.

“He was no Uriah Heep!” wrote Gene in an email last week, referring to the Dickens character notorious for his false humility.

Recalling the day the entire student body, and then the entire faculty, bade Brother Bede farewell with a loud, sustained and heartfelt standing ovation, Gene wrote: “I was so struck by how this simple-living man was profoundly loved. And he never had to work at it. … His humility became him.”

More than once over the past year, I’ve watched and rewatched a short video produced by the Xaverian Brothers four years ago.

In it, Brother Bede, unchanged but for the gray-white hair, spoke with quiet reverence about his faith, his surprise at having lived so long and his daily prayer that when the time came, he’d be ready.

“I always tell people the good ones die young, you know,” he quipped with a self-deprecating chuckle. “But it’s good, yeah.”

Indeed it was good. As he is impossible to forget.

So, better late than never, Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, Brother Bede.

And thanks for not smatching me.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 14 May 2017 16:52:43 +0000
Bill Nemitz: With nation’s faith at stake, this isn’t the time for caution, Sen. Collins Thu, 11 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 She has a decision to make. And with history’s fault lines spreading out beneath her feet, Sen. Susan Collins best make it sooner rather than later:

Should Maine’s senior senator, already no friend to President Trump, join the call for a special prosecutor to investigate Russian involvement in last fall’s election, now that Trump has abruptly given James Comey the heave-ho as FBI director?

Or should Collins stand fast with her fellow Senate Republicans and insist that Comey’s firing on Tuesday – only the second in FBI history – need not divert this entire mess toward an independent counsel?

“I need to do more research on it,” Collins said in an interview Wednesday. “Obviously, this took me totally by surprise and so I haven’t looked at this issue for years. … I just am not able to give you an answer to that yet.”

Let’s be fair. There are times when such caution is a virtue.

Now let’s be rational. This is not one of those times.

To accept Trump’s claim that he had Comey’s walking papers hand-delivered to the FBI because the director was too rough on Hillary Clinton is to surrender once and for all to the alternate universe that has enveloped the White House these past 112 days.

The man is lying. And with each revelation that undercuts his claim – The New York Times now reports that Comey had just asked for more resources in his search for possible connections between Trump’s campaign and the Russians – Trump looks less like a president and more like a dictator slip-sliding his way toward political oblivion.

Asked if she believed Trump’s claim, by way of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that Comey’s loose lips vis-à-vis Clinton’s emails render him unable “to effectively lead the bureau,” Collins said, “I don’t know what was in the president’s mind.”

But, she added, “If President Trump believes that somehow removing Jim Comey from the job is going to stop the FBI from completing its investigation, or the Senate Intelligence Committee from continuing its investigation, he is completely mistaken.”

Hear, hear. Still, completing investigations is one thing. Finding the cold, hard truth, alas, can be quite another.

The plain reality now is that the entire Department of Justice, including the FBI, is under a cloud.

Yes, the FBI investigation goes on. But no, we can no longer have faith that the fruits of its labor, however rotten they may be, will lead to criminal prosecutions if warranted.

How can we, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuses himself from all things Russian in one breath, only to call for firing the guy overseeing the Russian probe in the next?

As for the investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, on which both Collins and Sen. Angus King sit, Collins said the pace is only now picking up after weeks of slow going.

Asked to identify the major obstacles thus far, she replied, “It has been difficult to negotiate, with the intelligence community and with the FBI, access to all the individuals and documents that we need.”

Note the word “negotiate.” Special prosecutors don’t negotiate. They compel – and those who stonewall or play cute with them do so at their own legal peril.

Beyond the push and pull among the investigators and their potential targets, there’s an even more compelling reason to anoint a special prosecutor. In fact, Collins herself made that argument quite convincingly as she pondered her next move.

While she has total confidence in Deputy AG Rosenstein, who has served for 26 years in both Democratic and Republican administrations and now presides over the Russia probe, Collins said his reputation might not be enough for a public now aghast at Trump’s latest bombshell.

“I recognize that the public may feel that anyone who’s high up in the Justice Department is somehow tainted,” she conceded. “It’s the timing of the president’s decision and the chaos that has been caused.”

Ah, yes. The timing: All of the transgressions articulated in Rosenstein’s now infamous memo on Comey took place long before Trump took office on Jan. 20.

Yet the memo is dated Tuesday, the same day Trump lowered the boom on Comey.

So inquiring minds now ask: Is Rosenstein indeed the Boy Scout that Collins maintains, or did he get caught up in, as Angus King has suggested, “a solution in search of a rationale?”

Collins, once again, at least grasps the dilemma.

“Let’s say that the Justice Department gets the recommendation from the FBI and decides that there should not be indictments in this case,” she said. “The question for me is, even if that’s the right decision, will the public perceive it as the right decision? Or will they perceive it as a politically tainted decision?”

Let me go out on a limb here and vote for “politically tainted decision.”

The more Collins spoke, the more she sounded like someone trying to talk herself into a decision fraught with political peril.

After all, only one of her Republican Senate colleagues, Sen. John McCain, had by late Tuesday called for a special committee to probe the Russian connection – an option Collins rejects because it would take at least six months just to duplicate the progress already achieved by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Collins, long assailed by critics who say she talks a good game of bipartisanship only to falter when the time comes to truly stand alone, could change that perception right now. Not with a vote (the decision on a special prosecutor rests with Rosenstein alone), but simply with her voice.

She could continue plugging away from her seat on the Intelligence Committee and, at the same time, ensure that if crimes were committed against our electoral system, they will not be suppressed beneath the weight of Donald Trump’s pathological paranoia.

She could, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell be damned, do the right thing.

“I have a lot of confidence in (Rosenstein) as being professional, a straight shooter, a career prosecutor. The question is, will the public have confidence in him?” Collins wondered aloud. “That’s why I’m looking at those guidelines (for appointing a special prosecutor) – to see whether we’ve reached the tipping point.”

We have indeed, senator. That sound you hear is democracy fast going down the drain.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 11 May 2017 06:59:45 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Earbuds are fitting symbol for ever-silent Rep. Poliquin Sun, 07 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Bruce Poliquin should have stayed in the restroom.

For those who haven’t already heard, the Republican congressman from Maine’s 2nd District fled toward a U.S. Capitol ladies’ room on Wednesday when a persistent reporter tried to ask for his position on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

A short time later, after correcting himself and scurrying into the men’s room, Poliquin hastily emerged wearing earbuds – his clumsy add-on to a pre-existing condition that has afflicted him since the day he first arrived in Washington, D.C.

The poor guy apparently can’t hear, let alone answer, tough questions.

On the same weekend that former President Obama rightfully receives the 2017 JFK Profile in Courage Award, Poliquin stands, now and forever, as Maine’s own profile in political cowardice.

Just as he spent most of last year dodging queries on whether he supported then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, Poliquin literally hid behind his silence for days rather than tip his hand on the euphemistically titled “American Health Care Act.” Or is it the “American Health Care Ax”?

Then, after the moment of truth finally arrived Thursday and Poliquin quietly fell in line to narrowly approve this legislative abomination, what did he do?

Did he fly home, book space at the Portland International Jetport and welcome in the media for a face-to-face briefing?


Did he at least set aside enough time to tackle any and all inquiries about what he did and why he did it?

Wrong again.

He simply put out a statement that was as self-serving as it was misleading: Under this measure, “essential benefits” and “pre-existing conditions” would still be “fully covered,” he promised.

What he failed to acknowledge was that people who are old or sick (or both), should they experience a lapse in coverage, could easily be priced out of an insurance market that is now, by law, blind to those infirmities.

Then, rather than follow up with a full-fledged news conference, Poliquin opted for a phone call with the members of Maine’s media. Some only learned of it indirectly and at the last minute on Twitter.

For those who managed to patch into the call came this twist: Only selected TV reporters could ask questions. The rest were instructed beforehand to keep their traps shut.

Over and over, Poliquin insisted that the Republicans’ repeal-and-replace bill will only impact Mainers who “have Obamacare policies” – as if the health of those 80,000 or so of our neighbors somehow doesn’t count among what he called the “serious problems that are affecting Maine people.”

He’s wrong. In supporting this bill, Poliquin also voted for an estimated $800 billion in Medicaid cuts that would cost Maine’s neediest upward of $1 billion over the next 10 years.

He also said “yea” to scrapping the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all insurers provide 10 essential health benefits, ranging from maternity care and emergency room visits to mental health treatment, prescription drugs and laboratory work.

Access to those services will now be left for the states, two-thirds of which are controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, to decide.

What else didn’t Poliquin talk about?

Well, he dodged the painful truth that he and his Republican colleagues rammed the bill through without at least waiting to hear from the Congressional Budget Office about how much it will cost and how many millions it will leave uninsured.

(Spoiler alert: The last CBO count, before the legislation lurched further to the right, was 24 million.)

Not a peep about how, under this plan, emergency rooms will once again fill up with sick people who waited too long for treatment and can’t possibly pay their bills.

Total silence on the fact that smaller hospitals in rural areas, which must provide that emergency treatment regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, will find themselves in critical financial condition – assuming the hospitals survive at all.

And, oh yes, we’ve yet to hear the congressman’s thoughts on the tax cut the bill awards to wealthy Americans – of which he is one – both on their income and their investments. (Perhaps he could donate his windfall to the National Association of the Deaf?)

Poliquin’s phone chat lasted all of 15 minutes. In keeping with his the-less-I-say-the-better approach to representing Maine’s oldest and poorest region, it was just enough to let him off the hook.

Contrast that with Rep. Chellie Pingree, the Democrat from Maine’s 1st District. After releasing her statement denouncing the Republicans’ “reckless” action, she invited a media throng to her Portland office Friday morning to talk for as long as they wanted about what all this means for a state with the highest median age in the nation.

She decried what she called “a gift to insurance companies” and “about a trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest people in our country.”

Pressed at one point to comment specifically on Poliquin’s vote, Pingree demurred. While she strongly disagrees with the Republican’s position in general, she said, “You can ask (Poliquin) for his thoughts” on why he voted the way he did.

Except we can’t. And even if we could, he’d bolt for the nearest bathroom.

Among the health advocates joining Pingree at the podium was Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association. He called the Republican bill “a huge step backwards” in making health care accessible and affordable to all Mainers.

“In this bill, the losers are the poor, those who are sick, those who are old, and women,” Smith said. “And in the state of Maine, we have a lot of all four.”

Noting that he’s spent considerable time recently in northern Maine, Smith said the aging communities in those areas “are not in good shape.” Nor, he noted, are the health care providers.

“I don’t know why Congressman Poliquin and I see it so differently,” Smith mused.

No one does. All we can hear is the sound of toilets flushing.

It’s worth noting that next year around this time, Poliquin will be hard at work trying to get himself re-elected – or, if some rumors pan out, attempting once again to weasel his way into the Blaine House.

Either way, here’s hoping that the majority of people he represents, like the rest of the country, will by then have pushed the political pendulum away from blind ideology and toward their own self-interest. That they will at least have started to feel the real pain embedded in whatever emerges from this travesty still in the making.

Put more simply, Bruce Poliquin can and will run.

But unlike his trip to the biffy last week, he’ll have no place left to hide.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 08 May 2017 11:35:26 +0000
Podcast: Bruce Poliquin’s vote, time zone shuffle, and the Katahdin monument Fri, 05 May 2017 17:04:28 +0000 Portland Press Herald Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich along with columnists Bill NemitzCynthia Dill, and Alan Caron discuss three big stories from the week: the House passing the American Healthcare Act and why Rep. Bruce Poliquin kept his vote secret until game time, a provisional vote in Maine to have us join the Atlantic time zone if Massachusetts and New Hampshire do the same, and Gov. Paul LePage’s oppositional appearance in Washington D.C. to discuss the economic impact of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.


Rep. Poliquin supports health bill, says only 7% of Mainers affected. Facts show otherwise

Maine House votes to join Atlantic time zone, if New Hampshire and Massachusetts do the same

LePage, advocate offer dueling testimony in Washington on Katahdin-area monument

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]]> 0 over 87,563 acres, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument could pull the surrounding area out of its economic malaise by offering diverse recreational pursuits.Mon, 08 May 2017 09:08:48 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LePage just can’t get over Katahdin national monument Thu, 04 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 She couldn’t live any farther from Maine. But U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, sure has a clear view of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

“This is a very unusual situation,” Hanabusa observed Tuesday from Capitol Hill. “Because first of all, let’s all be clear: The 87,500 acres is originally private. In other words, your family foundation is who purchased those lands, correct?”

“That’s right,” replied Lucas St. Clair, representing the Quimby Foundation.

“So, unless I’m mistaken,” Hanabusa continued, “I don’t believe Maine has a law … that would somehow allow Maine to tell you what to do with your lands.”

“It does not,” replied St. Clair.

“Because if you were to still hold it, you could deny access completely, isn’t that correct?” asked the congresswoman.

“We could,” St. Clair agreed.

And that, in a nutshell, captures the utter absurdity of the campaign led by Gov. Paul LePage to undo President Barack Obama’s decision eight months ago to set aside the Katahdin tract for all of posterity.

One last time, let’s review the obvious:

Nobody stole the land.

It was bought at fair market value, St. Clair later noted, “from the timber industry, from willing sellers, and we were willing buyers.”

No government entity seized the land.

The Quimby Foundation, as St. Clair testified, “worked long and hard to put it into the public trust.”

And nobody wants to close off the land.

To the contrary, St. Clair told the Federal Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, it’s the only national monument that allows hunting and snowmobiling – a gracious nod to those in northern Maine who weave such activities into the fabric of their lives.

From there, it only gets better. St. Clair explained to the committee how the Quimby Foundation, created by his mother, Roxanne Quimby, has already spent between $8 million and $10 million “rebuilding roads, widening roads, building bridges, building viewpoints, bathrooms, campgrounds, boat launches, et cetera, to make it available for the public.”

What’s more, the foundation has endowed the monument with $40 million for future upkeep because, St. Clair explained, “we’ve seen the backlog of maintenance in other national parks and recognize that they needed to be supported both by the federal government, but also by the private sector.”

So why, with all the challenges facing this state, this country, this entire planet, are we still having this discussion?

Because Gov. LePage’s perpetual anger requires constant fueling, that’s why.

He’s the grumpy old neighbor screaming at the kids to stay out of his backyard – only it’s not really his yard and the kids are full-grown tourists with adventure in their souls and money in their wallets.

This week’s long-anticipated showdown stems from President Trump’s recently ordered review of 26 monuments established by Obama and other past presidents. Ironically, Kathadin is not on the list because it’s too small.

Nevertheless, for two-and-a-half hours, this politically charged piece of real estate occupied center stage. Simultaneously, lawmakers saw Maine at its best and its worst.

In one chair sat St. Clair, poised, polished and well-prepared to fend off tiresome attacks on what by any reasonable measure represents the height of forward-looking philanthropy.

Two chairs down sat LePage, sullen, sour and scornful of any suggestion that northern Maine’s future might hinge on something other than its free-falling pulp-and-paper industry.

During one such myopic moment, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, asked Maine’s governor, “What percentage of your state’s income is based on tourism?”

“I … couldn’t tell you that, sir,” replied LePage. “Between tourism and pulp-and-paper, I’d say tourism probably has a slight edge.”

A slight edge? Try telling that to the paperworkers no longer making paper – or the hoteliers and restaurateurs desperate for more chambermaids and wait staff.

Last month, the state reported that Maine tourism industry revenues grew 6 percent, to $6 billion in 2016 – the fourth annual uptick in a row.

By contrast, the Maine Pulp & Paper Association announced in January that it was going kaput after 50 years. Its stated reason: “As the number of Maine pulp and paper mills have decreased, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain sufficient membership.”

Yet LePage insisted to the committee that the paper industry is poised for “big growth” in tissue, paper towels and wax paper and “I think we should be in the forefront of it.”

Let’s accept, despite all those shuttered mills, LePage’s prediction of the second coming of Paul Bunyan. How does the relatively minuscule Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument stand in the way of that?

It doesn’t. It won’t. It is, to borrow from Maine’s seafood industry, a red herring.

Back to St. Clair.

“This is not a zero-sum game” pitting paper against tourism, he calmly testified. “This is a region that has lost 5,000 jobs in the paper industry in the last three decades. And so attention needs to be brought to the region, both for new forest-products industry jobs and for tourism.”

Back to LePage, who swatted away the increased tourism argument by dividing Maine into two regions – the tourist-clogged coast and the “mosquito area.”

Two problems here.

First, the notion that Maine mosquitoes all live inland is an insult to Maine’s ubiquitous coastal blood suckers.

Second, LePage earlier had testified that Baxter State Park, cheek-to-jowl with the new Katahdin Monument, “is one of the greatest wilderness parks east of the Rocky Mountains.”

Tell us, Governor, how can that be if Baxter sits smack dab in the middle of Maine’s “mosquito area?”

The simple truth here is that the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, controversial as it may have been in recent years, is one of the best things to happen to northern Maine in a long time.

As St. Clair testified and as multiple independent reports in recent months have shown, good things are already sprouting from the monument in the form of increased visitors, rising real estate values and business growth.

At the same time, polling now shows strong support for the monument both statewide and in northern Maine.

In short, it’s working. And the sooner LePage accepts that and moves on, the better for all.

Wrapping up her questioning of St. Clair on Tuesday, Rep. Hanabusa of Hawaii spoke about how, in her tiny state, private-public collaboration is the key to preserving “legacy lands” for generations to come.

And so, she told St. Clair, “I wanted to end by saying thank you.”

As should we all.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 04 May 2017 12:46:04 +0000
Podcast: Trump’s first 100 days, and how to pay for Maine schools Fri, 28 Apr 2017 17:48:44 +0000 Portland Press Herald Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich and columnists Bill Nemitz and Cynthia Dill discuss three big stories of the week: President Trump’s 100-day review, the Maine House’s debate over the best way to raise money for the state’s education system, and the U.S.’s role and responsibilities when it comes to escalating and cooling foreign conflicts.


Trump now says being president harder than he thought

Bill Nemitz: In debate over school tax, LePage’s latest gaffe makes a big difference

Two U.S. troops die battling Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan

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]]> 0 proposal before the Legislature would give Maine schools flexibility to enforce truancy laws on enrolled students younger than 7. Reducing absenteeism starts with tracking missed days and working with parents. school bus student childFri, 28 Apr 2017 14:39:07 +0000
Bill Nemitz: In debate over school tax, LePage’s latest gaffe makes a big difference Thu, 27 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 It will be, over the next two months, the mother of all debates:

Should the powers that be in Augusta accept the will of voters, who decided in November to boost education spending via a 3 percent surcharge on taxable income over $200,000?

Or should they ignore the electorate and simply repeal it?

In this corner, we have those who say the people have spoken and, well, enough said.

In that corner, we have folks who argue that the poor voters knew not what they were doing, that the income-tax add-on will spell ruin for a state already on the economic ropes.

Then, way out there, we have Gov. Paul LePage. He just makes stuff up.

Monday evening, after a whirlwind day of bashing the education surcharge in Augusta, LePage headed all the way up to Fort Kent for a town hall meeting.

Among those waiting for him there was Chris Hallweaver of Van Buren, a smart guy with a smart question.

Now that Maine has a healthy surplus after years of whacking away at state government, Hall asked, why is LePage handing it over to the wealthy? Why squander the surplus on yet another proposed income-tax cut and repeal of the 3 percent surcharge, rather than invest back into the state’s economy?

Break out the number crunchers, folks. We’re going into the weeds.

LePage responded to Hallweaver that, thanks to last fall’s referendum, “anybody who makes $200,000 family income, in the state of Maine, pays 10.15 percent, the highest income tax.”

Countered Hallweaver, “No, that’s not correct, because 3 percent of that is only on the incremental revenue above 200,000.”

Advantage Hallweaver: Under the new law, the 3 percent surcharge applies only to taxable income over $200,000. Anything under that is subject to Maine’s pre-existing marginal tax rates, which top out at 7.15 percent.

Now, if we’ve learned one thing about LePage these past seven years, it’s that he’s never found himself in a hole he can’t dig deeper.

“It’s for the full $200,000. It’s 10 percent of the full amount, sir,” the governor retorted. “It’s not incremental, it’s the top dollar. Once you hit $200,000, you are paying 10. If you’re paid $200,001, you are paying 10.15 percent after your deductions. Sorry, that’s the way it works. That is the way it works.”

Sorry, Governor, but that’s not the way it works. And you either know that and are deliberately spreading falsehoods to further your political agenda or you have no business talking tax rates without a certified public accountant whispering in your ear.

LePage’s gaffe makes a huge difference:

The way he spun it on Monday, a Mainer with taxable income of $200,001 would pay 10.15 percent in state income tax on the entire amount. That translates into a whopping $20,300 tax bill.

In reality, however, that person would pay Maine’s marginal tax rates, up to 7.15 percent, on the first $200,000 – along with 10.15 percent on that extra dollar. That’s an estimated $13,192 in state income tax – plus a dime for that extra buck.

Meaning in this case, LePage overstates the surcharge’s impact by more than $7,000.

Hallweaver, in an interview Tuesday, also expressed dismay at LePage’s repeated claims that doctors, lawyers, scientists and other highly paid professionals are fleeing Maine in droves to avoid the 3 percent surcharge.

“In my office this morning, we had hundreds of letters that we gave to the press from the people that had left,” LePage told the crowd.

Hundreds of letters?

Try 37 – including 22 that were actually directed to the governor’s office and another 15 that were submitted to the Legislature as written testimony back in February.

And what exactly do these letters say?

Not one came from someone who actually has left Maine.

Six were from people who said they’re either planning to leave or at least thinking about it.

Eight more said they knew of someone either leaving or considering it. (One writer, for example, was told this by a stranger he met on a plane.)

Some of the remaining letters, while not announcing any moving plans, were nevertheless telling.

“I am tired of people who do nothing to improve their situation, dipping into the pockets of those that do,” complained a veterinarian in Scarborough. “It may be a small amount of luck that gets you ahead, but I’m sure you know that it is more about sacrifice. … I pay more taxes just by earning more money. FLAT TAX!”

A woman from Cape Elizabeth suggested that indentured servitude might balance the scales: “If we have to bear this burden, what are others’ forced contributions? Janitorial services? Volunteer time, maintenance? Nothing. The proverbial finger has been pointed at us while everyone else is clear of obligation. This is infuriating.”

(The proverbial finger? How about the actual finger that LePage & Co. have pointed at Maine’s poor for the past seven years?)

Then there was the widow from Wales who apparently thinks society’s obligation to public schools should fall primarily on those with school-age children.

“Many of us don’t even have children in this system and many have many children and get plenty of welfare,” she wrote. “Enough is enough for this small state.”

What makes LePage’s latest public relations blitz so unfortunate is that there is a legitimate debate to be had here over the 3 percent surcharge.

It was passed, after all, by voters who for more than a decade have watched the state renege on his statutory obligation to fund 55 percent of the cost of education statewide.

Were they hoodwinked, as critics now claim? Or were they simply fed up with a system that always seems to favor those lucky Mainers who live in the land of six (or more) figures?

At the same time, a smattering of the letters in LePage’s paltry pile, while not from professionals bidding Maine bye-bye, are from corporate executives who warn that the surcharge will make it tougher to attract highly paid employees and keep them here.

To be sure, these execs speak out of self-interest – assuming their taxable income falls somewhere north of $200,000. But they nevertheless deserve to be heard.

LePage could encourage this debate. Heck, in a perfect world, he could enhance it with real facts, real figures, maybe even real people.

Instead, he once again undermines it with claims that are blatantly untrue.

And he tops that off with an alleged mass exodus from Maine that’s heavy on fear and light on fact.

Mused Chris Hallweaver after the governor’s latest performance, “Very powerful stuff, fake news.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 26 Apr 2017 23:30:24 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Scholarships awarded at birth mean no child left in a bind Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Earlier this month, Colleen Quint traveled up to Lewiston to buy a growler of beer for a friend at Bear Bones Beer. She had on a vest bearing the logo of the Alfond Scholarship Foundation.

“The young guy pulling the beer has tats running up and down (his arms) … he’s got the cork thing in the ear,” Quint recalled.

As he poured, the bartender stopped for a moment and squinted at the tiny logo on Quint’s vest.

“Do you know anything about that program?” he asked.

Quint happens to be president and CEO of the foundation. For the last four years, it’s awarded a $500 college scholarship, no questions asked, to every child born in Maine.

“Yeah,” Quint replied to the tattooed beer guy. “I’m involved with that.”

“That is the best thing,” he said. “My daughter is 4 months old and we are so excited about that. And we’re telling all of the family she doesn’t need toys, she doesn’t need clothes. What she needs is her future.”

Pausing at the tap once again, he looked Quint in the eye and said, “It’s a really important thing you’re doing.”


Three years ago in this space, we celebrated the news that the Alfond Scholarship Foundation had taken its Harold Alfond College Challenge universal – meaning parents, rather than formally apply for a free $500 kickstarter grant for their newborn’s college fund, automatically had their child enrolled in the program simply upon registration of the baby’s birth.

The money, which at current rates is expected to grow to between $2,000 and $2,400 by the time today’s newborn reaches 18, can be used to pay for any qualified higher education expense (as defined by the Internal Revenue Service) at any accredited postsecondary school in the United States. The recipient has until the age of 28 to use it, or it goes back to the foundation.

“Think of a family living in rural Maine in a trailer somewhere and the kid gets to be 17 years of age – and they’ve got 2,400 bucks in the bank for something. And they can’t do anything with it except to look for higher education,” said Greg Powell, president of the overarching Harold Alfond Foundation. “Having it there, year after year, for 18 years – the studies are proving that it will change the way parents feel about the future of their child.”

Let’s go to the numbers.

Since its founding as a pilot program in 2008 and the switch to automatic enrollment starting in 2013, more than 70,000 Maine children now have Alfond Scholarship Foundation college savings accounts in their own names.

Taken together, those funds now represent an investment of $35 million – and growing.

Add to that the matching funds being kicked in by parents, relatives, some employers and others and, as of the end of 2016, the total investment now exceeds $70 million.

Noted Powell with a knowing grin: “Harold Alfond loved matches.”

Indeed he did. The late Maine industrialist-turned-philanthropist’s legacy is deeply woven into the fabric of Maine’s higher education community, from large campus buildings adorned with his name right down to the toddlers, buoyed by an Alfond scholarship, who will one day walk those very hallways.

Until now, the scholarship program has centered its outreach on the website, which remains up and running to welcome the 12,000 or so infants born in Maine each year.

But the original recipients are now in second and third grades. Noted Quint: “We figure as kids get older, they’re not going to be interested in a website called ‘500forbaby.’ ”


Operated through the Finance Authority of Maine, it’s a place where parents (and children, as they grow older) can easily access their account and check their current balance. At the same time, they can explore setting up a tax-deferred NextGen college savings plan alongside the Alfond account.

Some will undoubtedly scoff at all of this. They’ll point to the soaring price tags for four-year, private college – many now at or beyond $250,000 – and say, “What’s the use? It’s going to take a lot more than $500 in seed money from the Harold Alfond College Challenge to climb that mountain.”

A few important points:

For starters, said Quint, recent reports show that upward of 80 percent of Americans currently enrolled in higher education pursue something other than a four-year, residential degree.

Translation: Applied to a public university, a two-year community college degree or a welding certificate program, that $2,400-plus college savings account becomes a lot more significant – both in getting one’s foot in the door and lowering debt load upon graduation.

(Speaking of debt, it’s also worth noting that the Alfond Foundation recently unveiled a debt-relief program whereby students who work in science, technology, engineering or math jobs in Maine for at least five years will qualify for up to $60,000 in relief from outstanding college loans.)

Powell also notes that the costs of many elite, liberal arts colleges cannot keep skyrocketing forever. He envisions models, by the time many of today’s infants turn 18, whereby the intellectual content developed by such institutions will be much more widely available through individually targeted, online learning.

“I am by nature an optimist,” Powell said. “And what I would say is 18 years from now, the cost of higher education will be much, much lower.”

Now let’s look beyond the number-crunching.

Equally as vital as the actual $500 grant is how the Harold Alfond Scholarship Challenge taps into what Quint calls the “aspirational piece” of the higher education equation – particularly for parents who wish only the best for their children, but are hesitant to say so for fear of raising expectations that they might not be able to fulfill.

The Alfond account signals to that parent, in the most tangible way possible, that “someone else believes in my child. Someone sees potential in my child that I see as well,” Quint said.

Hearing that at the time of a child’s birth, she added, is “an incredibly powerful thing.”

Need proof?

Mounted on the wall in a meeting room at the Alfond Foundation is a huge banner full of handwritten messages from parents to their children.

The foundation saved the mural from the days when parents had to enroll in order for their child to get a $500 grant – these particular messages were scrawled during a sign-up event at a shopping mall.

“To Isaac,” reads one, “Dream big, work hard and the future is yours. Love, Mom and Dad.”

Thanks to Harold Alfond and those who strive to keep his name alive, every kid in Maine now hears that message starting on Day One. And lo and behold, it’s working.

Just ask the beer guy.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 22 Apr 2017 18:23:23 +0000
Podcast: The 2018 gubernatorial race starts to take shape Fri, 21 Apr 2017 14:12:43 +0000 Portland Press Herald Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and columnists Bill Nemitz and Cynthia Dill discuss the week’s news, including the first official entry into the 2018 governor’s race, the disturbing case of Anthony Sanborn Jr., and Bill O’Reilly’s departure from Fox News.


Prosecutor facing scrutiny over 1992 murder trial agrees to testify

Veteran, attorney Adam Cote files to run for governor as Democrat

Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News Channel

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]]> 0, 27 Apr 2017 14:07:39 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Justice removes blindfold that masked facts in Portland murder case Sun, 16 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 If it weren’t true, it would be the punch line to a bad joke: Have you heard the one about the guy who served 27 years for a murder in which the sole eyewitness was legally blind?

Yet it’s true. Right here in Portland, Maine.

And now that Tony Sanborn, 44, is a free man out on bail, the state has some explaining to do.

Thursday’s bail hearing in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court would have been stunning enough had it ended simply with the bombshell revelation about Hope Cady’s eyesight.

The state’s star witness testified way back in 1992 that she saw Sanborn, then 16, viciously kill Jessica Briggs, also 16, on the Portland waterfront while Cady watched from a distance.

One problem: Cady suffered from a progressive eye disease that rendered her legally blind, meaning her vision likely was too poor to match her story.

But then this happened:

“Were you down at the pier that night?” asked Amy Fairfield, the attorney who has worked doggedly for the past year to get Sanborn a long-overdue fair shake.

“Not that I can recall,” testified Cady, who was a 13-year-old ward of the state at the time and lived mostly on the streets.

“But you’re certain that you did not witness the murder,” said Fairfield.

“Certain,” replied Cady.

And why, asked Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber in follow-up questioning, did Cady not come forward sooner?

“I was scared,” she said.

Scared of whom?

“Those detectives,” Cady replied.

That would be retired Portland police Detectives James Daniels and Daniel Young, who helped then-Assistant Attorney General Pamela Ames put Sanborn behind bars all those years ago.

The same detectives who, along with Ames, now owe Sanborn, the court and the people of Maine some answers about how they did – or failed to do – the job society expected of them.

To read Fairfield’s 102-page motion to grant Sanborn’s bail – the precursor to her motion to have his conviction thrown out entirely – is to witness a process in which an at-all-costs guilty verdict now appears to have trumped the truth.

It describes how Cady and other witnesses, mostly street kids already known to police, were cajoled, coerced and outright compelled to implicate Sanborn or else they too might find themselves charged with a crime.

Evidence favorable to Sanborn, which by law must be turned over to the defense in its entirety and without delay, was surrendered in dribs and drabs. Or, when it came to Cady’s documented history of vision and hearing problems, it was withheld altogether.

Take, for example, this tidbit involving Gerard Rossi, another witness who claimed Sanborn had confessed to him multiple times. Or did he?

Rossi, older than Sanborn and already on the police radar for allegedly having sex with underage girls, made his claim about Sanborn confessing in an unrecorded interview with Detectives Young and Daniels in March of 1990.

But the day before that, Rossi told a Florida deputy sheriff in a taped interview – over and over and over again – that Sanborn had made no such confession to him.

“He never told me nothing outright,” Rossi told the deputy while the recorder rolled. “Listen, I’m telling you the truth. He never told me.”

And what happened to that tape?

“I put the tape in a box with other case files,” said Daniels in an affidavit submitted to the court last week. “I had never listened to it.”

Nor would the prosecution turn the transcript of the tape over to the defense until February of 1992 – almost two years after the interview took place.

Why the delay?

“It was an oversight and housekeeping issue with case management for which I take complete responsibility,” Daniels said in his affidavit.

Right. Just like Daniels failed to listen to the tape the moment the Florida detective gave it to him because “I did not take it as relevant.”

According to Fairfield, Rossi ultimately fingered Sanborn for one very good reason: In exchange for his testimony against Sanborn, the prosecution team promised, he’d be off the hook when it came to any charges involving sex with the young girls.

The detectives’ response?

Daniels: “Det. Young and I have both made it a personal policy not to make any promises to anyone.”

Young: “I have never made a deal in any criminal case and in fact often tell defendants that only the prosecution can talk to them about a deal.”

Young went on to say he did not recall “the facts about Gerry Rossi or any other witness, however, any issue of threats to a witness are not true and never occurred.”

How convenient. He can’t remember all of the facts involving Rossi, but he hereby swears that any and all allegations of coercion are not true.

The unraveling goes on and on. More than a dozen times in their affidavits, the two detectives use the phrase “I don’t recall” or the equivalent.

But trust them, they now tell us, their investigation was by the book and virtually flawless.

And where is former prosecutor Ames in all of this?

Assistant AG Macomber, who served as her second in the Sanborn trial, told the court last week that Ames, now a private attorney in Waterville, hadn’t had time to prepare an affidavit of her own in time for the hearing.

(When I called Ames’ law office on Friday, the woman who answered the phone told me to “Have a nice day” and hung up.)

So where does this go from here?

Well, Macomber cryptically claimed in court last week that he may have to recuse himself from further proceedings because he has firsthand knowledge that Cady’s recantation is false and he thus may have to so testify as a witness.

But even if she is now lying, Cady’s credibility is shot. Ditto for two other prosecution witnesses whose affidavits were submitted to the court by Fairfield last week – a woman who says she “lied on the stand” and a man who says his statement to police, made under duress, was “99-percent false.”

All of which adds up to one inescapable conclusion: This case stinks to high heaven. And the sooner the court vacates Sanborn’s conviction and offers him a full apology, the better.

Perhaps more astounding than last week’s courtroom drama, after all, was the grace – and utter lack of bitterness – that Sanborn displayed as he wiped away his tears, embraced his family and supporters and traded in his jail jumpsuit for a set of everyday clothes.

In all his time in prison, even as he steadfastly maintained his innocence, not once did Sanborn commit a disciplinary violation.

Rather, as Fairfield told the court, he’s served almost half of his 70-year sentence as a “model prisoner,” tutoring his fellow inmates, counseling those in crisis, even volunteering to train at-risk shelter dogs in need of a second lease on life.

In short, Fairfield told the court, the man convicted of murder has behaved like a “saint.”

Back in 1993, before Sanborn was sentenced, Nicholas Trout, a volunteer at the then-Maine Youth Center, wrote a letter to the court expressing how “shocked and deeply saddened” he was at the guilty verdict.

Trout had met weekly with Sanborn for more than two years. Throughout it all, he wrote, Sanborn “displayed an uncanny optimism that the truth would see him out of jail.”

Now, more than a quarter-century later, the truth is finally emerging.

Anyone can see that.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 16 Apr 2017 10:07:26 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Getting pardon from LePage not as easy for human Thu, 13 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 When it comes to evoking the sympathy of Gov. Paul LePage, Sarah Whynaught suffers from one distinct disadvantage.

She doesn’t bark.

“We all have to own up to what we did – and most of us do,” Whynaught said Wednesday. “But if a dog gets a second chance, then why can’t I?”

She’s 51 and lives in the western Maine town of Peru. Long, long ago, before she singlehandedly raised three children to be fine, upstanding citizens, before she started her own business, before she earned not one, not two, but three college degrees, Whynaught became a convicted felon.

But she’s no Dakota, the combative Husky who late last month fetched what may well be the first gubernatorial pardon of a dog in Maine history.

Try as she might, Whynaught can’t persuade LePage to grant her a pardon and thus help her get off the often-maligned “cycle of dependency” and on with her life.

Her story:

Way back in 1990, after growing up an only child in the tiny town of Bryant Pond, Whynaught fell in with a bad crowd in nearby Rumford.

They did drugs. They bought and sold drugs. And when a task force of local, state and federal law enforcement officials finally moved in, there was Whynaught with a quarter-ounce of cocaine in her possession.

She pleaded guilty to furnishing a schedule W drug, a Class C felony. She served 11 days at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, paid an $850 fine and successfully completed 18 months of probation.

Fast forward to 1998. Pregnant with her second child, Whynaught and her boyfriend found themselves under siege from a previous boyfriend who would sometimes show up at her home with a baseball bat.

The second boyfriend, fearing for his life, brought an unloaded handgun into the home – unbeknown to Whynaught – and hid it in the drawer of a bedroom night table. No ammunition, mind you, just a gun to pull out as a deterrent should ex-boyfriend go completely off his nut.

Enter the police again – this time acting on unsubstantiated claims that Whynaught was again dealing drugs.

They found not a speck of drugs. But they did find the gun – prompting them to charge Whynaught with being a felon in possession of a weapon. Another felony.

Whynaught, fearing a long prison term, again pleaded guilty. That got her 16 days in the Oxford County Jail, a $450 fine and another clean stretch of probation.

In the ensuing years, she had another child and singlehandedly raised all three kids to be model citizens. No drugs, No arrests. No trouble whatsoever.

She supported her family by building a summer rental business on property she inherited from her father in Bryant Pond. Life was, at long last, good.

But then the financial collapse hit in 2008, leaving Whynaught suddenly under water on a mortgage and investment property she’d picked up along the way.

“I lost everything,” she recalled. “So at that point, I decided to put myself through school.”

She earned an associate degree in digital communications, followed by a bachelor’s degree in business systems, both online from the University of Phoenix.

When it came to finding work, though, the two degrees weren’t enough to counterbalance the two felony convictions. So Whynaught enrolled at Kaplan University in Lewiston and got her master’s in business administration.

Since then, her life has been an endless procession of resumes, hopes raised and dreams dashed.

“I’ve applied and applied and applied for jobs,” she said. “I’ve had great interviews.”

But then, near the end, prospective employers invariably ask if she’s been in trouble with the law. Whynaught always answers yes, explains what happened and, with that, the job goes poof.

So there she sat in late 2015, volunteering at her local food pantry while living off disability payments stemming from a serious car accident that shattered her ankle 17 years ago.

She and her youngest, a 17-year-old daughter, also receive $148 per month in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and $198 per month in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

Proud of how she’d forged ahead with her life yet frustrated with the perpetual roadblock to employment, Whynaught gathered all her records, hired a lawyer, and applied for a pardon to the Governor’s Board on Executive Clemency.

She thought she was a good candidate – and others thought so, too.

“Sarah has done well in educating herself and doing her best to become a creditable person,” wrote state Rep. Fran Head, R-Bethel, in a letter to the board. “She has worked very hard to turn her life around and I believe she should be given every consideration in this clemency decision.”

Echoed Whynaught’s counselor at the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Vocational Services, “Sarah wants to work and have a career and would shout it from the rooftops if she thought anyone would listen.”

But despite those and other endorsements, the board said no. As did LePage after Whynaught sent him a two-page letter expressing her sincere belief “that I am a worthy candidate for a second chance in life.”

“I want to know that if I grant a pardon, the recipient is truly worthy of it,” LePage wrote back. In her case, he concluded, “my decision to deny you a pardon stands.”

Whynaught knows better than to try again as long as LePage is in office. (Petitions for a pardon can be resubmitted after a year.)

Still, she wonders how he can prattle on as he does about the need for welfare recipients to get out there and get a job, only to turn a deaf ear when she pleads with him for help in doing exactly that.

“The governor wants everybody to go to work. Well, here I am,” she said. “If anybody wants to get off the (welfare) system, it’s me.”

Back to the dog.

Imagine Whynaught’s surprise when she turned on the news two weeks ago to find that LePage had granted a “full and free pardon” to Dakota. A judge had ordered the Husky from Waterville put down after it attacked and killed a neighbor’s dog and later went for the throat of the same neighbor’s new pup.

That action, like so much of what LePage does, was of dubious legitimacy at best.

On Wednesday, Waterville District Court Judge Valerie Stanfill flat-out ignored LePage and ordered the dog put down within 48 hours – the decision is now on hold pending the dog owner’s appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

It’s all a bit much for Whynaught.

Last year, upon being told by the governor that she was not pardon-worthy, Whynaught asked her lawyer about going public with her story – not just for herself, but for others like her who have earned another chance.

Her lawyer’s response: “Don’t rock the boat.”

“But to give a full pardon to a dog?” Whynaught said. “You know what? I’m going to rock the boat.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 13 Apr 2017 10:23:13 +0000
Bill Nemitz: It’s a sure bet that casino proponent rigs the deal Sun, 02 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Say what you will about casino flipper Shawn Scott, the man knows how to write a bio.

“He is a visionary who sees value where others do not, and understands how to formulate plans that unlock that value,” reads the nugget under Scott’s name on the website of Bridge Capital LLC, the Saipan-based-firm that wants to bring another casino to Maine.

Scott, who more than a decade ago brought us Hollywood Slots in Bangor and immediately sold it for a cool $51 million, sees value where others do not, all right. And Lord knows he’s adept at unlocking that value.

But here’s the part he doesn’t brag about: When it’s all said and done, that value tends to end up in his pocket.

Last week, in what was unquestionably one of the wackier hearings in recent memory, the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee gathered to talk about the citizens initiative that calls for a new casino in York County.

Not just any casino, mind you. The measure headed for the statewide ballot in November is worded in such a way that Shawn Scott, and only Shawn Scott, can build this money-sucker.

So where was Scott when the committee decided to hold its hearing on Wednesday?

My guess is that he was sipping an umbrella drink on his island in the western Pacific, paid for by the fortune he siphoned out of Maine back in 2004.

That’s when, upon spending a few million dollars to obtain voter approval of the state’s first casino in Bangor, Scott immediately sold the place to the gambling behemoth Penn National and vamoosed with his mega-jackpot.

Which brings us to Dan Riley, an attorney and lobbyist from Portland.

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, an email dropped into Riley’s inbox informing him he was now the paid mouthpiece for Bridge Capital.

Off Riley went to Augusta, where he would be the only person to speak in favor of the York County casino initiative. Sort of.

“This is one more example of the current law providing an investment opportunity and that’s, as I understand it, what my client has been involved in – taking advantage of that investment opportunity,” Riley told the committee.

Beyond that, it being his first day on the job and all, Riley wasn’t able to say much.

“This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Augusta,” said the committee’s House chairman, Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, in an interview Friday. “Sitting in there, you feel a little bit powerless because our options are pretty limited.”

He can say that again.

The casino referendum made it to this fall’s ballot via Horseracing Jobs Fairness. Over the past two years, the shell signature-gathering organization has spent more than $4 million trying to ram another casino down Maine’s throat.

(When it comes to outright deception, the group’s name hits the trifecta: There’s nothing requiring the casino to be anywhere near a horseracing track. Its promise of 800 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs has no factual basis whatsoever. And since when is anything having to do with casino gambling fair?)

Because it’s a citizens initiative, the Legislature can only approve the proposal outright (fat chance), pass it on to the voters (a sure bet) or come up with a competing measure to appear alongside Scott’s on the November ballot (more on that in a minute).

So why have a committee hearing at all?

Because, Luchini explained, he and his co-chairman, Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, at least wanted to shed some light on who’s behind this thing. Prior to Wednesday, the $4.2-million money trail behind Horseracing Jobs Fairness began and ended with Lisa Scott of Miami, Shawn Scott’s sister.

“We all suspected that (Lisa Scott’s) brother and one of his corporations were behind it secretly,” Luchini said. Still, he added, “I was surprised they took this approach and came out and said they were.”

Maybe that’s because back in January, the state of Massachusetts slapped Bridge Capital with a $125,000 fine – the state’s second largest ever – for not revealing that it was funding a referendum to build a casino in Revere. That measure failed last November by a whopping 61 percent to 39 percent.

So at least now we know, for the record, that Shawn Scott is at it again.

We also know that if he succeeds in slipping this one past us, he’ll immediately collect his winnings from the highest bidder for his York County casino rights and laugh all the way back to Saipan.


Because, as a 2003 report for the Legislature noted, Scott avoids answering the tough questions, has questionable business connections and presides over companies “which have demonstrated sloppy, if not irresponsible, financial management and accounting practices over the years.”

More recently, there’s the seizure in 2015 of a Bridge Capital casino by the government of Laos over alleged corruption there, which prompted this quote of the week from co-chairman Mason at Wednesday’s hearing: “I would just say that if the government of Laos thinks you’re corrupt, we have a major problem.”

Bottom line, Scott is adept at getting casino proposals on ballots. But he’s far from casino-worthy.

“Once you admit that these guys are behind it, then there’s really no other option but to flip it,” noted Luchini. “Because these guys would never get licensed in any state in the country.”

Some say this is yet another example of how badly the Legislature has blown it when it comes to casino gambling in Maine.

Without a statewide, carved-in-stone policy on all casino gambling here, the argument goes, we’re perpetually vulnerable to characters like Scott and their highly paid, shamefully deceptive (yet ultimately successful) signature gatherers whose only objective is to get their scheme on the ballot.

Luchini begs to differ.

“When they say we lack a policy, I take issue with that,” he said. “Because in Maine, the policy has always been we don’t want casino gambling. That’s a policy in and of itself.”

Fair enough. Perhaps, then, the problem lies in how easily outside interests circumvent that no-casino policy and line their pockets by manipulating Maine’s citizens initiative process.

But that’s a debate for another day. For now, let’s double back to that competing-measure option that the Legislature still could deploy.

My suggestion?

Put an identical casino proposal on the ballot, with one extra caveat: If the measure passes, the “visionary” Shawn Scott must stay put and work in the facility’s parking lot.

“That,” Luchini laughingly agreed, “would be perfect.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 01 Apr 2017 16:32:04 +0000
Podcast: Paul LePage evolves on healthcare. Casinos again? Trump changes politics, but how? Fri, 31 Mar 2017 16:44:05 +0000 Portland Press Herald Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and columnists Bill Nemitz, Alan Caron and Cynthia Dill start by talking about Paul LePage’s apparently fluid views on healthcare as expressed in recent radio interviews. They wonder if America can get a real independent investigation into Trump’s Russia connections and from whom, How Post-Fact politics will change the country and re-shape the political center, and finish by previewing upcoming columns about tipping, casinos and reasons for optimism.

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]]> 0, 31 Mar 2017 12:45:55 +0000
Bill Nemitz: How can we throw away perfectly good food? Fri, 31 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 “Eat your plate,” my mother used to say. “No dessert until you eat your plate.”

She didn’t mean the actual plate, although that didn’t stop me and my seven siblings from occasionally putting on goofy faces and mock-chomping the family dinnerware.

She meant the food. All of it. Right down to the last wayward pea.

I remembered Mom’s mealtime mandates this week upon reading that South Portland and Scarborough soon will become Maine’s first municipalities that collect food waste, separate from the rest of the trash, at the curbside each week.

The pilot programs aim to divert the household food waste from our rubbish stream and ship it to an “anaerobic digester” in the northern Maine town of Exeter, where it will be converted into electricity, compost and animal bedding.

Fascinating stuff. But here’s the part that hit me like an overripe tomato: According to a 2011 study by the University of Maine, 28 percent of Maine’s household trash consists of food waste.

That’s a ton of food waste. Or, to be more accurate, about 150,000 tons per year.

Granted, not all of it is edible – at least by 21st-century American standards: apple cores, eggshells, coffee grounds, potato peels, the “garbage” list goes on and on …

But what about that quarter-full box of stale crackers? The hot dogs that are a few days past their “sell-by date”? The bluish-looking lump in the rear of the refrigerator that started off as leftovers but morphed into a paving stone?

How often, and how easily, do we take a sniff or a tentative nibble, make a face and chuck it in the trash?

Put more bluntly, when it comes to the millennia-old correlation between having enough food and living to eat another day, do we have a clue how lucky we are?

For the past six years, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has studied food loss and food waste globally. Its findings paint a stark contrast between the world’s haves and have-nots.

In the United States and Europe, the FAO reports, consumer food waste – that is, food that makes it to your kitchen or pantry but is never actually eaten – averages between 210 and 250 pounds per person each year.

Compare that with sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia, where per capita food waste runs between a paltry 13 and 24 pounds per year.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we all start gnawing on cantaloupe rinds or creatively squeeze one more serving out of that fuzzy thing in the Tupperware container.

But as the Natural Resources Defense Council notes in “Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill,” the relatively low cost and widespread availability of food in this country clearly “has created behaviors that do not place high value on what is purchased.”

Meaning we don’t plan well enough when we buy food, we’re haphazard when we store it, and, the moment it begins to look even a half-shade less than perfect, we have no qualms whatsoever about giving it the heave-ho.

“That’s so far removed from my thinking, I can’t even relate. I just can’t even fathom that,” Dixie Shaw said. “I can’t even imagine that people would throw away perfectly good food.”

Shaw runs two food banks in Aroostook County for Catholic Charities Maine. She’s an expert at finding perfectly edible food that retailers and farmers might otherwise throw out and funneling it to needy families via 24 food pantries scattered throughout northernmost Maine.

One of her biggest peeves? Those “expires on” or “use by” warnings, stamped on everything from a box of Triscuits to a jar of Ragu, that far too many people take far too seriously.

“It’s nothing but a marketing tool because they want you to buy more,” Shaw said. “People sucker right into that. They fall for that.”

Down in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has been trying for the past year or two to bring some sanity – not to mention frugality – to the not-so-exact science of determining just when “old” becomes “too old” for whatever lurks in the back of the fridge or food cupboard.

The Food Date Labeling Act, proposed by Pingree and fellow Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, would establish actual time lines for food expiration and adopt universal labels that differentiate between, say, peak quality and downright dangerous.

“In everyone’s household, there’s the person who picks something up and says, ‘Oh my gosh, look at this label. We’ve got to throw it away!'” Pingree noted in an interview Thursday. “And the other person says, ‘Oh, no. This is perfectly good. We can still eat this.'”

(Little wonder that the proposed legislation, which Pingree says has already drawn widespread support from food manufacturers and retailers alike, has been dubbed the “Domestic Harmony Bill.”)

Still, our elected leaders, food bankers and curbside collectors can only do so much.

At some point, reducing food waste comes down to you and me and those 21 tomatoes that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, every man, woman and child in America discards every year.

One exception: A few years back, Shaw met a Maine family that would never do such a thing. They called her to say they had a truckload of canned food to donate if she’d come pick it up.

She’ll never forget the long, winding driveway, the cameras on every other tree, the disembodied voice in the doorway that said “I’ll be right there” the second she rang the doorbell.

“They’re survivalists,” Shaw said. “They hunker down 10 years at a time. And they pack food in for The Great One, whatever that is, whatever disaster might be coming or the end of the world or World War III, whatever it is that they’re surviving. They pack food in for 10 years.”

Shaw loaded the “cases and cases and cases” of food into her van, only to realize later that they were indeed a decade old and thus well outside the limits of her food banks. (She draws the line at three years.)

“So I gave it all to a bear hunter,” she recalled. “And he gave me a $50 donation, and I said, ‘Thank you. Now I’ll go buy some real food.'”

Still, Shaw said, it does make you wonder …

“If they’re right, and it’s nine years and 364 days and the end of the world comes and that’s all that’s left to eat?” she mused. “I’m eating it.”

Somewhere, my mother just smiled.

Correction: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, March 31, 2017 to correct the total amount of Maine’s household food waste.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 31 Mar 2017 15:47:03 +0000