Bill Nemitz – The Portland Press Herald Thu, 19 Jan 2017 12:41:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bill Nemitz: LePage is Maine’s very own Archie Bunker, but in reality, he’s not funny Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Move over, Gov. Paul LePage. Make room for Archie Bunker.

In a 1974 episode of the television classic “All in the Family,” black neighbor George Jefferson asks America’s favorite bigot to sign Jefferson’s petition to run for Republican County Committee. While wife Edith looks on, Archie takes a long, hard look at the clipboard …

George: It ain’t an IOU; just go ahead and sign it.

Archie: Hold it, hold it, Jefferson. I don’t go around signin’ political documentaries just like that, y’know. I mean, even Abe Lincoln, as smart as he was, he read the Declaration of Independence before he put his John Hancock on it.

Edith: Archie, are you sure Abraham Lincoln signed the Declaration of Independence?

Archie: Sure, fourscore and seven years ago.

The live audience roars. Good old Archie has mangled U.S. history once again.

“All in the Family” was a revolutionary sitcom through which creator Norman Lear held up a mirror to American society and forced us to laugh at ourselves.

Paul LePage, on the other hand, is a cringe-worthy reality show.

Just like Archie, LePage wears his stupidity like a badge of honor. But unlike Bunker’s weekly descents into the absurd, there’s nothing even remotely funny about Maine’s governor.

“I will just say this: John Lewis ought to look at history,” LePage fumed Tuesday during his weekly chat with the ever-obliging Bangor talk-radio hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler.

LePage was incensed over last week’s comment by Lewis, a civil rights icon before he embarked on his 30-year (and counting) career as a congressman from Atlanta. In an interview with NBC, Lewis said Donald J. Trump is not “a legitimate president” because of “a conspiracy on the part of the Russians, and others, that helped him get elected.”

LePage’s “history” lesson for Lewis? That Republican presidents are the best thing ever to happen to blacks in the United States.

“It was Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves, it was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant who fought against Jim Crow laws,” LePage said. “A simple thank-you would suffice.”

Somewhere in TV heaven, Archie Bunker is standing and applauding. All by himself.

LePage’s attack on Lewis is, first and foremost, an appalling insult to a man who suffered greatly at the hands of white oppression.

The scar still visible on Lewis’ head bears testimony to the fractured skull he sustained from an Alabama state trooper’s billy club during the “Bloody Sunday” march into Selma on March 7, 1965. It will forever define Lewis as a man who, even when faced with certain physical injury, courageously refused to back down.

But LePage’s personal attack on Lewis, as egregious as it may be, is only one part of the picture here. Another is the governor’s stunning ability, once again, to make an absolute fool of himself.

Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant “fought against Jim Crow laws?”

A quick Google check is more than enough to demonstrate that Jim Crow laws began to take root at the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era in 1877, after President Grant left office.

And why did those pillars of “legal” segregation – denying the so-called “freedmen” of their rights to vote, to unrestricted travel, to public accommodation, to a decent education – spread like wildfire across the South?

Because President Hayes, locked in a squeaker of a presidential election in 1877, cut a deal with Southern electors: They would install him in office in exchange for his withdrawal of all Northern occupying troops from the South.

Hayes, in his letter accepting the Republican nomination, at least put in a good word for the newly freed slaves.

“What the South most needs is peace, and peace depends upon the supremacy of law,” he wrote. “There can be no enduring peace, if the constitutional rights of any portion of the people are habitually disregarded.”

To which Southern states responded by passing the Jim Crow laws right under Hayes’ nose. They would remain a blight on our democracy until 1965.

In short, neither Grant nor Hayes “fought against Jim Crow laws,” as LePage so authoritatively claims. Grant pre-dated them, and Hayes, in what would forever be called a “corrupt bargain,” set the stage for their enactment.

You’d think LePage might have researched all of this a bit before popping off on the radio. And now that he’s being widely dismissed (once again) as that dimwitted idiot from Maine, you’d think he’d be a wee bit embarrassed.

Yet, just like Archie Bunker, he’s oblivious to all but the fawning praise from supporters who celebrate any factual error, any ridiculous claim, as their hero “not being politically correct.”

Really? How about “not being factually correct”? Does that matter for anything anymore?

Not to some people. They accept whatever comes out of Trump’s or LePage’s mouth on the premise that if their man said it, that’s good enough for them. (Say what you will about poor Edith Bunker – at least she did the occasional double take.)

And what say these willfully ignorant folks to anyone who takes the time to do a little fact-checking? In today’s toxic political environment, five minutes on Wikipedia is enough to get you labeled “intellectual elitist.”

LePage, in an interview later Tuesday with Portland Press Herald reporter Scott Thistle, insisted for the umpteenth time, against reams of evidence to the contrary, that he is not a racist.

In fact, he said, “Some of us (white people) are abolitionists. I’m a strong abolitionist …”

It’s enough to make you laugh. Or scream.

He also snarled, “The NAACP should apologize to the white people, to the people from the North for fighting their battle.”

Did you hear that, fellow Americans? Not “our” battle. “Their” battle.

Those gasps we can all hear from near and far are of horror, not admiration. Maine’s chief executive has reached what Archie Bunker once referred to as “a new high in lowness.”

So please, Gov. LePage, enough. Try keeping your trap shut at least until you know of what you speak.

Or as Archie himself once advised, “Don’t talk like an ignarosis.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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Bill Nemitz: Mr. President, millions are grateful for the Obama legacy Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Dear President Obama,

I thought long and hard before deciding to write this.

After all, we all grow weary of the cat-and-ball-of-yarn syndrome that choreographs our politics these days: Roll out the tiniest thread of a thought, and the opposition reflexively pounces, battering it into oblivion because that’s what the opposition is wired to do.

Let them. With the clock steadily ticking toward the end of your presidency this Friday at noon, I and many, many Americans like me have but one thing to say.

Thank you.

It’s indeed disheartening – not to mention entirely predictable – that congressional Republicans who have opposed you so myopically for so long already are hard at work dismantling what they call, with a partisan sneer, the “Obama legacy.”

They likely will repeal the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare,” as even you eventually came to call it. I harbor little doubt that whatever replaces it will fall short of the protections it offers for people with pre-existing conditions, high medical costs and low incomes.

Your opponents also insist, with self-bestowed immunity from all irony, that we can’t afford to go any longer with an unfilled vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Your nominee, the truly middle-of-the-road Chief Judge Merrick Garland, has been reduced to a historical footnote.

They talk with starry eyes about the nation’s need to “recover” from your eight years in the White House.

Recover from what? An unemployment rate that’s dropped from 10 percent to 4.7 percent in the past six years? The rescue of the U.S. auto industry? The capture and killing of Osama bin Laden?

But here’s what they can’t touch, Mr. President. They can’t lay a glove on your integrity.

Perhaps it’s faint praise to note that yours was an administration sans scandal. No clumsy burglaries, no illegal arms for hostages, no stained dress, no war launched on false pretenses …

Some call it the “Jackie Robinson effect.” The simple, painful reality that as America’s first black president, your path from day one paralleled the edge of a perilous cliff: The slightest moral misstep, the tiniest chink in your character, would surely bring your political downfall.

Yet you never stumbled.

Come hell, high water or the congressman who hollered “You lie!” – you held your head high. You can look all of us, not to mention your wife and daughters, in the eye knowing that at no time did you enshroud your administration in shame.

That, to borrow a well-worn adjective, is huge. And of that, history will take note.

I juxtapose two pictures: one of you walking out onto the stage in Chicago on election night in 2008, the other of you returning to the same platform last week. Like we do at times like this, I marvel at how your hair has grown so gray.

But gray, while marking the inexorable passage of time, is good.

It connotes maturity achieved through hard work, persistence in the face of overwhelming odds, courage to say what needs to be said.

For multiple reasons, Mr. President, I doubt your successor’s hair will change at all.

There’s no need to dwell on President-elect Trump here – whatever awaits us these next four years, he will stand or collapse on his own merits. Just like all you chief executives do.

But since Trump’s stunning election last November, I’ve been struck by the hopeful note you continue to sound.

Your insistence that this country is far bigger than one man is as pitch-perfect now as it was when you first took the oath yourself eight years ago.

You left a lump in many a throat last Tuesday when you said, “I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than when I started.”

Some surely must have thought your euphemistic nature had gotten the best of you, one last spin before twirling your way back into private citizenship.

Not me.

If I’ve come to believe one thing over your two terms, it’s that deep down, you actually are as hopeful as you so often sound.

I’m convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that your love for and faith in this democracy eclipses that of detractors who lambaste you as “un-American” in one breath and then chant “USA!” in the next.

Un-American? Unlike you, Mr. President, I don’t have a copy of my birth certificate at the ready. Given my Irish-German pigmentation, nobody’s ever asked for it.

Were you perfect? Of course not.

Given what you know now, would you take a mulligan on your “red line” in Syria, your deadline-driven withdrawal from Iraq, your rocky rollout of

Who wouldn’t?

But here’s one thing I doubt you’d do over: your demeanor.

Two years ago, in a piece titled “Why History Will Be Very Kind to Obama,” New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait noted your “inclination to play Spock even when the country wants a Captain Kirk.”

Some called it your cool. Others called it your arrogance. Some said you carefully measured the global implications of your every utterance. Others said you were out of touch.

Looking back, I think history will say you were simply being yourself in an era when one impulsive quip, one thoughtless rejoinder, can hijack the news cycle in seconds and dominate it for days on end. (See: @realDonaldTrump.)

So off you go, Mr. President. This time next week, you’ll be no different from the majority of us – watching a new administration take the reins and wondering, with more than a little trepidation, where this new ride is headed.

I’ll steady myself with words I heard you speak while I and close to 2 million others – the largest crowd ever to gather in Washington, D.C. – shivered on the National Mall eight years ago this Friday.

You said, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Well said, Mr. President. And well done.


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Bill Nemitz: Call for L.L. Bean boycott aimed at the wrong target Thu, 12 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Walk into L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport, head for the hunting section and you’ll find a display rack loaded with bright-colored “Shoot-N-C” targets. A half-dozen go for  $7.50.

I strongly suggest that Grab Your Wallet take a timeout from its boycott of L.L. Bean and pick up a pack.

Maybe then organizers of the anti-Donald Trump website, who aim to bring down the president-elect by telling us where to (and where not to) shop, will learn the art of taking careful aim before they fire.

“If L.L. Bean thinks a part-owner and board member can (personally support Trump) and have it not affect their bottom line, that’s very naïve,” huffed Grab Your Wallet co-founder Shannon Coulter to Press Herald Staff Writer Gillian Graham this week. Coulter lives in San Francisco and works as, wait for it, a “brand strategist.”

The real target of Coulter’s ire? Not L.L. Bean per se but rather Linda Bean, granddaughter of the legendary Leon Leonwood Bean and one of the company’s 10 directors.

Linda Bean, who sells boiled lobsters for a living, found herself in a bit of hot water last week when the Federal Election Commission alleged that she’d contributed $60,000 to a political action committee – $55,000 more than the legal limit.

It appears to be one of those dog-ate-my homework things: The PAC’s chairman, David Jones, said he thought he was running a super PAC, to which Bean could have contributed all she wanted.

Jones has since filed amended reports with the FEC in an effort to straighten things out. But the damage already was done.

Once the words “Trump” and “L.L. Bean” hit the internet, a company that is as assiduously apolitical as it is roundly respected here in its home state suddenly found itself in the cross hairs of Grab Your Wallet.

Formed in October to make Trump pay for his caught-on-tape remarks about assaulting women whenever he pleases, the website now lists 82 companies, many household names, to be shunned until further notice.

Initially (and logically), the group went after companies that directly sell Trump products., for example, recently stopped selling Ivanka Trump’s line of shoes, which in turn prompted Grab Your Wallet to pull the online shoe retailer off its boycott list.

But then there’s another tier of targets: companies that are, in Grab Your Wallet’s eyes, guilty by association. Thanks to good old Aunt Linda, L.L. Bean now resides on that list.

A couple of things worth noting here.

First, Linda Bean is no wallflower. Four years ago, in the throes of the Republican primary race to boot Barack Obama out of the White House, the longtime backer of conservative causes penned a letter calling the president “HITLERIAN” and predicting that if he won another term, “4 years from now, we may not even have a ballot.”

In other words, as most Mainers have known for decades, the loudest of the Bean clan knows how to get people riled up. In fact, she seems to thrive on it.

Now, when she’s not forecasting the end of the world as we know it, Linda Bean owns and operates Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine, a conglomeration of high-end lobster shacks, vacation rentals and other enterprises.

So why didn’t Grab Your Wallet banish Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine to its no-buy zone?

Because, however more appropriate a target that might have been, it was too small for Grab Your Wallet to hit from all the way out there on the West Coast, that’s why.

L.L. Bean, on the other hand, is huge. It’s nationally known. Slap a target on that brand and, voila, you spawn more headlines and online clicks than black flies in the Allagash on Memorial Day.

But here’s the unfortunate part.

L.L. Bean is a great company.

L.L. Bean treats its workers remarkably well.

L.L. Bean is an exemplary corporate citizen – in the last decade alone, it’s donated upward of $25 million to everything from conservation and education to social services and the arts.

And last but far from least, L.L. Bean treats its customers like royalty.

A case in point: A winter jacket I bought there last month developed a tear in a seam. Before taking it all the way back to Freeport, I called to explore my options and see if they still had the same color and size in stock.

“Oh, you don’t have to come up,” the cheery woman on the phone assured me. “I can take care of that for you right now.”

Three short days later, the new jacket was on my doorstep, complete with a free return-shipping label for the old one. Printed across the top of the invoice: “Sorry for the delay – thank you for waiting.”

Lest I make this newspaper Grab Your Wallet’s next target, let me be crystal clear: Donald Trump’s looming presidency is, on so many levels, a disaster waiting to happen.

But confronting that, indeed combating it when necessary, will require disciplined organization, deep fortitude and, above all, relentless focus.

Scattershot boycotts aimed at fuzzy targets? That’s only a waste of ammunition.

(Urban Outfitters’ parent corporation got booted off the “Shop These Trump-Free Alternatives” list after Grab Your Wallet discovered the CEO had donated not to Trump, but to House Speaker Paul Ryan and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. Who’s next on the hit list, companies whose stockholders binge-watched “The Apprentice?”)

Sunday evening, understandably worried about the impact Grab Your Wallet might have on his great-grandfather’s “do unto others” legacy, L.L. Bean Executive Board Chairman Shawn Gorman took to Facebook to state what we Mainers knew in the first place.

“L.L. Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters, or make political contributions,” Gorman wrote. “Simply put, we stay out of politics. To be included in this boycott campaign is simply misguided.”


Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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Bill Nemitz: It’s our civic duty to read the report on Russia’s dirty tricks Sun, 08 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 It sounded more like wishful thinking than an outright prediction.

In an interview on Friday, while President-elect Donald Trump finally received his briefing on Russian interference in last November’s presidential election, I asked Maine Sen. Angus King if he feared Trump might once again pull the rug out from under the U.S. intelligence community with a simple tweet.

“That’s a very good question,” replied King. “I think he has a profound responsibility, if he himself is convinced that the data is accurate, to convey that to the public.”

Hours later, Trump emerged from his top-secret confab and called it “constructive.”

But alas, beyond a broad-brush swipe at “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people” who continuously poke and prod our public and private cyberspace, the president-elect didn’t flat-out acknowledge that American democracy just came under attack like never before.

According to the declassified intelligence report released just after Trump’s briefing, none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fingerprints are all over the hacking, fake news and other skulduggery that bedeviled one of the ugliest presidential elections in U.S. history.

And yes, the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency all agreed, the Russians were pulling for Trump.

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the report states. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”

Cue the deniers, who insist (with Trump’s repeated encouragement in recent weeks) that all this Russia talk is just sour grapes from never-Trumpers who still can’t handle what happened on Nov. 8.

King actually spoke on behalf of “people in Maine (who) are skeptical” during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

Arguing for the declassification of as much information as quickly as possible, King urged, “We need to have our people understand when they are being manipulated.”

But here’s the catch. Now that the five-page report (not counting background and appendices) is out, we all share a civic duty to actually read it.

You’ll learn that in addition to the widely publicized hacking of the Democratic National Committee between July 2015 and June 2016, the Russians also “obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local election boards.”

That doesn’t mean they tinkered with the actual vote tally – in fact, the report found no evidence of that whatsoever. Nor does it opine on how heavily Russia tipped the scales toward Trump’s victory.

But it does contain this chilling warning: “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.”

That’s old news in Eastern Europe. In recent conversations with intelligence officials from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, King asked how they defend against such long-standing intrusions on their elections.

“They say the best defense is for the public to know it’s happening so they can take it with a grain of salt,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s just the Russians.’ ”

Which, ironically, is exactly what most Americans used to say during the height of the Cold War. Back then, with good reason, Russia was simply not to be trusted.

Yet these days, with the Soviet Union but a dark memory, that notion has been turned on its ear.

Conservative Republicans who once feared Russia more than anything else on the planet now shrug off the alarms clanging throughout the intelligence community. Until they know exactly how the United States got its information, many say, they’re reluctant to believe a word of it.

Or they point to the debacle over bad intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in the buildup to the Iraq war – force-fitted to support the George W. Bush administration’s preconceived narrative that Saddam Hussein had to go. If that intelligence was bad, or so the theory goes, then all intelligence must be bad.

King bristles at such talk.

“Do they make mistakes? Of course. They’re making analytic judgments based upon the best information they can obtain,” he said. “Should we be skeptical? Absolutely.”

But to suggest – as Trump repeatedly has – that the probe into Russian mischief with the 2016 election is driven by partisan payback is to dishonor a legion of public servants who, in King’s opinion, deserve at least as much respect as the U.S. military.

“I really wish people knew James Clapper the way I do,” King said, citing the national intelligence director’s 53 years of nonpartisan service to every president since John F. Kennedy. “For somebody to talk about politicization of intelligence, when it’s Jim Clapper making the call, just doesn’t pass the straight-face test. And it really bothers me.”

Ditto, he said, for the thousands of operatives worldwide who quietly go about gathering intelligence in defense of America’s security interests. Whenever he travels abroad, King goes out of his way to meet with them.

“These guys take their lives in their hands when they go out to lunch,” he noted. “And they don’t get jets flying (in their honor) over football games.”

So go ahead, fellow Mainer, pour a hot coffee on this frigid winter morning and read the report. And at least listen to people like King, who also sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, when they insist that still-classified information more than supports the claim that Russia, right now, is hard at work subverting all that we hold dear.

At the same time, try not to be distracted by Trump, whose inherent insecurity shone through on Saturday when he tweeted, “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results.”

Relax, Mr. President-elect. As Sen. King and others have rightly noted, this whole brouhaha is not about disputing the last election.

It’s about saving the next one.


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Bill Nemitz: Hijackers of handicapped spaces give cold comfort to those who need them Fri, 06 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 They are, in a word, jerks.

Like the rest of us, they have trouble finding a parking space in busy downtown Portland.

But unlike the rest of us, they see nothing wrong with pulling into a handicapped space “just for a minute” because, you know, it’s empty and because, you know, it’s not really hurting anyone.

“They don’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Peter Cohen said this week amid the late-morning din of an Old Port coffee shop. “So I become a little bit annoyed about that. It really bothers me.”

Cohen, a 52-year-old, non-practicing attorney from Cape Elizabeth, has a disability.

It’s called dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes repeated and uncontrolled muscle contractions and often leaves its victims painfully contorted and unable to get around without tremendous difficulty.

Back in 2003, Cohen underwent Deep Brain Stimulation, a then-revolutionary surgical procedure during which the patient lies awake for hours while doctors implant a pacemaker in the chest and run electrical lead wires to the brain.

The operation, performed at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, worked like a charm. Cohen’s once-severe symptoms have diminished to the point where most of the contractions are gone, he can stand up straight, walk, drive a car and generally love life far more than he did before.

But he still knows what it’s like to live day in and day out with a disability. And as Portland descends into another marathon of snow and ice and all the limited mobility that comes with it, Cohen is on a dual mission:

First, he wants to increase the number of handicapped parking spaces in high-traffic areas like the Old Port and Congress Street.

Second, he strongly suggests we leave those spots open for the people who truly need them.

According to Jessica Grondin, the city’s director of communications, Portland sets aside just under 150 on-street spaces for handicapped parking citywide – out of approximately 6,400 controlled spaces.

That’s just over 2 percent, she noted, which is in line with the number of handicapped spaces required under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act for big-box store lots, parking garages and other off-street locations.

Go to a Wal-Mart and you’ll see those spaces clustered right where they should be: directly in front of the store entrance.

Not so in downtown Portland, counters Cohen.

“Overall, there are a very few handicapped spots in the downtown or the Old Port,” he said. Worse yet, he noted, several of those have been cut off in recent weeks by construction projects or used by city plow operators to pile snow before its removal.

“Freedom of movement is a fundamental desire of all of us,” Cohen said. “Sometimes finding a handicapped accessible parking space can make the difference between staying home and getting out.”

To be fair, Grondin also noted that under state law, people with handicapped plates or windshield placards can park free of charge at any metered or time-limited spot for up to double the posted time limit.

True, concedes Cohen. But when all of those spaces are full, as they most often are during the business day, the free-parking provision gets people with disabilities no closer to where they want to go.

“For one with a mobility issue, the prospect of parking in a regular spot and having to then travel by foot or wheelchair a significant distance is daunting and is oftentimes functionally impossible for them in the first place,” he said. “And obviously this mobility issue is worsened many times over by winter snow and ice.”

Cohen’s solution? More spaces spread out more strategically throughout high-traffic locations like lower Exchange Street and the streets surrounding One City Center, where there are none.

(Echoing that sentiment is the United States Access Board, which develops regulations and standards for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It has proposed a rule mandating that new or reconfigured city streets contain at least one handicapped space per block.)

As Kristin Aiello, managing attorney for Disability Rights Maine, put it in an interview Thursday, “It’s cold comfort to say, ‘We have 150 spaces’ if none of them are in a place where people need and want to access.”

Then there’s the hijacking of those handicapped spaces that do exist. Also known as the jerk factor.

Cohen said it’s worst on weekdays around 5 p.m., when the comings and goings peak downtown and handicapped spaces become live-parking havens for able-bodied people with inexcusable blind spots.

“It does not matter though how long one is parked illegally – the lawbreaker is denying rightful access to disabled Mainers who truly need the handicapped parking spot,” Cohen said. “One is still breaking Maine state law whether you’re in the spot illegally for 30 seconds or two hours.”

On this point, Cohen and City Hall fully agree.

According to Grondin, 800 summonses were handed out in the past year to people parked illegally in handicapped spaces. Each carried a $200 fine.

The worst of the offenders?

“People who do not have a disability but park in the spaces using someone else’s permit or plate, i.e., borrowing from a relative,” Grondin noted.

Cohen, who has a handicapped-parking permit but rarely uses it out of concern for those who need the space more than he does, knows the imposter syndrome all too well.

In March he went on a date with a woman in the Old Port. When it was over, he gallantly walked her back to her car.

“It was parked in a handicapped space,” he recalled.

Sure enough, she had a placard hanging from her mirror. Problem was it belonged to the elderly woman for whom she worked. An elderly woman who, for the record, was nowhere in sight.

“I was in a rush to meet you, Peter!” the date hastily explained.

A stunned Cohen bade her farewell.


Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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Bill Nemitz: Buxton poet will leave behind an enduring gift Sun, 25 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 He will drag himself out of bed this morning inside his modest home on Turkey Lane in Buxton.

He’ll take his heavy doses of morphine and fentanyl and patiently wait for the crushing pain to subside.

Then, this being Christmas, Gene Auprey will count his gifts.

“I notice that food started tasting fantastic and I couldn’t figure out why,” he wrote recently. “It was because I remembered the taste from when I was young, before I burned my taste buds out. Definitely a gift.”

So are those vivid memories that fill his head these days, brimming with lost youth and unbridled adolescence and a time when life only beckoned: “Great for daydreaming, reminiscing or conversation. Another gift.”

Oh, and the night. Those dark, quiet hours when Gene drifts into dreamy rendezvous with those who reside only in his 66-year-old memory: “Some dead, some long forgotten, some at younger or older ages, none scary but all terrific. Another gift.”

Maybe you’ve already noticed. Gene is a poet.

A poet with lots to say and, alas, precious little time to say it.

A poet who, in return for all life has bestowed upon him, now has but one thing to give in return:

His love for words.

Late last month, Hospice of Southern Maine named Gene its first-ever poet laureate because, as the agency’s proclamation puts it, his work of late “is written from the lens of his End of Life.”

And because Gene, now in the final stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and myriad other maladies, “encourages and welcomes the sharing of his poetry to assist others in their End of Life Journey.”

Take, for example, “My Prayer to Continue”:

I will not defy death nor will I accept

it by default. Though pain is excruciating

tonight, it is neither harbinger nor is it

assassin but rather reaper of that which

has withered on the stalk. So, I will continue

to stand, to get up and move of my own volition.

There is no battle here, the Spirit compels that

I write and I acquiesce with appreciation

that for another day I have not withered.

Life begets life, so each day I live, live to fulfill

the charge grace has enabled and I have

accepted to bring to fruition before I rest.

This from a man who never graduated from high school. Despite his love for language and his better-than-decent grades at Woodsville High School in northern New Hampshire, Gene’s senior-year English teacher failed him for a few missed homework assignments.

“I got a 96 on my final exam and she still flunked me,” he mused. “The whole school was in an uproar.”

This from a man who worked for decades as a project manager for a plaster-and-drywall company, commuting daily between Maine and Massachusetts, before his failing body forced him to retire in 2002.

This from a man who, upon getting sick all those years ago, logged onto the internet in search of the toughest online poetry workshops he could find.

“I just joined the workshop and started out writing lousy poetry and getting better and better and eventually getting published,” he said.

This from a man who, according to his doctors, should no longer be there at his desktop computer keyboard, hunting and pecking for just the right noun or verb, the crystal-clear image, the perspective that comes only with knowing that time is indeed of the essence.

“Ten years ago, they diagnosed me that I’d probably be a year,” Gene said. Raising his chin from his chest and smiling, he added, “It’s been a long year.”

Since he began hospice last January, he’s written 348 poems. They come seemingly out of nowhere, often in the middle of the night, kernels of thought that blossom into verse as poignant as it is profound.

He’s written about his father, who had the first of a series of strokes when Gene was 9. While Gene frantically learned how to do the things his father no longer could, his dad spent the rest of his days planted squarely at death’s door …

A thought that made me cry when

no one else could hear. He lived

for nine more years, some were

good and some were hard but

I learned and learned and learned

With an urgency that the more

I did the longer he would stay …

He’s written, in “Synonyms Are Not Always Synonymous,” about the difference between “wish” and “want” …

Want has weight and passion, it

purveys impatience as when a

stallion curls his lips neck stretched

high and whinnies then rears up

and stomps. The wish is light and

unhurried like a butterfly landing

on flower waits for it to stop rocking

before flicking its tongue to nectar …

He’s written a special poem called “The Final Gift” for the love of his life – his 5-year-old granddaughter J’Lynn …

We share a gift that keeps us close,

a tie that binds us beyond the shadow

of life and death. That is the Spirit of

Remembrance …

Larry Greer is one of four pastoral counselors for Hospice of Southern Maine. He visits Gene at least once every two weeks and is now hard at work compiling a dozen or so of Gene’s poems into an illustrated anthology.

Once printed, hopefully in time for Gene to see it, the collection will go out free of charge to the 190 or so patients served by Hospice of Southern Maine each and every day.

“We connected from day one,” recalled Greer of their first meeting almost a year ago. “I look at Gene and I see my modern-day mystic. I come here as much for me as I do for him.”

Like Greer, Gene was a minister earlier in life at a small Christian church in Limerick. That was before his last divorce – his third – left him angry at the universe.

“Me and God had a little argument,” Gene said. “We didn’t speak for a long time. He didn’t give in and neither did I.”

But then Gene’s friends, as they often would, asked him to pray for this want or that wish. How could he refuse?

“I’m not praying for me, God,” he’d mutter. “I’m praying for them.”

Only then did he start to notice “all of the things that were answered and all of the beautiful things that were coming my way.”

OK, God, he finally conceded, “I guess we can talk a little.”

His spiritual philosophy percolates through his poetry. The way Gene sees it, we are all “three-part beings – we have a body, a soul and a spirit.”

His body has all but abandoned him. The most recent prognosis gives him another month, if that.

Yet his soul, which Gene equates with the conscious mind, is in overdrive.

He’s already authored one book of poetry – “Dead Reckoning,” released in 2010 to critical acclaim by the New Jersey publishing house Poets Wear Prada.

Now, he’s determined to finish a much bigger collection of almost 200 poems and 50 essays.

“I want to see at least a rough draft,” he said. “But I don’t know, I just keep coming up with things to write.”

Meaning this poetry business is never-ending?

Gene smiled and shook his head. “Unfortunately,” he said, “you know where this book ends.”

Which brings us to Gene’s spirit. The part of him that he fervently believes will live on long after he takes his last labored breath, long after he grabs hold of a passing thought, long after he burnishes it into his final verse.

And so on this, his last Christmas, the man you’d never take for a poet offers us this hopeful gift. It’s called “Of Vessels and Content” and, unlike most of the stuff under the tree this morning, it’s guaranteed to last a lifetime …

Possibly the fact that my life’s cup

has diminished in size, to where

it holds very little, provides the illusion

that with what’s inside I’m living most

abundantly. The joy I feel compounds

with each passing day, though each

brings summation closer. I’m enthralled

by the simplest of events, a visit from a

friend, an acorn left by a grandchild

because I was sleeping when she came,

a message from an offspring on FB, all

add to my growing delight with life. At

this time I am not fighting death but rather

I am embracing life to the very last breath.

This is not in denial of my fate but in

acceptance of its limits. The boundless

happiness I feel pushes dread from my way,

Even if I have but a thimbleful I am complete.


]]> 0 Auprey, 66, in the final stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, smokes in the kitchen of his Buxton home. He's written hundreds of poems in the past year, and Hospice of Southern Maine has named him its first poet laureate.Sat, 24 Dec 2016 19:54:36 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Photographer’s work with ‘short-lived children’ a personal mission Sun, 18 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Her name was Sarah. She entered this world 43 years ago this month amid a holiday season that, if you strip away all the needless commotion, centers on the birth of a child.

Unlike the perfect baby in the manger, though, Sarah struggled from her first breath.

Her heart did not function properly. Her doctors, hoping for a miracle, transferred her to Children’s Hospital in Boston with its higher level of care.

But the miracle never came. Six days later, just before Christmas of 1973, Sarah died.

“So we went through the joys and complexity of a birth, the confusion – ‘Is our baby thriving or dying?’ – and on to the sadness of a death,” recalled Arthur Fink, Sarah’s father, in the quiet of his Portland photo studio last week.

Fink, a longtime commercial photographer from Peaks Island, and Sarah’s mother, Beatrice Hawley, later divorced. Beatrice died several years later and Fink remarried and became a stepfather.

But he’ll always know that searing emotional whiplash reserved for the most unfortunate among us, the joy of childbirth followed immediately by the anguish of a memorial service.

Fink calls them “short-lived children,” tiny souls either stillborn or overwhelmed by health complications at the very dawn of life. Now age 69, camera in hand, he sees them more often than most of us could bear.

A family holds the tiny hand of a newborn baby. Photographer Arthur Fink says he often finds beauty in the slowed down actions of grieving families.

A family holds the tiny hand of a newborn baby. Photographer Arthur Fink says he often finds beauty in the slowed down actions of grieving families. Photo by Arthur Fink

“The act of taking a photograph is kind of a validation. I still think that that process of being a witness is almost more important than the pictures I take,” said Fink, seated at his computer. As he spoke, the screen filled with images of a frail newborn baby, moments from death, surrounded by her solemn family.

Some might recoil at the mere notion of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. It’s a national network of professional photographers, all volunteers, who provide families with the most important of keepsakes – baby pictures – as they cope with the tragedy of a lost infant.

But hard as it might be to imagine calling in a photographer to document one of life’s cruelest blows, the photos are for many the most precious of gifts.

They prove, once and forever, that a child was here. That life, however fleeting, is something to be celebrated – not banished to that dark closet of agonies best forgotten.

Nicole understands that well.

She’s a wife and mother of three – including a son, Cullen, and twin daughters. Emma will be 6 in March. Her sister, Elli, lived for only 25 days.

Nicole asked that I not use her family’s last name, but welcomed the opportunity to share her story and pictures – along with her gratitude for the man who took them.

“There are not enough thank-yous I could ever give Arthur for the gift that he gave us,” Nicole said by telephone Friday from her home in Lisbon Falls.

For a while back in 2011, it appeared that both Emma and Elli, born prematurely after a difficult pregnancy, might not make it out of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

But Emma rallied, while Elli didn’t. Finally, after almost a monthlong vigil, Nicole and her husband, James, knew what they had to do.

“We had been told several times that she probably wouldn’t make it, so we were kind of just bracing ourselves for that moment,” Nicole recalled. “We knew it was coming, but we were just hoping it wouldn’t.”

Elli, even on life support, was failing. After a particularly rough night, doctors told Nicole and James there was no hope she could survive.

“We made the decision that morning,” Nicole said. “We really didn’t have to think about it. We just kind of looked at each other and it was like, ‘Yeah, it’s time.’ ”

They summoned their extended family and a clergy friend, all of whom converged on the hospital to hold Elli – for the first and last time – and to support her grieving parents.

And they called in Fink to document the final hours. No bright lights, no “you stand here” and “you stand there,” only a gentle, unobtrusive man and his digital single-lens reflex camera, quietly giving pause to the inexorable passage of time.

Eventually, the relatives departed, leaving only Nicole, James, their three children and Fink.

They held Elli’s too-small fingers in their own. Click.

They removed Elli from life support and placed her in the Isolette alongside Emma. Click.

The two infant sisters held hands. Click.

Then, after gamely hanging on for another hour or two, Elli breathed her last.

“Arthur caught some very beautiful moments. That was the first time that any of us were able to hold her,” Nicole said. “We all got to share that moment together. And he captured all of that.”

Twin girls, Emma, who survived, and Elli, who didn't. After losing an infant daughter of his own, Arthur Fink volunteers for a group dedicated to taking images of dying newborns.

Twin girls, Emma, who survived, and Elli, who didn’t. After losing an infant daughter of his own, Arthur Fink volunteers for a group dedicated to taking images of dying newborns. Photo by Arthur Fink

Fink first heard of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep six or seven years ago. With his own little Sarah squarely in mind, he jumped at the chance to help others navigate the storm he himself weathered all those decades ago.

He’s now the organization’s regional coordinator, corralling a half-dozen or so professional photographers willing to drop what they’re doing – often on a moment’s notice – and head for the Maine Medical Center’s NICU.

There, they might find a baby like Elli in the final moments of life. Other times, the child has already died.

“This may sound weird,” said Fink, who makes the trip himself on average once or twice a month.

“I’m seeing people at some of the hardest times in their lives – and they’re beautiful. They’re slowed down. They’re embracing each other and their child. Sometimes it’s working-class men, who I don’t think are super touchy-feely, and here they are being kind and compassionate and affectionate. It’s a break from their regular lives. They’re totally caught up in this part of their own lives … which is beautiful.”

He never tells his subjects about Sarah. He’s there to capture their moment, not recount his own. But often, as he rubs on the hand sanitizer before entering the room, he closes his eyes and sees her.

His work is impeccable. Clicking a thumbnail on his screen, he zoomed in on a father’s hand, rough and large, tenderly cradling a child not much bigger than his palm.

“That guy, I think, worked at a service station,” Fink noted. “Look, he’s still got grease on his hands.”

Another photo showed a boy and a girl, about 7 and 4, tissues in hand, reaching out tentatively to touch their stillborn sibling.

“I’m a firm believer that you don’t subject kids to more than they can handle, but this is so much a part of their lives,” he said. “Years later, they will know they had a sister or brother.”

Fink’s pictures of Elli can be found all over Nicole’s and James’ home. Cullen and Emma each have one in their bedrooms.

“Six years later, it brings me joy,” Nicole said. “Because the children now have something to look at.”

Which, in the end, is the point behind Fink’s and the other photographers’ services.

(The hours spent shooting, the editing, the computer disks and as many prints as a family desires all come free of charge.)

“The better the end of life can be, the more healing there can be for the families,” said Linda Brady, the nurse manager at Maine Medical Center’s NICU. “It does take a special kind of person to be able to do this. Arthur does it purely out of compassion. He just does it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Had fate taken a different turn, Sarah would be hard at work like the rest of us this weekend, preparing for her 44th Christmas. Just over a week ago, Fink commemorated her birthday on Facebook.

He recalled how, just after Sarah died, a well-meaning friend spoke of “trying again.” How terribly wrong that sounded, as if his baby girl, however fleeting her time on this earth, was somehow a failure that needed fixing.

“Don’t ignore these short-lived children and their families,” Fink wrote.

“Whether a child died at one week or one month or one year, or whenever, parents and friends need love and support, and an affirmation that their child was exactly that – their child.”

He continued: “I thank Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, the organization that supports this volunteer photographic work. They call it ‘bereavement photography.’ I just call it love being shared.”

Hundreds of people responded on Facebook to thank Fink. Many lamented the loss of their own children and grandchildren.

A few recalled how, in their moments of anguish, he and his camera helped lighten their crushing load.

Wrote one woman, “Sarah would be very proud.”


]]> 0 Fink has been taking portraits of dying infants for a volunteer group called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep for more than 40 years, ever since his 6-day-old child Sarah died.Sun, 18 Dec 2016 20:43:54 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Bright, young entrepreneur sees opportunity in Maine’s trees Sun, 11 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 They say the future is bleak for Maine’s forest industry. They say all the best young minds are leaving this state, not entering it.

Perhaps they should spend an hour with Nadir Yildirim.

“We all know what wood products are. They are furniture, they are papers, they are wooden toys for the children,” Yildirim said Wednesday in the quiet of his tiny office on the second floor of a bank building on Main Street in Orono.

Enter Revolution Research Inc., founded by Yildirim two years ago to look at trees in a whole new light.

Think wood-based insulation that keeps out the winter chill. Or maybe ceiling tiles that don’t sag with age.

“Revolutionary products from the trees,” Yildirim said. “We would like to show that we can produce from the trees smart products, futurist materials. Because people have newer needs.”

He’s 31. Five years ago, the government in his native Turkey gave him a scholarship to pursue his scientific dreams anywhere he wanted in the world and, of all places, he chose the University of Maine.

Now here Yildirim is, armed with a Ph.D. in forest resources and a passionate belief in the power of nanocellulose fibrils. Also known as microscopic wood fibers.

Nadir Yildirim holds a wood-and-water slurry in one hand and a sample insulation board made from the slurry in the other at his lab at the University of Maine in Orono. Described as "not a run-of-the-mill guy," his goal is to make innovative items from wood products.

Nadir Yildirim holds a wood-and-water slurry in one hand and a sample insulation board made from the slurry in the other at his lab at the University of Maine in Orono. Described as “not a run-of-the-mill guy,” his goal is to make innovative items from wood products. File photo/Kevin Bennett File photo/Kevin Bennett

His fledgling company earned the latest in a steady parade of headlines last week when the Environmental Protection Agency awarded it $100,000 to develop “green” ceiling tiles.

That grant, part of the EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research program, comes on the heels of a $247,000 award last year from the National Science Foundation to create a new form of rigid foam insulation. It’s made primarily from nanocellulose fibrils rather than the synthentic materials currently used in most foam insulation boards.

In short, others may wring their hands over the inevitable decline of the paper industry in a digital age. Yildirim, meanwhile, is hard at work turning wood into an entirely new generation of products that are recyclable, save energy and might someday (fingers crossed) shine a ray of hope on a Maine industry that lately has had little to cheer about.

“I’ve been a professor for 30 years. I’ve had a lot of graduate students,” said Dr. Steven Shaler, director of UMaine’s School of Forest Resources and now a member of Revolution Research’s scientific advisory board. “I’ve never had anybody like (Yildirim). I’ve never seen anybody like that. He’s not a run-of-the-mill guy.”

It shows.

In addition to his two major grants, Yildirim has obtained several kick-starter awards from the Maine Technology Institute not only to develop his products, but also to conduct far-reaching market analysis, develop a business plan and apply for all-important patents for his sprouting technology.

He won the 2015 UMaine Business Challenge. The statewide competition attracts college students with innovative business plans that last year ranged from a submersible research robot to an online platform for planning trips to the Maine woods.

He won a $10,000 cash prize in this year’s Top Gun Track Entrepreneur Development Program. Created by the Maine Center for Economic Development, the four-month regimen nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit through mentoring, networking and peer-to-peer brainstorming.

He was one of three finalists last year on “Greenlight Maine,” the television show that spotlights the best and brightest of Maine’s up-and-coming inventors and entrepreneurs.

Worth noting: When another contestant, Garbage to Garden, placed first in the “Greenlight Maine” competition, Revolution Research immediately fired off a Facebook post congratulating the winners and wishing them luck.

“We are not competing,” said Yildirim with a smile. “We are all working for the Maine economy – and, to be honest, for ourselves, as well.”

That, in Yildirim’s case, includes his wife, Duygu, who serves as Revolution Research’s administrative assistant, and their two daughters, ages 1 and 3.

Meaning there’s a lot at stake here as he spends at least 60 hours per week shuttling between his leased office space and UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

That’s where Yildirim and his part-time researcher, UMaine engineering senior William West, do the gritty work of actually producing their prototypes, testing them, improving on what works, fixing what doesn’t, testing them again …

“The iPhone didn’t show up in a day,” Yildirim said. “It showed up after years of research. It takes time.”

Take his foam insulation board, for example.

Waterproof, fire retardant and free of the chemical soup that goes into the polystyrene boards now dominating the market, the latest prototype is 10 by 12 inches, ½-inch thick and has an R-value (which measures thermal resistance) of 2. That’s pretty good compared to most products already out there, but not good enough.

“The goal for Phase 2 (which could trigger another $750,000 in research and development funds from the National Science Foundation) is to keep the board at its current thickness, but increase the R-value. We want to get R-3 per half-inch,” Yildirim said.

Who cares?

Well, for starters, Owens Corning. The global leader in commercial insulation products reached out to Yildirim last year to see if he wanted to, shall we say, collaborate. The conversation continues, but Yildirim is in no hurry to sign on the dotted line.

“Of course, we didn’t say no,” he said. “But we are still very new to the market. We need to be safe.”

His ultimate goal is to perfect the technologies behind his insulation boards and ceiling tiles and, by the year 2020, license them for full-scale commercial production and marketing.

“It can be a big manufacturer. It can be paper mills,” Yildirim said. “We are in contact with some paper mills.”

Imagine that: An erstwhile Maine paper mill churning out foam insulation and/or ceiling tiles from the same trees it once used to make paper.

Sure, it’s wishful thinking. But it’s also what Maine needs more of – a smart young guy willing to put down his roots at the intersection of Maine’s past and its future.

A guy who sees nothing but opportunity not only in Maine’s forested hills, but also in its increasingly useless mills.

Thomas Edison surely would approve.

“To invent, you need a good imagination,” the father of modern-day innovation once said. “And a pile of junk.”

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, 11 Dec 2016 15:04:20 +0000
Podcast: Olive branches might work, but fig leaves don’t cover fake news Fri, 09 Dec 2016 00:29:10 +0000

This week on the Podcast, Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and columnists Alan Caron, Cynthia Dill and Bill Nemitz talk about the return of the State Legislature. What a 2018 Senate run between Paul Lepage and Angus King might mean, The Governor’s embrace of “Fake news,” and what’s behind the discord in Portland City Hall.

Subscribe to the Press Herald Podcast on iTunes

]]> 0, 13 Dec 2016 09:28:27 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A crash course in life in the fast lane of I-295 Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 They’re out there, right now, breaking the law. And God help anyone who gets in their way.

Drug dealers from away?


Phantom voters who cast ballots here, there and everywhere in last month’s election?


I’m talking speed demons. Which means, in all likelihood, I’m talking about you.

It all started with an enlightening report in Thursday’s Portland Press Herald by Staff Writer Kate McCormick.

Her analysis showed that crashes on Interstate 295 between Falmouth and Gardiner jumped a whopping 32 percent in 2015 after the state raised the speed limit along that stretch of highway from 65 to 70 mph.

The rolling demolition derby, expected to be even worse this year, was attributed to several factors – more cars on the road and less room between cars, to name a couple.

But as research clearly shows, the most obvious problem here is that increased speed limits are like the minimum bid in an auction – you no sooner set it and everyone flies right past it.

Don’t believe me? Let’s go for a ride.

Early Thursday afternoon, I got on I-295 at its southernmost point – the Maine Turnpike exit toll in Scarborough – and drove the highway’s entire 52-mile length with my cruise control set exactly at the speed limit.

Then, after a quick hot dog at the service plaza in West Gardiner (the nitrates help me focus), I drove all the way back to Scarborough.

All told, 188 vehicles passed me. I, on the other hand, passed two.

Make no mistake about it. This was hazardous duty – starting with Portland, where the speed limit drops from 55 to 50 mph between the Fore River and Tukey’s Bridge.

You didn’t know that? Trust me, you’re far from alone.

Doggedly clinging to my newfound self-righteousness, I realized for the first time why all those little old ladies always look so terrified as they plunk along past downtown Portland at 50 mph.

Cars, pickups and even towering tractor-trailers quickly backed up behind me, all impatiently waiting their turn to lurch left into an already crowded passing lane, zoom past me and lurch back to the right before leaving me in their dust.

And the dirty looks? If I had a nickel for each one, I’d have more than covered the cost of my gas.

North of Portland, where the speed limit suddenly spikes from 50 to 70 mph, I was at least spared the public shaming. But the pedal-to-the-metal parade continued unabated.

A guy in a flatbed tow truck, with a Volvo station wagon on the back, careened by at what must have been at least 78 mph. He went on to pass a gasoline tank truck – the same one that had already passed me.

Watching the tow truck pass the gasoline truck, I thought, “Hmm … one false move and we’re all on tonight’s network news!”

Then there was the sporty black Lexus that appeared out of nowhere in my rear-view mirror near Bowdoinham, approaching at well north of 80 mph.

I thought it was going to hit me when, suddenly, the left blinker went on. I glanced over just in time to see a young woman with a cellphone in her left hand and the steering wheel in her right.

Then the right blinker went on as she cut back in front of me and went on her blurry way.

I gave her points for at least using her turn signal. But then I thought, “Wait a minute … if her left hand held the cellphone to her ear and her right hand was on the wheel, how the hell did she do the blinker?”

Which brings us to the first car I had to pass – a northbound Ford Focus around Brunswick slogging somewhere between 50 and 55 in the 70 mph zone. And I thought I was the slow one.

Again it was a young woman. Again she was gabbing away on her cellphone, oblivious to both me and, I assume, the Wal-Mart tractor-trailer that rumbled by her right after I did.

My point: Driving too far over the speed limit can get you killed. But so can driving too far under it.

This was not news to Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, who told me Friday that the speed limit is theoretically set to reflect how fast 85 percent of the driving public goes on a given stretch of roadway.

That’s why the bulk of I-295 was bumped up to 70 mph in May of 2014, Talbot said. It’s also why state transportation officials are hard at work looking for ways to stem the mayhem that followed.

But even Talbot concedes there’s only so much the state can do.

“We can put up all the signs and flashing lights in the world,” he said. “But at some point, responsibility also rests with the driver.”

Talbot also referred me to the Maine Department of Public Safety, where spokesman Steve McCausland first congratulated me on being the only “old fart” out there on I-295 between 1 and 3 p.m. on Thursday.

(Actually, I wasn’t. The only other driver I passed, heading into a blinding sun just past the Royal River in Yarmouth, was an old fart just like me.)

My question for McCausland: When state police set up a speed trap (I saw one in Topsham), exactly where do they draw the line on when to give chase and when to, shall we say, let it slide?

“There is no number,” replied McCausland, referring to the myth that anything less than 10 mph over the speed limit – wink-wink – won’t trigger the flashing blue lights.

“Troopers use discretion when stopping vehicles,” he said. “That not only concerns the speed a vehicle is traveling, but also whether to issue a summons or a warning.”

Meaning deterrence, when it comes to the single-most ignored law in American society, is in the eye of the deterred.

One last thing about my road trip. Right around the time the 188th vehicle blew my doors off back in Scarborough, a stunning rainbow appeared directly over the highway.

I marveled at the perfect, colorful arch. I took it as a hard-earned reward for my socially responsible driving, my courage in refusing to go with the flow, my good citizenship in the face of so much lawlessness.

Or not. Basking in self-congratulation as the turnpike toll barrier approached, I looked down proudly at my speedometer, stilled glued to 55.

In the 35 mph zone.

Damn that pretty rainbow.


]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 03 Dec 2016 18:25:28 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LGBTQ community has a place in Portland to call its own Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Ed Gardner admits he was a little worried. As the owner of Ocean Gate, a sprawling office building and plaza in the heart of downtown Portland, you don’t roll out the red carpet for Maine’s LGBTQ community without wondering how the rest of your tenants might react to the new neighbors.

“The comments and compliments that we’ve had, because either someone’s sister or cousin or somebody is gay or lesbian, has brought a lot of new conversation to tenants in the building,” Gardner said Wednesday. “It’s been very, very positive for us.”

It’s called the Equality Community Center. The 3,000-square-foot suite on the first floor of Gardner’s building at 511 Congress St. recently became home to six LGBTQ organizations: EqualityMaine, Pride Portland!, SAGE Maine, Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of Southern Maine and MaineTransNet.

The center opened with little fanfare back in August. Now, with an open house planned for this week’s First Friday Art Walk, they’re ready to pull the party poppers.

A video produced for the center by LumenARRT! will be projected onto the front of the building.

The Maine Gay Men’s Chorus will perform in the lobby.

Food and drink will be served inside the center, where representatives from each program will greet visitors and explain why, at long last, they’re thrilled to all be under one roof.

“It gets us all out of our silos,” said Matt Moonen, executive director of EqualityMaine and a state representative from Portland. “We’re all doing good work, whether it’s with elders or with the trans community, but now we’re all together and talking to each other and figuring out what we can do to help everybody.”

The center has long been a dream for Maine’s LGBTQ community. Two years ago, an exploratory committee made up of Gardner; Betsy Smith, the former executive director for EqualityMaine; Richard Waitzkin, a social worker; and Matthew Dubois, an attorney specializing in elder issues, began working in earnest to make it happen.

They divided their long-range plan into two phases.

The first was to create not just a cluster of office and meeting spaces for the various LGBT organizations, but also a place where a sense of community might take root.

That starts in a big way Friday.

Visit the center and you’ll hear how SAGE Maine advocates for older gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Mainers; how the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of Southern Maine strives for the acceptance and safety of every kid in every school in Maine; how MaineTransNet holds drop-in hours every Friday afternoon for transgender men and women seeking support; how EqualityMaine advocates tirelessly for equal rights in the halls of state and federal government; how Pride Portland!, with its annual parade and other year-round events, indeed makes Portland proud.

At the same time, you’ll hear that this is only the beginning.

The second phase of the plan calls for a free-standing facility within the next five years. The Equality Community Center would occupy the first floor or two, with several floors of affordable housing, particularly for senior LGBTQ residents, above that.

Given the landmark victories already won in Maine when it comes to, say, equal rights and same-sex marriage, some might question why the LGBTQ community needs a center now.

Truth be told, committee member Smith has had the question put to her more than once in recent months.

She offers two responses.

“Yes, it’s good to have laws to protect us,” Smith said. “But we still like to have community. We still like to be around people like us.”

Then there’s Nov. 8, the day the entire country took a sudden and unexpected lurch to the right.

“When the election happened,” Smith said, “we sort of looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, now more than ever.’ ”

It’s too soon to say where and how President-elect Trump will come down on the many and varied LGBTQ issues still simmering in some parts of the country and boiling over in others.

But a quick scan of Trump’s Cabinet nominations – Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general, billionaire Betsy DeVos of Michigan for secretary of education, Congressman Tom Price for secretary of health, to name but a few – does not bode well for many of the advances by the LGBTQ community in recent years.

“We are deeply and seriously concerned about the federal level,” said EqualityMaine’s Moonen. On an anxiety scale of zero to 10, he said, “I’m at about an 8, 9 or 10.”

Ditto for John Hennessy, who chairs the board for Sage Maine and was doing volunteer desk duty Wednesday at the center.

Each month, Hennessy said, Sage Maine holds a dinner at the St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland for older LGBT folks and their supporters. Normally, about 40 or 50 people attend.

“The week before Thanksgiving, 90 people showed up,” Hennessy said. “People came up to me and said they’ve never felt more afraid in their lives. And these are the people, many of them, on whose shoulders this movement was built. These are the people who pretty much have seen it all. But they’re scared out of their minds.”

Thus it’s no surprise, noted Hennessy, that “people have this need for community.”

Of course, a few thousand feet of prime office space – even it comes at less than half the market rate courtesy of landlord Gardner – does not a community make.

That takes people – gay, straight and everything in between – who appreciate the value of coming together regardless of how fiercely the political winds may blow.

So go ahead. If you’re downtown on Friday evening, stop in and join the celebration at the Equality Community Center.

You’ll see Maine at its best.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 10:19 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2016 to correct the name of LumenARRT!


]]> 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 Dec 2016 16:58:13 +0000
Democracy gets messy for students in real time Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 It’s as real-time a lesson in American democracy as you could imagine: For the second time in the last five presidential elections, the candidate who won the most electoral votes is not the candidate who won the popular vote.

When it’s all said and done, President-elect Donald Trump likely will emerge from last week’s election with 306 electoral votes – well above the 270 needed to move into the White House.

At the same time, as of Saturday afternoon Hillary Clinton claimed more than 60.8 million popular votes – nearly 600,000 more than Trump.

Cue the perennial debate over the Electoral College.

“Oh, all the time,” replied Colby College professor Sandy Maisel when asked Friday if the electoral-popular disconnect has dominated discussion in his politics classes since Tuesday’s shocker of an election. “The kids are all over it.”

They’re far from alone.

“The Electoral College Was Designed to Prevent Trump. You Can Make This Happen,” proclaimed a headline on The Huffington Post on Friday. The attached blog exhorted disgruntled Clinton voters to pressure their states’ electors to go “faithless” when they cast their presidential votes on Dec. 19 and summarily snatch Trump’s victory away from him while there’s still time.

Also known as a pipe dream.

The blog’s author, Douglas Anthony Cooper, bases his dump-Trump claim on a quote from Alexander Hamilton, who wrote in the Federalist Papers that under the Electoral College, “the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

But alas, Cooper is cherry-picking. In the very next sentence, Hamilton says, “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.”

A quick scan of the electoral map shows that Trump’s popularity, while not reflective of “the esteem and confidence of the whole Union,” undoubtedly extends far beyond that of the single-state rube envisioned by Hamilton.

Which brings us to the real intent behind the Electoral College: To ensure that small-population states, like Maine, do not surrender any and all influence over the presidential election to big-population states, like New York or California.

How so? By allocating electoral votes based on the size of each state’s congressional delegation – including the two Senate seats each state holds regardless of its population size.

Thus a single voter in Maine, where four electors represent a population of 1.3 million, enjoys more than twice as much influence over the election than an individual voter in California, where 55 electors represent a population of 38.8 million.

Add to that the fact that Maine, along with Nebraska, splits two of its electoral votes by congressional district and you get last week’s outcome here: Voters in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District awarded a single electoral vote for Trump, while voters in the 1st Congressional District did likewise for Clinton.

Maine’s other two electoral votes, representing the statewide winner, went to Clinton.

Back we go to Maisel’s classroom, where many students last week still had trouble getting their heads around the fact that for the fifth time in U.S. history – and the second time in the last five presidential elections (see Bush vs. Gore) – the president-elect did not win the national popular vote.

What does Maisel, who chairs Colby’s government department, tell these inquiring young minds?

“I talk a lot about the fact that democracy means rule of the people,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean necessarily any particular set of electoral rules.”

He also talks about what it would take to do away with the Electoral College: a constitutional amendment approved first by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress and then ratified by three-quarters of the country’s state legislatures.

“The consensus (in his classes) is to change it,” Maisel said. “But they don’t go to the next step of how to do it. They just go to the straight popular vote.”

Constitutional hurdles aside, even a straight popular vote would face its own challenges in an election as close as last week’s.

“We’d have to have a recount, because (Clinton’s) margin is like one or two votes per precinct,” noted Maisel. “Until we get to all computerized voting and feel that’s secure, is (election by popular vote) necessarily better?”

Then there’s the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, under which participating states would award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of how each state voted.

Ten states, with a cumulative 165 electoral votes, so far have signed onto the compact. It won’t become effective, however, until it encompasses enough states to award at least 270 electoral votes – the majority needed to elect a president.

Maine has not joined the compact. But California, with its whopping 55 electoral votes, has.

Now imagine for a moment you’re from California and your presidential candidate wins the state in a landslide. Yet at the same time, the other candidate ekes out a plurality of the national vote.

So what happens under the compact? All of California’s 55 electoral votes go to the candidate who just got trounced in California.

Tell us, California voter, how’s that going to make you feel?

“I have sort of a fundamental disagreement with a major reform of our system done purposely in a way to avoid what the Constitution says,” said Maisel. “And that’s precisely what (the compact) is.”

When it comes to fairness, Maisel thinks Maine actually does it better than most. By splitting its electoral votes 3-to-1 for the first time since 1828 (of Maine’s nine electoral votes that year, eight went to John Quincy Adams and one went to the winner, Andrew Jackson), Trump supporters in the northern half of the state came away assured that their voices were heard.

That brings us to one last proposal being bandied about: Do away with the actual electors and award each state’s electoral votes in direct proportion, down to the nearest one-thousandth, to that state’s popular vote.

Meaning, based on Maine’s presidential breakdown in this election, 1.92 of our electoral votes would have gone to Clinton, 1.8 to Trump, 0.8 to Libertarian Gary Johnson and 0.08 to the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

“You get rid of the people who are electors. You just do it automatically,” Maisel said. “So that system, it seems to me, reflects the popular vote (while simultaneously) it gives a little bit more influence to the (smaller) state” like Maine.

It also eliminates the possibility of the “faithless elector” who, after pledging to vote for one candidate, abstains or switches at the last minute to another. Where, fellow citizens, is the democracy in that?

Last week, between digesting the election results and digressing with his bewildered students into the complexities of the Electoral College, Maisel sat down and banged out a blog for the Oxford University Press.

Unlike many in the last few days, he did not challenge the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election.

Nor did he demand that the majority of electors, having pledged to cast their vote for Trump next month, now pull the rug out from under him because … why?

So what was his message?

“That the most important thing in this election was Hillary’s concession speech,” Maisel replied.

Class dismissed.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 50, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 12 Nov 2016 21:49:12 +0000
Podcast: The election is over. What does it mean? Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:31:14 +0000 Portland Press Herald Columnists Bill Nemitz, Cynthia Dill, Alan Caron and Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich discuss the election results. What do they mean? Where do things go from here?

Subscribe to the Portland Press Herald Podcast on iTunes

]]> 0, 11 Nov 2016 19:17:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Can President Trump unite us, or will divisions grow wider? Thu, 10 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Way back in 2004, just after he lost his second straight start against the New York Yankees, Red Sox pitching ace Pedro Martinez uttered a quote that perfectly captured a painful moment in New England sports history.

“They beat me,” Martinez said. “They’re that good right now. They’re that hot. I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.”

Early Wednesday morning, against almost all expectations, prognostications and, yes, hallucinations, President-elect Donald J. Trump became our daddy.

The Red Sox, of course, went on to win four straight from the Yankees in the American League Championship Series en route to their first World Series title in 86 years.

There will be no such reversal of Tuesday’s stunning presidential election. For the next four years, love him or despise him, Trump will sit atop the pinnacle of power over the free world.

Will he somehow unite us, as he promised in his victory speech?

Or are the wounds from this campaign too raw, the divisions too deep, for the American electorate to move forward as one into a future as unplanned as it is unpredictable?

And where does this election for the ages leave Maine?

That last one is easy: We’re as divided as we’ve ever been.

Trump won big in the north and central regions, while Hillary Clinton won big along the southern coast and midcoast.

Democrat Chellie Pingree cruised to an easy re-election to Congress in the 1st District, while in the 2nd District, Republican Bruce Poliquin did the same.

Despite Democratic gains in both chambers, our Legislature remains divided between a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate.

We raised the state’s minimum wage and adopted ranked-choice voting. Yet at the same time, we voted no on mandatory background checks for private gun sales.

And we’re still too close to call on legalizing marijuana and raising taxes to increase school funding.

Wednesday afternoon, I asked a sleep-deprived Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, for his thoughts on Tuesday’s vote and its impact on the deepening divide between the two Maines.

Why Katz?

Two reasons.

First, in an op-ed published in this newspaper back in August, he denounced Trump for “his cruel and bitter ideas” and declared him “not fit to be president.”

Second, despite breaking ranks so publicly with his party on its presidential nominee, Katz just won re-election to his fourth Senate term with a whopping 77 percent of the vote – the highest majority for any contested Senate seat.

So what say Katz now about the man who just turned the press, the pollsters and the pundits on their collective ear?

“He is the president-elect and he is now my president,” Katz said. “But I am worried about the direction he may attempt to take us based on what he himself has said.”

Katz isn’t the only one.

Clinton, on her way to claiming three of Maine’s four electoral votes, won 76 percent of the vote in Portland to just 18 percent for Trump.

Thus it should come as no surprise that two young women planted themselves in the middle of Monument Square during Wednesday’s lunch hour with a large sign offering “Free Hugs” to anyone in need of a little consolation.

Katz said Trump’s win strongly reminds him of Gov. Paul LePage’s first victory, in 2010.

In both cases, he noted, a male, Republican outsider known for his jagged edges ran against a female Democrat with a long record of public service. In both cases, the woman sought to become the first female elected to an executive office.

Like Hillary Clinton, former House Speaker Libby Mitchell did not benefit from her lengthy government resume. Rather, it became her biggest liability.

“Particularly in the last month or so, Trump’s most effective argument was that (Clinton) has been part of the establishment for 30 years. She can’t be a change agent,” Katz said. “And that was so reminiscent of Libby Mitchell’s run, why Libby couldn’t win. Not that she wasn’t a fine person, but she could not be a credible spokesperson for change because she has been there for so many years.”

Now, Maine waits to see if history repeats itself even further.

Will Trump follow in the footsteps of LePage, worshipped by his base and detested by many outside it as he makes headline after headline for all the wrong reasons?

Or could Trump the bomb thrower suddenly morph into a saner, softer version of himself – no longer prone to the politics of outrage because he no longer needs to whip up his followers into an over-performing frenzy?

“I’m an eternal optimist,” Katz said gamely. “I’m optimistic he will understand that the job of running for office as an outsider, which he excelled in, is very different from the job of governing. We collectively will hope that he grows into that role.”

Closer to home lurks another worry: Might LePage, who boasts that he was Donald Trump before Donald Trump, take this election as a mandate to drive an even deeper wedge between the two Maines?

“Exactly,” Katz replied. “I’m afraid that might be exactly right.”

From where Katz sits, the current state of the body politic is no longer about political parties. While both the Republicans and Democrats, here in Maine and nationally, go through what he calls “an identity crisis,” Trump supporters clamor for refuge amid the cross-currents of globalization and other forces far beyond their control.

What Trump calls “this movement,” however repulsive it may sometimes look and sound, is at its core a demand by half of Maine, indeed half of America, that someone, anyone, speak for them for a change.

Is Donald Trump that someone? Can he successfully govern as that someone?

We’ll see.

But as the two Maines reverberate from this election for the ages, what was once unthinkable is now a newly carved milestone in U.S. history.

Donald Trump, heaven help him, is here to stay.

He’s America’s daddy now.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 123, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 10 Nov 2016 11:35:44 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Grandson, I’m hoping yours will be a better world Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 My dear little Gus,

I wish that you, my one and only grandchild, were old enough for us to talk man-to-man about all of this. Right now. While it’s happening. With history watching our every move.

But we can’t. You’re not even 9 months old, that ever-present smile on your perfect face proof positive that in your world, all is well.

You’re warm. You’re fed. You’re surrounded by people who melt at the mere sight of you and shower you with love.

It may not always be this way.

I have a terrible feeling that one day, your horizons broader, you’ll look around and see a world that is broken. A place where hatred and mistrust rule the day and no one, at least no sane person, dares speak his mind for fear of inciting the nearest mob.

“Was it always like this?” you’ll ask. “Were people always this angry and afraid?”

“No,” I’ll assure you. “A long, long time ago, things were different.”

I’ll tell you about how, way back in 1960, I was a 6-year-old kid growing up in a place where the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns had trailers sitting side by side in the middle of my hometown’s square.

Smiling volunteers from both camps would cheerfully drown us kids with bumper stickers, political buttons and little candidate cards with JFK and that other guy beaming back at us in glossy black-and-white.

We’d stick the pins to our jackets (one on the left, the other on the right), plaster the conflicting stickers on our bike fenders and clothespin the cards to our spokes, delighting in the clickety-clack of “Kennedy-Nixon-Kennedy-Nixon-Kennedy-Nixon …” as we tore up and down the sidewalks in sweet, Cold War oblivion.

I’ll tell you how later, as I teetered between adolescence and adulthood, I grew my hair long and patched my tattered jeans and argued passionately with my dad, your great-grandfather, about whether Richard Nixon was in fact a crook and whether the Domino Theory was a crock and whether the great United States of America was truly coming apart at the seams.

But then one day, one of my dad’s conservative friends asked him why he didn’t sit me down, get out the scissors and cut off that hippie ponytail of mine.

Dad calmly shook his head and replied, “I have far more important things to argue with my son about than the length of his hair.” And with that, amid all the upheaval, I knew deep down everything would be all right.

I’ll tell you how I became a journalist and before long found myself caught up in the rough-and-tumble of local, state and federal politics.

I learned early on how nasty politicians could get with one another. I also learned that when it really mattered, when something truly important was at stake, the tallest among them always managed to stand up straight, look their opponents square in the eye and get the job done.

I’ll tell you how one awful day in September 2001, evil descended from the clear blue sky, crashing into skyscrapers filled with innocent people of every race, every religion, every political stripe, every sexual orientation, every age, every hope and aspiration.

Never in my life had I witnessed such pain as the day I looked down from the press box during the memorial at Yankee Stadium onto a sobbing mother and her fatherless children, clinging to one another for dear life.

And as I rode the jam-packed subway back to my hotel late that afternoon, never in my life had I felt like this entire country was more unified, more determined to stand together against those who would tear us apart.

I’ll tell you how we went to war and ever so slowly, that resolve began to erode. How during the same period, our economy collapsed and a sense of hopelessness and despair set in.

At first, we blamed the banks, the politicians, the lobbyists, the whole damn system. But the system deftly deflected all that righteous indignation until, finally, we began to blame each other.

I’ll tell you how the news business, my lifeblood, changed. How newspapers began to decline and suddenly all the people on the right drifted to one cable TV channel and all the people on the left drifted to another – and thus neither could see what the other side saw, or hear what the other side heard.

On top of that came the explosion of the internet, where propaganda masqueraded as the truth and facts lay buried under gigabytes of real-sounding fiction. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, the silos only grew higher.

Eventually, we agreed on nothing. Immigrants, guns, poverty, welfare, homes foreclosed, factories shuttered, jobs lost – all became the markers by which we defined us versus them, liberals versus conservatives, natives versus newcomers, the haves versus the have-nots.

I’ll tell you how things came to a head right now, in the fall of 2016. How we went into an election divided by race, by geography, by educational background and by gender until it soon became clear that Election Day would bring no resolution after all.

It was supposed to be no contest. But even as I write this, my little Gus, I cannot say with certainty who will emerge victorious from this sorry spectacle.

But I can tell you this: Whoever wins, the fighting will rage on. The anger, as the pundits like to say, is “baked into” the body politic. The wounds, many fear, will never heal.

I know that sounds terribly pessimistic. But even as I close my eyes and picture you as a young man, I still hold out hope.

Sooner than I’d like, this will be your world. A cursed mess, to be sure, but nothing that can’t be salvaged, repaired, coaxed back from this brink of bitterness and acrimony.

My Lord, you’re so tiny now. You – and millions like you – have not a clue what awaits as you climb out of your newborn bliss and rub your eyes at the enormity of it all.

Yet in you I place my faith. And for you I now pray.

I pray that you will come to know compassion.

I pray that you will embrace not only those who agree with you, but also those who differ.

I pray that you will learn patience and humility and, above all, the power of love over hate.

I pray that you’ll learn from our mistakes.

Sleep tight, little guy. And hold on tight to your dreams.

All my love,



]]> 90, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 05 Nov 2016 19:07:41 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Senators’ double-dipping saga is politics at its worst Sun, 30 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Funny thing about partisan grenades tossed across the Great Political Divide in the eleventh hour of election season: Sometimes they blow up in your face.

Such was the case last week for two Democrats in the Maine Senate – Sen. Justin Alfond, the Senate minority leader from Portland, and Sen. John Patrick of Rumford.

It all began dramatically enough.

On Monday, Alfond and Patrick called a news conference to allege that two of their Republican colleagues – Sen. Andre Cushing of Hampden and Sen. Ron Collins of Wells – essentially had ripped off Maine taxpayers by double-dipping on reimbursements for legislative expenses.

Specifically, they cited the fact that Cushing paid for $3,100 in travel expenses with money from Respect Maine, his political action committee, only to personally ask for and receive the same amount in reimbursement from the Legislature’s expense fund.

Collins, they also announced, prepaid $2,400 for lodging at the Senator Inn in Augusta with leftover campaign funds and then collected the same amount in reimbursement via his $38-per-day legislative allowance for housing.

Fumed Patrick at Monday’s press gathering, “Fraud is fraud, and when there’s potential fraud, we should just look at it.”

Agreed Alfond, “If this doesn’t spell fraud, I don’t know what does.”

Actually, it spells pre-election “hit job.” And by the time the smoke cleared, that charge of fraud was in tatters.

After several hours of deliberations on Thursday, the Senate’s Conduct and Ethics Committee tabled the Democrats’ formal request for an investigation of Cushing because the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices already is looking into his case.

That probe, along with the whopper of a lawsuit Cushing’s sister recently filed against him for allegedly misappropriating more than a $1 million in family trust funds, will take far beyond Election Day to sort out. Put more simply, when it comes to political migraines, Cushing is currently in a league all his own.

Not so for Collins. In his case, the Senate ethics committee voted, 4-1, that the three-term senator from Wells had in fact done nothing wrong.

State law, after all, allows the use of leftover campaign funds for legislative expenses. And Collins’ attorney, former lawmaker Josh Tardy, provided ample documentation showing that Collins still ended up spending almost twice as much on legitimate lodging expenses than he got back in reimbursements.

Meaning Collins did not, as his accusers suggested, fraudulently turn his hotel expenses into a net personal profit. Nor did he break any law.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Plenty.

For starters, Patrick, the actual complainant against the two Republicans, was a no-show at Thursday’s hearing due to a scheduling conflict.

That left Alfond to forge ahead. Only under questioning by the ethics committee did he reveal that the Democrats’ research into possible double dipping began and ended with four senators: Cushing, Collins, Alfond himself and Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, the assistant minority leader.

Talk about convenient. The two Democrats chosen for scrutiny are already known to be clean as a whistle, while the two Republicans include one with a dark cloud already over his head and another who, surprise, turned on the news Monday evening to hear himself being labeled a fraud.

“I was very troubled when I first heard about this,” Collins, who is running for re-election to his fourth term representing Senate District 34, told the ethics committee in its first-ever gathering since its formation in 1989. “I’ve striven for the 14 years that I’ve been a legislator up here in Augusta to always do the best job I possibly could with integrity and honesty – to be honest, straightforward and always transparent with anything I always do.”

If he sounded like a man who’d just been sucker-punched, that’s because he was.

So, dear Democrats, why not (ahem) broaden the search a bit before stepping up to the microphones?

Why not, rather than cherry-pick the two Democratic Senate leaders, randomly choose a couple of fellow Dems for scrutiny and let the chips fall where they may?

Better yet, why not focus on a murky policy – which the ethics committee recommended in another 4-1 vote that the next Legislature do – rather than arbitrarily throw a Republican like Collins under the bus?

Cue the “they do it, too” defense. In a lengthy interview on Friday, Alfond claimed more than once that the Maine Republican Party, at the behest of Senate President Michael Thibodeau, had no problem filing an unfair ethics complaint against a Democrat challenging Thibodeau’s bid for re-election.

“The idea that this is being played for politics – we are partisans,” Alfond said. “We are people who play politics. That is our job. That is what we do as elected officials. That’s what we do.”

All-righty then. Give that man an “A” for candor.

Then there’s the timing of this whole brouhaha. Considering that the Collins reimbursement saga dates all the way back to 2014, it’s hard not to sympathize when he cries foul over a sneak attack launched a mere two weeks before the election.

To which Alfond replied that it all started a couple of weeks ago, when news broke that Cushing’s sister had followed up her lawsuit by filing a complaint to the state ethics commission about her brother’s PAC dealings.

“This is the research that both parties do in order to … get the voters, the taxpayers, Mainers all understanding the whole picture,” Alfond said.

Uh-uh. Witness the news release Alfond’s office put out after Thursday’s hearing: It claimed victory for the committee’s vote to revisit the reimbursement policy and included a quote once again lambasting Collins by Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lone vote against him on the committee.

What the release didn’t set straight was that Collins didn’t commit fraud on the taxpayers of Maine after all.

“That was a mistake,” Alfond conceded, looking back on Monday’s press conference. “There is no way … that Ron Collins was committing fraud.”


What makes last week’s dust-up so unfortunate is that at its core, a legitimate public policy issue cried out for bipartisan attention.

But that was all but drowned out by over-the-top mudslinging against a lawmaker who thought he was following the rules. A guy who, however unfairly, will be remembered by many on Nov. 8 as some kind of scam artist.

But hey, it’s all politics. Right?

Right. But that doesn’t make this ambush any less wrong.

Postscript: To the 200 or so readers who sent cards and emailed me after last Sunday’s column on my and my wife’s dearly departed dog, Fairbanks, thank you one and all. Your kind words, along with touching stories of your own four-legged friends, have lightened our heavy hearts.


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Bill Nemitz: Stung by bad trade, seller still sticks to his guns against Question 3 Fri, 28 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 File it under gun trades gone bad.

“Well, I just had ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) at my door,” wrote a guy named Will last month in a post to the Gun Owners of Maine Facebook page. “One of the guns I traded to another person on Facebook was recovered (by police) and traced back to me. The gun I received in trade for it was apparently stolen. Looks like I’m out a gun.”

He went on to warn, “I want to remind people. Do your due diligence before any trade or sale. I googled this guy’s name. I checked with Facebook, talked with him a bit beforehand. He seemed like a good guy. But I don’t have access to a NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) system so I could only get so much information. Unfortunately for me that was not enough.”

You won’t see Will’s last name here because, according to Rumford police Capt. Daniel Garbarini, fully identifying him could significantly compromise an ongoing criminal investigation.

But this much is clear: However unwittingly, Will has become the poster boy for Question 3, the proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot that would expand mandatory federal background checks to private gun sales and transfers in Maine, with certain exceptions.

Will’s Facebook post, which has since been deleted, was captured recently by Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, the group working to pass Question 3.

Now, let’s be clear here. Will has not been charged with any crime relating to his gun trade and has cooperated fully with federal and local law enforcement officials in their criminal probe.

Still, as Capt. Garbarini said in an interview Thursday, “I think there are some takeaways for him out of it – and probably for anyone who could learn from what he experienced moving forward.”

Which brings us back to Question 3.

In a lengthy exchange of messages on Facebook this week, Will told me most of his private gun transactions – all of which are currently exempt from mandatory background checks – involve family members or friends he’s known for a long time.

When he does business with a stranger, he said, he keeps meticulous records and does his own research – primarily via Google and social media – before sealing the deal.

“I’ve turned people down because they were charged with shoplifting,” Will said. “I’ve turned people down who had been charged with assault. I’ve turned people down who had ANY drug charge including marijuana. I’ve turned people down just because I didn’t like how they spoke. Their attitude seeming off.”

So why not add federal background checks to his to-do list?

Because, as he put it, a federal background check “only works if the person was a criminal before the deal happened.”

And because, he insisted, he’s perfectly capable of weeding out the convicted felons – who are legally prohibited from owning firearms – on his own.

“In almost every instance of arrest, there is a name published in the paper,” Will said. “It doesn’t mean they were convicted but to me that’s enough for me to feel confident.”

Let’s replay that.

He forgoes background checks because they catch only existing criminals. Which is precisely what they’re designed to do.

And rather than utilize a federal database that contains the names of countless convicted felons nationwide and has stopped sales to bad actors 2.4 million times and counting since 1998, Will relies on what may or may not have been reported in “the paper.”

That’s not due diligence. That’s wishful thinking.

Will said he’d have no problem doing background checks if the other party to a sale or trade insisted on one. In fact, he said, he’s passed five background checks himself just this year.

Nor would it be such a big deal, Will said, if he didn’t have to go to one of Maine’s approximately 1,000 federal firearms licensees to have a background check performed and pay what the proposed law describes as “a reasonable fee” for the service.

“If I could run a background check on someone using my cellphone at my convenience whether it be 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. (in a) McDonald’s parking lot, library, wherever I want, then sure … I would run a background every time,” he wrote. “But having to arrange a time where we both can meet at a (licensed gun) shop that is open during a time that works for both parties can be difficult.”

Understood. But how would he feel if he were to learn that a gun he’d traded away was used in a crime?

Or, worse yet, what if an undetected felon used his gun to shoot someone in a situation not involving self-defense?

“For lack of a better term I would feel like (expletive),” Will replied. “But it wouldn’t change my views. A background check will not stop someone who is out to do bodily harm. They will do it one way or another.”

To which I replied, “As for criminals being criminals, you’re right. No law will stop all of them all of the time. But to use that as an argument for no law strikes me as total surrender to the criminals.”

He didn’t respond. End of conversation.

Without a name, which police are loath to release at this point, there’s no way to officially determine the criminal status of the guy who got Will’s gun.

For what it’s worth, Will now claims that “this was a person who had not been convicted for anything other than minor offenses up until that point.”

This from the guy who boasted earlier that he can spot such transgressions from the comfort of his own keyboard.

What’s more, Will said, “there is no list of stolen guns for dealers to reference.”

Actually, maintains an ever-growing database of weapons reported stolen, including a half-dozen currently from the Rumford area alone.

And as Capt. Garbarini noted, a chat with your local police can go a long way in determining whether a firearm is stolen before you buy it or accept it in trade.

But there’s a bigger picture to consider here with Election Day less than two weeks away.

Gun transactions involving licensed dealers already require federal background checks. In fact, according to FBI data, 5,501 of those checks prevented guns from getting into the wrong hands here in Maine from 1998 to 2014.

Not so for stranger-to-stranger hook-ups like Will’s. Haphazard Google searches notwithstanding, they go down every day all over Maine with no questions asked.

Why not?

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 199, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 28 Oct 2016 08:36:39 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A personal ode to the Best Dog Ever Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It was, among daily life’s many rituals, my favorite.

I’d pull into the driveway at the end of a long day.

Fairbanks, the Best Dog Ever, would jump up and stand by the porch steps, his face one big smile, his tail wagging like there was no tomorrow.

I’d come down the walk, stop in my tracks and say, “C’mon, Banks!”

Bolting down the steps, he’d sprint directly toward me, veering off at the last second into a wide circle – past the miniature Japanese maple, out to the driveway, around through the hostas and back up onto the porch, where he’d crouch like a coiled spring, tongue out, tail still wagging …

“C’mon, Banks!” I’d repeat. And we’d do it all over again … and again … and again …

I thought about those glorious homecomings with tears in my eyes Monday as I lifted Fairbanks up from the driveway and onto the towels my wife, Andrea, had spread across the back of the car.

His eyes clouded by cataracts, his hearing all but gone, his fluffy tail motionless between his arthritic hind legs, Bankster looked back up at me and, I swear, one last time he smiled.

He came into our lives 13 years ago, rescued at the last minute from a kill shelter in Alabama by The Golden Retriever Rescue Lifeline and trucked all the way to Maine along with more than a dozen other equally lucky pups.

I’d just written about the good people who run the rescue program, and Andy and I went to the park-and-ride lot in Biddeford to watch the offloading.

It was love at first sight. Fairbanks came down the ramp and sidled up next to Andy, who melted on the spot.

The next thing I knew, I was writing a check for the adoption fee. And just like that, all of our lives took a turn for the better.

If you’ve never had a dog, you may not get how a non-human can become part of a family. If you have, then perhaps you’ll understand.

Fairbanks was more than just a friendly dog. He was, to us and to so many who crossed his path over his long life, an actual friend.

Some might remember when I last wrote about him just over four years ago.

Back when he was a local celebrity.

Andy managed an upscale clothing boutique on Middle Street at the time and, rather than leave Bankster alone at home all day, she began bringing him to work.

Sitting there in the display window, at eye level with whoever passed by, he proudly served for more than a year as the Old Port’s therapy dog. To this day, people tell us how their daily “Fairbanks fix” made their workaday lives a little less wearisome, their burdens a little bit lighter.

“So handsome,” wrote one of many admirers on his “Friends of Fairbanks” Facebook page. “You light up my workday. Thanks, Fairbanks.”

Andy eventually changed jobs and, alas, Fairbanks lost his window on the world. His fans were crushed.

Still, life went on. We adopted another rescue dog, Sofie, to keep Bankster company during the day. And we tried mightily not to notice time’s inevitable advance.

His end-of-the-day welcomes slowed from four loops around the driveway to three, then two, then one … until finally he stayed put on the porch and gamely waved with his tail.

He slept more and, when he did play, moved more gingerly. His 4-mile walks shrank steadily until anything over a half-mile was likely to leave him lame for a day or two.

His facial hair turned gray.

But his spirit, dare I say his love, never wavered.

Last year, as I spent most of my time sick in bed, Fairbanks sensed something was wrong. Tail wagging, he’d stare into my eyes for what seemed like hours, as if to say, “We’ve got this. Things will get better.”

And they did. At least for me.

They say golden retrievers have an average lifespan of 11 or 12 years. Yet even as Fairbanks limped past 14, Andrea and I had trouble accepting that this gift, this once-scrawny little guy with the outsized grin, could ever stop warming the world around him.

But as we Googled “dog end of life” and scanned all the checklists on “when to know it’s time,” the evidence slowly mounted: Night wandering? Check. Loss of vision and hearing? Check. Inability to climb stairs? Check. Increasing incontinence? Check. Weight loss? Check …

Then it was Monday. From the moment we awoke, the 3:15 p.m. veterinarian appointment hung heavy over the day until finally, as the clock hit 3, I took a deep breath, hooked the leash onto Fairbanks’ collar and said, my own throat tightening, “C’mon, Banks. Time to go.”

Our veterinarian could not have been kinder. She examined Fairbanks, asked us about this and that, and gently assured us that, yes, we were making the right decision.

Upon hearing the words, I suddenly felt panicky. I wanted to scoop him up, run out to the car and make a beeline for home, where everything would be perfect again and Bankster would run to his heart’s content.

Instead, I held his front paw and watched as the vet administered the sedative and left us all alone for a few minutes.

Our tears flowing freely, Andy and I hugged and petted the dog of our dreams. Then he kissed us each on the chin one last time, lay down and, ever so slowly, drifted off to sleep.

Only then did I realize I still had my slippers on.

Only as I got in the car and closed the door did I fully grasp how attached we’d become to that furry bundle of pure, unadulterated friendship.

Only now, as Sofie and I sit here amid the silence, do I appreciate how much a dog can fill an old house – and beyond – with his simple presence.

Time surely will heal all of that.

Still, as I look over at the corner of the living room and spot a Fairbanks fur ball hiding in the shadow, I’d give anything for one more sunny afternoon, one more welcome home, one more wag of that brilliant tail.

Goodbye, Bankster. May you run in peace.


]]> 43 was when Fairbanks would join Andrea Nemitz at the Black Parrot on Middle Street, and be known as the Old Port's Therapy Dog.Sat, 22 Oct 2016 18:20:47 +0000
Bill Nemitz: No grave concerns about integrity of Maine’s upcoming election Thu, 20 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I’m thinking about swinging through the cemetery near my house on Election Day to see if anyone needs a ride to the polls.

Sounds crazy?

Not as crazy as this:

“I am not confident we’re going to have a clean election in Maine,” Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday during his weekly chat with WVOM radio. “Will people from the cemetery be voting? Yes, all around the country.”

Don’t bother asking for evidence.

There is none.

Don’t bother pointing out to LePage, as more than one headline writer has already, that he was elected twice via the same system he now declares unclean.

LePage, we all know by now, is a stranger to irony.

And don’t assume LePage’s words, echoing those of his maniacal messiah, Donald Trump, are not a threat to the democratic process.

If this election has taught us one thing, it’s that a frightening number of Americans will believe anything.

“This allegation of widespread election fraud is just absolutely irresponsible,” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Wednesday in an interview.

It’s also getting old.

For the better part of a decade, Republicans far and wide have tried with some success to erect as many barriers as they can between the American voter and the ballot box.

Here in Maine, for example, LePage & Company passed a law back in June of 2011 that did away with same-day voter registration. It set a deadline of two business days before an election – meaning, for Tuesday elections, the close of business the previous Thursday – for people to get on the voter rolls.

That November, Mainers pushed back hard. A people’s veto of the measure passed by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

Why the lopsided outcome?

Because a majority of Mainers believe in making it as easy as possible to vote. And because back then, just like now, Republican claims that our electoral system is rife with corruption have no basis in truth.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Politifact on Monday gave its worst “pants on fire” rating to Trump’s claim that the country is beset with “widespread voter fraud.”

“More people are struck by lightning or attacked by sharks than are accused of voter fraud,” Politifact found.

Does that mean our system is perfect? Of course not.

In a 2012 study titled “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient: Evidence that American Voter Registration Needs an Upgrade,” the Pew Center on the States found much room for improvement when it comes to registrations that are no longer valid or accurate (24 million), names of deceased citizens still on the voter rolls (1.8 million) and people who are registered in more than one state (2.75 million).

“These findings underscore the need for states to improve accuracy, cost-effectiveness and efficiency” in their elections, Pew concluded.

What Pew didn’t allege, however, is that any of those shortcomings have led to actual voter fraud.

In fact, Justin Levitt, an election fraud expert and professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, did an exhaustive study two years ago of crooked-electioneering claims throughout the United States.

Levitt unearthed 31 credible allegations of voter fraud from 2000 to 2014 – out of more than a billion votes cast.

So much for “widespread” skullduggery.

That mirrors an “investigation” back in 2011 by then-Secretary of State Charlie Summers. He launched it at the behest of then-Maine Republican Party state Chairman Charlie Webster, who claimed more than 200 out-of-state students in the University of Maine System had voted here illegally.

The number of students found by Summers to have actually committed voter fraud? Not a one.

But back to the dead people.

According to Secretary of State Dunlap, the Social Security Administration automatically alerts the state whenever a Maine citizen dies. The information goes first to the Department of Motor Vehicles and, in turn, to the state’s Central Voter Registration System.

Typically, Dunlap said, that prompts the removal of a person’s name from the voting list within a month of his or her death.

Beyond that, many of Maine’s 503 municipal clerks take their own steps to keep their lists up to date. In my hometown of Buxton, Town Clerk John Myers told me his staff checks the newspaper obituaries daily to see if any local folk have passed away and therefore shouldn’t be showing up on Election Day.

In other words, LePage’s claim that “people from the cemetery” will vote on Election Day is 100 percent, Grade-A baloney.

As is his other assertion this week that “there are counties in this country that get more votes than there are citizens in their county. So what’s that tell you?”

It tells us, once again, that Maine’s chief executive has no clue how idiotic he often sounds. And that he has zero respect for the intelligence and integrity of election workers who will spend long hours come Nov. 8 ensuring that our democracy works the way our Founding Fathers intended.

Here in Maine, with 10 or more of those good citizens serving at each of more than 600 polling places, that translates into well over 6,000 people. Some are Republicans, some are Democrats, some are independents, but all are driven by a shared belief in the process.

To call our elections rigged, without a scintilla of evidence to back it up, is to call these people incompetent at best and complicit at worst.

They deserve far better from the Republican nominee for president, from Maine’s governor and from the many other bomb throwers now feeding this frenzy.

Truth be told, they’re owed an apology.

As for those who blindly agree with Trump and LePage that the fix is in, you’re missing completely what’s motivating these two bozos as Election Day draws near.

Trump, facing all-but-certain defeat in 19 days, is pre-emptively soothing his gargantuan ego. Incapable of looking in the mirror and seeing the loser that he soon will be, he reflexively blames the system that got him this far.

And LePage?

Dunlap has a theory on what prompted the governor’s crazy talk on Tuesday. Around the same time LePage was calling in to WVOM, Dunlap noted, his administration was rocked by a report from the state auditor that the welfare cops at Department of Health and Human Services had “improperly managed” some $13 million in federal funds for needy children and families.

“How do you address that?” Dunlap mused. “You threaten a zombie apocalypse.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

Twitter: BillNemitz

]]> 61, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 30 Nov 2016 19:17:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: In realm of verbal gaffes, LePage is an authority Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Dear Governor LePage,

Darn. It took you almost six years, but you finally uncovered the media’s secret weapon.

“I think that you all live in a world of words,” you told a roomful of reporters Wednesday, explaining why you have no respect for those of us who make a living hanging on your every word.

Including the word “authoritarian.” That’s the one you used during your weekly chat with WVOM radio Tuesday to describe the kind of power America needs from your hero, Donald Trump.

I know, Governor, it turns out “authoritarian” was the wrong word. As you pointed out during your news conference the next day, you meant to say “authoritative.”

Geez, words can sure be confusing, can’t they, Big Guy?

“Authoritarian,” according to Merriam-Webster, means “of, relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority.”

Or, if you prefer the secondary definition, “of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader … not constitutionally responsible to the people.”

I kind of like the latter. Makes me think of Donald Trump. Or maybe Adolf Hitler.

And someone out there in cyberspace apparently agrees: While I checked out “authoritarian” on Merriam-Webster’s website, wouldn’t you know that a video ad for Trump/Pence 2016 popped up to the far right!

In other words, Governor, you had it right the first time. Trump, without a doubt, is as authoritarian as they come.

But after that characterization landed you on CNN (again), you called in the press – the same people with whom you recently vowed never to speak again – and backpedaled to the word “authoritative.”

“Authoritative” means “having or proceeding from authority: official” and “clearly accurate or knowledgeable.”

Or, secondarily, it means “dictatorial.” Hmmm…

Moving on, you called your word mixup a “big error.” Then, a bit later, you called President Obama an “autocrat” and a “dictator.”

Back we go to Merriam-Webster, which defines “autocrat” as “a person who rules with total power,” and “dictator” as “a person who rules a country with total authority and often in a cruel or brutal way.”

So let’s see if we have this straight, Governor.

Contrary to what you said previously, Donald Trump is not an authoritarian. But he is authoritative, which Merriam-Webster tells us is synonymous with “authoritarian” and “dictatorial.”

President Obama, on the other hand, is a dictator and an autocrat, which Merriam Webster relates to “authoritarian.”

Help us here, Governor. We beseech you. (Sorry. That’s synonymous with “beg.”)

As you explained to all those word people, “If you look at the entire context, unless you’re a moron … you would clearly understand that I was criticizing Obama and I was lighthearted on Trump.”

Shoot, I guess that makes me a moron. Watching your 33-minute news conference left me thinking you shouldn’t leave the Blaine House without a mini-dictionary in your back pocket.

But back to your bromance with Trump.

You told the State House scribes that, unlike Obama, The Donald “does not have to go behind closed doors with community activists to get things done, and to hurt American people.”

Couldn’t agree more, Governor. If elected on Nov. 8, Donald Trump is fully prepared to hurt the American people right out in the open!

Say what? That’s not what you meant?

My bad. I slipped right back into that trap of paying close attention to what you actually say. It’s what they train us to do in the word business.

You see, Governor, that’s the difference between people like us, who communicate for a living, and people like you, who flail away at the English language like it’s a syntax-stuffed piñata.

From where we sit, words matter. Good or bad, pedestrian or incendiary, they’re indispensable to the functioning of a free society.

Use them well and they can raise people up. Use them poorly and they can drag us all into the gutter.

But from where you sit, words are of little consequence.

Choose the wrong one, as you do so persistently, and the entire state of Maine suffers.

And when that gets you in hot water, as it so often does, we’re the ones to blame.

We’re the ones who failed to navigate our way through your malapropisms to get at what’s really going on inside that stunningly addled head of yours.

I can hear you now the next time you cross paths with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, one of many Republicans who loudly (and rightfully) denounced the misogynistic comments Trump uttered aboard the “Access Hollywood” boy bus.

You’ll tell Collins the press got it all wrong. That you were taken out of context when you said her Trump smackdown “is not what we, the people who elected her, expect of her.”

Except, of course, that’s exactly what you said.

You also said the press portrays you as “about the biggest dumbass on the face of the earth.”

Your words, Governor. Not ours.

You complained that “the children of the Greatest Generation have sold the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation down the tubes.”

Last time I checked, Big Guy, you were 68. That puts you right smack at the front of the Baby Boom generation, which was begotten by the Greatest Generation.

So when you lambaste “the children of the Greatest Generation,” you do know you’re talking about yourself, right? Or are we word people once again putting words in your mouth?

One of the word people you called in Wednesday asked you for your thoughts about Donald Trump’s policies. Your words: “I don’t know about them. I am just campaigning.”

Campaigning on what? Donald Trump’s way with women? Do you ever actually take a moment to listen to yourself?

I will give you this, though, Governor.

Among your many rants last week, you counted yourself among the “little peons” who elect “the people inside the Beltway in Washington.”

Interesting word choice. “Peon,” according to the dictionary, means “a person who is not very important to a society.”

Way to go, Big Guy. You nailed that one.


]]> 90, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 30 Nov 2016 19:17:32 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Meet the Trump fan who posted a racy fake photo of Hillary Sun, 09 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 So you think this presidential campaign can’t get any more disgusting than Donald Trump bragging about impulsively grabbing attractive women by the crotch?

Meet Brad Littlefield of Sanford. He likes to dress up Hillary Clinton in a skimpy bathing suit.

“I dunno, she looks kinda hot here! … just sayin! … bahahahaha!” chortled Littlefield, a former Sanford city councilor, in a recent Internet post.

Littlefield’s pièce de resistance: A Photoshopped image of a smiling Clinton atop the semi-nude body of a woman wearing an extremely revealing red-and-white thong with blue neck straps that barely cover her breasts.

It was right there on the “Mainers for Trump/Pence 2016” Facebook page until the wee hours of Saturday morning. That’s when Littlefield, upon seeing the message I sent him inquiring about it, hit the “delete” button.

But, by gosh, he’s still proud of it.

“The post was rhetorical,” he wrote in a series of back-and-forth messages later in the morning. “I am offended by Hillary’s behaviour toward this country.”

Rhetorical? How exactly can a doctored photo of the Democratic nominee for president be rhetorical?

“Perhaps ‘satire’ is a better term,” Littlefield wrote.

I don’t know. I was kind of leaning toward “misogynistic.”

To be clear, “Mainers for Trump/Pence 2016” is not the Trump campaign’s official Maine Facebook page.

That was emphasized Saturday by Trump campaign State Director Christie-Lee McNally, who also noted that Littlefield “is not working for me or on the campaign.”

Try telling Littlefield that.

He introduces himself on his own Facebook page, right under the sign “Deplorables for Trump 2016,” as “Team Trump Maine, Co-coordinating the get out to vote volunteers for Maine’s 1st Congressional Dist.”


“I am unpaid and have been working with MeGOP to coordinate volunteers for CD#1,” Littlefield wrote. “I was placed on a committee … to organize the volunteers … by the Me GOP… in June.”

His point person in Augusta?

“Joe Turcotte,” replied Littlefield, referring to the Maine Republican Party’s political director. (My email to Turcotte requesting comment received no response.)

To which Jason Savage, the Maine party’s executive director, replied in an interview, “Brad, early on, was involved with the Trump campaign. Brad has no formal or informal position with the Maine Republican Party.”

As for the screen-grabbed image of Clinton, which I sent him via email, Savage responded, “That post is reprehensible. It’s not coming from the Maine Republican Party. We’re not going to sit here and try to defend every single thing that one of 12,000 people who are out there posts on Facebook.”

Fair enough.

Still, Littlefield’s message, as well as the platform from which he launched it, is clearly a sign of these woebegone times. Not to mention a reflection of the Trump campaign’s Maine organization – or the lack thereof.

Consider: The Maine campaign’s official Facebook page, “Maine for Donald Trump@TrumpMaine,” has thus far attracted only 58 “likes.”

Littlefield’s renegade page, on the other hand, boasted as of Saturday 1,296 “members” – people who actually have taken the time to join up and be publicly counted.

Thus Littlefield’s sexist bile, which puts him in lockstep with the now-reeling Trump, appears to have a much wider audience than whatever the Maine campaign has managed to put out there.

Littlefield last served on the Sanford City Council in 2013. He blames the media, of course, for all that ails Trump’s candidacy as it approaches meltdown with Election Day weeks away.

Referring to Friday’s release of audio and video showing the depth of Trump’s depravity toward women, Littlefield wrote, “Apparently Trump is so bad the press has to reach back 11 years to find something in his background … pleeeease.”

So, just for the record, how might Littlefield feel if some online troll did to one of his two adult daughters what he did to Hillary Clinton?

“I would counsel my daughter BEFORE she entered politics that everything is on the table,” he replied.

Right. And if some crackpot virtually defiled her for all the world to see, that would be fair game in Littlefield’s book.

So much for conservative family values.

One more question for Littlefield: If there’s really nothing wrong with the photo of Clinton, why did he so hurriedly take it down while the rest of the world slept on Saturday?

“SOME took it literally,” he replied. “I removed it for that reason.”

Huh? How else might one take it?

“I am reminded of a story about a blind person who walks into a room and the mantle is at chin level,” Littlefield continued. “When he questions the location of the mantle … the room attendant said … ‘the world is not going to pad its corners for you.’ ”

Well, that certainly clarifies things. And how exactly was this man ever elected to the Sanford City Council?

In distancing himself from Littlefield, the Republican Party’s Savage cautioned that “he is one guy with a platform.”

At the same time, Savage noted, the Maine Republican Party includes “a lot of really good, caring concerned people.”

No argument there.

But here’s the problem. Thanks in no small part to Trump, not to mention the Republican Party that put him at the top of its ticket, blowhards like Littlefield have been inflated beyond all reason.

They rail, as Littlefield did, against “Hillary Clinton’s offensive behaviour ie untruthfulness about her emails, her email server, her cover-up of her untruthfulness … and Benghazi.”

Then, out of the blue, they post a picture of her half-naked.

They laud Trump as a political messiah who, while exhibiting neither a shred of knowledge nor a sliver of an actual plan, will somehow Make America Great Again.

Then, when he’s exposed once and for all for the male chauvinist pig he truly is, they unleash their ire on the messengers.

They proudly post signs like “Deplorables for Trump” – Littlefield offered to send me one once the latest shipment comes in – to push back on Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment of a few weeks ago.

Yet while doing so, they fail to see how pitch-perfectly they’re proving Clinton’s point.

We’ll never know for sure just how closely Littlefield was tied to the Trump campaign and the Maine Republican Party before they so summarily gave him the heave-ho this weekend.

But like it or not, they own the guy.

Upon hearing that Savage had disavowed any connection between the party and his Trumplike approach to political activism, Littlefield replied, “Guess I will need to ask them to stop asking me for help LOL.”

Or he could just crawl back under his rock.


]]> 156, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 09 Oct 2016 20:16:52 +0000
Bill Nemitz: In Haiti, shelter needed from yet another storm Thu, 06 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Not Haiti. Not again.

“Good Lord, as if we don’t have enough to deal with,” the Rev. Marc Boisvert, a native of Lewiston, said in a telephone interview Thursday morning. “Then this thing happens.”

He meant Hurricane Matthew, which on Wednesday hammered the city of Les Cayes on the southern peninsula of Haiti.

Ten miles outside Les Cayes sits Pwoje Espwa Sud, Creole for “Project Hope South.” An orphanage founded by Boisvert in 1998, it’s long been heaven on earth to 350 Haitian children rescued from life on the streets in the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation.

No longer.

Packing winds of 145 mph and rain measured in feet rather than inches, the center of the hurricane passed directly over them.

“No one was hurt, which was a miracle in itself,” Boisvert said.

But the damage is catastrophic.

Pwoje Espwa last made headlines in the Portland Press Herald back in 2010, when the treasure-salvage ship Sea Hunter sailed there from Portland laden with donated items from Maine.

Haiti had just been hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, centered 100 miles east of Les Cayes. Damage to the city was minimal, but tens of thousands of Haitians had migrated there from the devastated capital of Port au Prince.

The “human tsunami,” as Boisvert called it, left the orphanage and surrounding area desperate for the 200 tons of food, clothing and medical supplies transported all the way from Portland Harbor by the Sea Hunter’s determined crew and volunteers.

I went along for that ride and spent a memorable two days at the orphanage. Known locally as Villaj Espwa, or “Hope Village,” the impeccably maintained, 125-acre campus boasted close to two dozen small dormitories, three schools, small vegetable gardens – all lit up by the smiles and laughter of kids reveling in what little they had.

Boisvert, a Roman Catholic priest who began his ministry in Maine, established the orphanage after serving as a chaplain for the military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. A French speaker, he often provided translation for Haitian refugees after they’d been plucked from their sinking boats or rafts by the U.S. Coast Guard and dropped off at Guantanamo.

The refugees’ horror stories prompted Boisvert to travel to Haiti in 1997 to witness firsthand the abject poverty, widespread disease and, worst of all, children left by fate to fend for themselves. He wondered: Could life in Haiti really be as bad as they described?

In fact, it was worse.

Transformed by the experience, Boisvert sold everything he had, created Pwoje Espwa and never looked back.

“This is God’s work,” he told me back in 2010. “This is what God wants me to do.”

Boisvert is in Florida now on the tail end of a months-long fundraising trip that included a visit to Maine at the end of August.

He’s scheduled to return to the orphanage for the winter later this month.

Thursday morning, after watching helplessly from afar as the Category 4 hurricane’s eye passed directly over Les Cayes, Boisvert made brief telephone contact with the orphanage’s assistant director.

As the storm approached, the staff moved all the boys, along with their mattresses and whatever else they could carry, from their metal-roofed houses to the sturdier, two-story primary school.

There the children stayed, huddled safely behind the thick walls and plywood-covered windows while the lethal debris flew around outside.

The hurricane tore the roofs off all 16 of the male housing units. The girls’ dorms, all domed structures, remain intact.

“The boys’ housing is gone. The secondary school is gone,” Boisvert said. “The kids are now living in the primary school, which means there will be no school for the foreseeable future.”

That’s a big deal. In addition to the orphanage population, Pwoje Espwa provides schooling for 1,300 children throughout the region. Until now.

But schooling can wait. Right now, it’s a matter of basic survival.

Fortunately for the children, a shipment of fortified rice packets arrived just over a week ago. So they’ll be fed, at least for the time being.

The orphanage’s neighbors, including 200 people who took refuge just before the hurricane in the orphanage’s preschool building, pose a much bigger challenge.

Virtually everyone lost their gardens and their livestock, Boisvert said, and in the past 24 hours the crowd squeezed into the preschool already had swelled to about 400.

Many more will follow as hunger deepens, forcing the orphanage staff to strike a delicate balance between the kids’ needs and those of the surrounding community.

“The problem is if we don’t give out any food, we could have a riot on our hands,” Boisvert said. “People are desperate.”

As for rebuilding, where to begin?

A collapsed bridge on the lone route to Port au Prince has left much of Haiti’s southwestern peninsula inaccessible by land. Even the road from Pwoje Espwa to nearby Les Cayes is impassible.

So, as always, Boisvert and his fellow lifesavers make do with what they have. Starting with nine metal shipping containers, which made their way from the Sea Hunter to the orphanage – via small fishing boats and ramshackle trucks – in the final stages of the 2010 relief operation.

“We were thinking about building something with them,” Boisvert said. “I think at this point they’re probably going to be used for housing some people.”

There will be no mercy ship from Maine this time around. Still, Boisvert hopes and prays that his home state’s generosity once again will flow south.

Care to donate? Go to, the website for Pwoje Espwa’s fundraising arm in the United States, and click on the hurricane relief link.

And if you’re wondering what difference it will make, consider that only a week ago, Pwoje Espwa welcomed in 40 new kids. All are under the age of 6.

Boisvert will get back there one way or another. But while most of the East Coast breathes a sigh of relief that Matthew won’t come anywhere near us after all, the good father can only pray and anxiously await the next call from his sleep-deprived assistant director.

“I could feel the crushing sadness in his voice as he had a chance to walk around the campus and see the damage that was done,” Boisvert said. “It’s disheartening, you know?”

We can only imagine.

]]> 16, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 06 Oct 2016 14:02:40 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Ranked-choice voting would be Maine’s smart choice Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A question for Maine voters as we head into the homestretch of Election 2016:

Are you really as dimwitted as some people seem to think you are?

No, this is not a column about Donald Trump. Or, for that matter, Gov. Paul LePage.

This is about ranked-choice voting. A new way of doing statewide elections that, despite those who think it exceeds most Mainers’ intellectual capacity, ain’t exactly rocket science.

“It really is just a runoff system,” said Dick Woodbury, chairman of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. “We’re doing exactly what a runoff would do – it’s just that we’re doing it in a really cost-efficient way. Without delaying the outcome, without all the more negative campaigning, without having to constantly reopen the polls.”

For those who’ve yet to take a close look at the ballot for the Nov. 8 election, welcome to Question 5: “Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?”

In a recent Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, 48 percent of likely voters surveyed said they support the new voting system.

At the same time, 29 percent said they will vote against it and 23 percent said they were still undecided.

Meaning it’s too soon for pro-Question 5 folks like Woodbury to start celebrating, but it’s entirely possible that Maine soon may lead the nation out of the political gutter and back toward, dare we say, a new era of electoral consensus.

Vocal opponents – only a handful have surfaced so far – say that first and foremost, ranked-choice voting is too complex, with too many moving parts for the typical Mainer to comprehend.


Picture a ballot with, say four candidates running for governor. Next to each are ovals marked “1st choice,” “2nd choice,” “3rd choice” and “4th choice.”

Under the ranked-choice system, you fill in the ovals accordingly – as many or few as you like – and then turn in your ballot just like you always have.

Once the polls close, the ballots are counted. If someone emerges with 50-percent-plus-one of the vote, strike up the music and drop the balloons. It’s over.

But if none of the four candidates receives a majority vote, the ranked-choice system kicks in.

How so?

First, the last-place finisher is knocked out of contention. At the same time, the second-choice selections on that candidate’s ballots are added respectively to the totals for the remaining candidates.

If that pushes one of the remaining candidates above 50 percent, it’s balloon time.

If not, the process is repeated until someone achieves a majority.

Bottom line, the winner reflects the wishes of the broader electorate, not just his or her hard-core political base.

And how might that nudge us closer to, as the Founding Fathers once put it, “a more perfect union”?

No more carping for the next two, four or six years about how the majority of Maine has been hijacked by a minority of voters.

No more campaign strategies based solely on dividing and conquering – and to hell with the 60 percent or more of voters who crave a less negative, more moderate message.

No more “spoiler” candidates who change the course of history with their minuscule share of the vote.

No more “strategic voting” by those who now feel forced to abandon their true favorite and use their ballot as a defensive weapon against the candidate they fear the most.

And, perhaps most important, better governance by elected officials who know that their re-election will hinge not on how much red meat they toss to their most rabid supporters, but on how well they represent their entire constituency.

Controversial? You bet – especially to those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

Woodbury divides the opposition into two camps – those who know they couldn’t come close to a majority under any voting scenario, and those “political operatives” who have turned the current mess into a self-serving science.

“They know how to do negative advertising, they know how to target, they know how to take data and help people succeed,” he said. “They know how to manipulate the system, and they’re wary of changing it.”

And so they warn that ranked-choice voting is “too complicated.” Ask yourself again, fellow voter, are you really as thick between the ears as the political elite make you out to be?

Recently, Woodbury tried the ranked-choice concept out at his 11-year-old nephew’s birthday party. He listed various menu items – hot dog, hamburger, pickles  – on the “ballot” before handing it over to his nephew with no instructions whatsoever on how to conduct the “election.”

“He explained it perfectly,” Woodbury recalled with a proud-uncle smile.

There are, to be sure, potential hurdles to consider here.

Attorney General Janet Mills opined this year that ranked-choice voting might run afoul of the Maine Constitution.

Fine. If the courts agree with Mills, there’s plenty of time to pass a constitutional amendment before ranked-choice voting kicks in in 2018.

Critics have said ranked-choice voting will push the state’s cost for an election from just under $250,000 to just over $900,000.

Question: If the current administration can blow almost half a million bucks on a Medicaid “study” that turned out to be plagiarized, why can’t Maine invest roughly the same amount in an election system that might actually prevent such mismanagement in the first place?

But enough naysaying. In his travels around the state promoting Question 5, Woodbury has been struck by how open so many Mainers are to a new way of exercising our democracy.

“I’ve never seen a referendum campaign that has drawn support from across the political spectrum to the degree that this one has,” he noted.


“A lot of people get the problem,” Woodbury said. “An awful lot of thoughtful people have come to the conclusion that we really do need a system that better addresses that now-very-common phenomenon of multi-candidate races.”

In other words, a choice more people can live with.

It’s that simple.


]]> 193, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 01 Oct 2016 20:21:19 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Think things can’t get stranger at the State House? Meet the Rev. Steven Craft Thu, 29 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 He’s been called just about everything in the book since he took office in 2011. But on Wednesday, one day after The Washington Post called for his resignation, Gov. Paul LePage earned himself a new nickname:

Maine’s official nut magnet.

“I don’t know your governor from Adam,” began the Rev. Steven Craft, head of Christian Citizenship Ministries Inc., at a State House news conference Wednesday that was, if nothing else, entertaining.

“Never met the man,” Craft continued. “Don’t know anything about him.”

But that didn’t stop the good reverend from traveling to Maine from New Jersey to … well, that’s where things get weird. I’ve watched the 40-minute presentation twice on Facebook, and I still can’t figure out what the guy was talking about.

Let’s rewind.

On Tuesday, one day after LePage publicly forked over his now infamous three-ring binder chock-full of alleged drug dealers and accounts of their misdeeds, a fellow named Hal Shurtleff put out an announcement headlined “Black Minister to Hold Press Conference at the State House to Defend Governor LePage.”

Shurtleff is with Camp Constitution, which exists “to enhance understanding of our Judeo-Christian moral heritage, our American heritage of courage and ingenuity, including the genius of our United States Constitution.”

(Sorry, Muslims and others outside the Judeo-Christian tent. No campsites for you.)

Shurtleff promised that the “black minister” would defend LePage from an ever-widening chorus of criticism for his repeated claims that Maine’s opioid crisis is the work of black and Hispanic drug dealers from away. This despite the fact that more than half the accused pushers in LePage’s now infamous bad-guy scrapbook – a cry for help if ever there was one – are neither black nor Hispanic.

The Rev. Craft’s other objective, Shurtleff promised, would be to call out the media for “playing the race card” against LePage.

Enter the Rev. Craft.

He’s 72, says he himself is a former heroin addict, and is blessed with an extraordinary ability to confuse the hell out of people.

Craft started by recalling a recent evening when he saw a national news report on LePage. Like so many others, the story highlighted the governor’s myopic fixation on blacks and Hispanics at a time when most Mainers wish he’d quit looking at the state’s drug crisis though race-tinted glasses.

“And the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, ‘Write a letter on Christian Citizenship Ministries letterhead and send it to Gov. LePage expressing to him that many things he said you agree with,'” recalled Craft.

So that’s what Craft did, official letterhead and all. He then got a note back from a LePage staffer thanking him for his “kind words.”

“But (LePage) hasn’t contacted me,” Craft said. “Not even with a ‘thank you’.”

Enter Craft’s good friend Shurtleff, from Camp Constitution, who attended the media briefing but barely said a word.

“Then Hal Shurtleff said, ‘You know what, man? We need to do a press conference to bring some clarity and balance to this thing,'” recalled Craft. “That’s the only reason I’m up here.”

Craft went on to say he wouldn’t have come in January because it’s so cold and black people hate the cold, which by the way is why Maine is so overwhelmingly white …

But we digress.

Back to the race card, which Craft got around to after invoking the Gospel According to John’s parable of how Jesus rescued the adulteress from an angry mob and told the mobsters that he who was without sin should cast the first stone. Apparently Craft sees himself as Jesus, LePage as the adulteress and the rest of us as the angry mob.

Darn, digressed again. Right, the race card.

Press Herald reporter Scott Thistle, in a valiant attempt to bring some sanity to the proceeding, asked Craft why the issue of race “is germane at all” to Maine’s drug problem.

“You’re right, Scott. It shouldn’t have been an issue,” replied Craft. “(LePage) was wrong by opening his mouth. … He played the race card. He did do that. But at the same time, being fair about the thing, the man said, ‘I was wrong and forgive me.’ So why is the thing still a controversy?”

Umm … maybe because the Rev. Craft came all the way to Maine to talk about it?

And so it went, a 40-minute session that was, at the very least, 39 minutes too long.

Craft actually claimed at several points that LePage has apologized for dragging race into the discussion, admitted his error and begged for forgiveness.

Not true, pointed out a reporter in the crowd.

“Did he clarify the wrong or is he still holding fast to a principle that it wasn’t wrong?” asked Craft. “That’s the answer I’d like to find out. I don’t know. You see what I’m saying?”


On the contents of the governor’s scrapbook and LePage’s now-disproven claim that 90 percent of its occupants are black or Hispanic, Craft opined, “He was wrong. So you got him there. It wasn’t 90 (percent). ACLU (of Maine) says it was 40. So I’m asking you, where are the other 99? Does that make sense?”

Sorry, Rev. Lost us again.

Then there was Craft’s message for LePage, the man he purportedly came here to defend: “Man, stop having diarrhea of the mouth! Think before you shoot off at your mouth and you won’t have these controversies!”

OK, now that made sense.

Worth noting here is that neither LePage nor anyone on his staff came within barking distance of this carnival. Which is a good thing for them, considering how badly it backfired.

Still, there’s an important message behind this out-of-nowhere visit by a preacher who knows not of what he speaks and a constitutional camper who knows dry kindling when he sees it.

For those who don’t believe LePage’s antics have hurt this state’s image far beyond its borders, look no farther than Craft and Shurtleff and others out there on the fringes who now view Maine as the nation’s number one destination for lunacy.

And where, pray tell, might they get such an idea?


They saw it in The Washington Post.

]]> 47, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 29 Sep 2016 08:30:44 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Her next text may be a lifeline Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Every Sunday and Monday at 10 p.m., Barb Childs of Standish sits down at her computer and braces herself.

For two hours, sometimes more, she will field texts from people all over the country – most of them young, most of them in some sort of distress, some even on the verge of suicide.

Childs’ job? First and foremost, keep them typing.

“It is draining, but I like to keep busy,” Childs, 49, said last week. “And I definitely get something out of it, too.”

It’s called Crisis Text Line, a 3-year-old, mostly volunteer operation that grew out of one simple sign of the times: For adolescents, young adults and even some older folks, the text message has replaced the telephone call as the preferred mode of person-to-person communication.

Even when, or perhaps especially when, one of those persons needs help. Not tomorrow or the next day or a week from now, but right this minute.

Based in New York City, Crisis Text Line is the brainchild of Nancy Lublin, who ran a youth outreach program called in 2013 when she and her colleagues began noticing the migration toward texting by young people in need of someone to “talk” to.

Three years later, the nonprofit crisis line – accessible for free on most cellphone carriers simply by texting 741741 – has logged over 22 million texts, raised more than $24 million from the likes of Melinda Gates and Linkedin founder Reid Hoffman, and connected with every area code in the country.

Childs heard about it in July on National Public Radio while driving home from her job with an accounting firm in South Portland.

Already a longtime volunteer with Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine as well as a guardian ad litem for adolescents in need of an advocate in Maine’s court system, Childs went to Crisis Text Line’s website,, to learn more.

That led to a seven-week, 34-hour course to become a volunteer counselor. Since completing the training in August, she now splits her required four hours per week over two nights, never knowing what awaits as she clicks on the next text in the never-ending queue.

The texts, according to data carefully compiled by Crisis Text Line, run the gamut from anxiety and stress to suicide and sexual abuse.

Childs recalls being “on the edge of my seat” when, in the final stages of her training last month, she witnessed her first exchange involving another counselor and a texter who was contemplating suicide.

“It can be scary,” Childs said. “But when a crisis counselor can talk that person down and get them to a place where they’re safe until they can get to see a therapist or talk to somebody else – that’s a good night, that’s a good thing, that’s a good text.”

Counselors always have a supervisor with higher-level training looking over their virtual shoulder, ready to offer advice and even arrange real-time intervention if a texter appears to be in imminent danger.

But the basic guidelines remain the same: Empathize, ask open-ended questions, assume nothing, be supportive rather than judgmental, avoid jumping directly into problem-solving mode.

In short, provide the texter a safe haven to reveal, in due time, whatever prompted him or her to start typing in the first place.

“They don’t want to talk to somebody on the phone,” said Childs. “They don’t want to talk to anybody. But they’re glued to their phones. It’s so easy just to text something in.”

Childs is the mother of three grown children, putting her at the older end of the volunteer spectrum.

It’s an advantage in that often she’s been there and done that. But it can also be a challenge as she suppresses the urge to play Mom.

“It’s like this person’s in crisis and I want to tell her what to do,” she said. “I want to say, ‘Your boyfriend’s abusing you, you need to leave or find help.’ But I can’t do that. They have to come to that decision on their own.”

But here’s a problem she can fix, which is why you’re reading about this today: Recently, Childs asked 20 people if they’d heard of Crisis Text Line.

Despite an ever-growing archive of articles by national news outlets, none had.

“I think if the word got out, it could have an impact on many lives,” she said.

Including more than a few lives right here in Maine.

Crisis Text Line keeps copious data on its daily operations, including comparisons showing which problems are most prevalent by state.

Maine ranks first in the country when it comes to texts involving stress.

It ranks second for both eating disorders and anxiety.

And it ranks fifth nationwide for texts prompted by suicidal thoughts.

And this, if Childs’ perception is correct, is without many Mainers even knowing the crisis line exists.

Childs often visits high schools and middle schools in the course of her guardian ad litem work. She plans to start dropping off material promoting Crisis Text Line with guidance counselors – including tear-off tabs with the 741741 text number so students can quietly grab hold of what could be a desperately needed lifeline.

Beyond that, she’ll keep logging on in the quiet of her living room – more texts involving suicidal thoughts occur on Sunday evening than any other time of the week – spreading her virtual safety net while the rest of the world is glued to a football game or reality TV show.

Sometimes a new text will come in just before quitting time at midnight. Childs has the option of handing an ongoing conversation off to another counselor.

But caring soul that she so clearly is, she much prefers to finish every one she starts.

And when it’s finally over?

“I sign off,” Childs said. “And it’s like, I can breathe.”

For more information on becoming a Crisis Text Line volunteer, click here.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:20 a.m. on Sept. 18 to correct Crisis Text Line’s number in the second reference, and on Sept. 19 to correct the spelling of Nancy Lublin’s last name.

]]> 3, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 19 Sep 2016 14:00:35 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Maine Med sees room for improving ‘patient experience’ Fri, 16 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Call it a headline-induced flashback.

This week’s announcement of a $512 million expansion by Maine Medical Center is big news in the hospital industry.

In fact, as reported by Staff Writer Joe Lawlor in Thursday’s Portland Press Herald, the project is one of the largest hospital expansions in the country – aimed not so much at adding more beds as at improving the “patient experience” by greatly expanding the number of private rooms for sick people who could use some time to themselves.

To which I say bravo. Not too long ago, I was one of those people.

It was June of 2015. For the third time in five months, I was an inpatient at Maine Med for treatment of Stage 4 melanoma.

Things were not going well.

Multiple surgeries and radiation procedures, along with three rounds of immunotherapy infusions, had failed to stop the cancer.

Now here I was, stuck in a semi-private room in Maine Med’s Richards Tower, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst while the nurses and technicians came and went with their needles, their pills and their much-needed words of encouragement.

The night before, they’d wheeled in my roommate just hours after he’d undergone major surgery that would forever change his life – and not for the better.

He was a great guy. We introduced ourselves and chatted that morning, comparing notes as patients do in such moments of uncertainty tinged with pain and fear.

Just after lunch, his family and friends began arriving. Wonderful people. All wanting to see him. All crowded into his side of the room to the point where the curtain separating us was pressed right up to the side of my bed.

“Good for him,” I thought amid the din of the half-dozen, maybe more, well-wishers. “That guy needs all the support he can get.”

Then my doctor appeared.

The look on his face, the way he sat on the other side of my bed, told me this would be no routine chat. Bad, I knew deep down, was about to become worse.

I remember hearing “your last CT scan” and “new spots on the liver” and “too numerous to count.”

I remember something about “we’re not giving up yet” and “there’s still the nivo.” He meant nivolumab, the one remaining immunotherapy drug in our quiver. My last hope.

But this much I remember with crystal clarity:

“Be honest with me,” I told him. “If the nivo doesn’t work …”

“Four months?” he said. “Maybe the end of the year?”

He could not have been more compassionate. He repeated his pep talk, patted me on the leg and told me to get some rest.

And then, with more patients to see, more tightropes to walk, he was gone.

I lay there, eyes closed, while the noise a few feet away grew louder … and louder … and louder …

I wanted to scream. I wanted to throw something. I wanted to push the red button and demand that the nurse break up the party and order everyone out.

But I couldn’t do that. This was my problem, not theirs.

Nor could I drown out my thoughts with music on my headphones or cover my ears with a couple of pillows.

So I got up and fled.

Wheeling my IV pole as it drip-dripped fluid into my right arm, I turned right at the doorway and made a beeline for the TV lounge a short distance down the bustling hallway.

The TV blared an afternoon game show. Two women on the couch bickered over whether to change the channel. Nearby, a man and his kids sat around a table gleefully working on a crossword puzzle.

I spotted an empty seat in the corner near the window. I sat down, stared out over Portland and, without warning, began to cry.

Furiously wiping away the tears, praying that no one could see me, I autodialed my wife on my cellphone.

Voicemail. She was at work in a meeting.

I turned back toward the lounge to see my surgeon walk by. He smiled and waved. I flashed what I hoped passed for a smile and waved back.

I called my daughter, a social worker. Thank God she answered.

I told her in a hushed voice what had happened, and she listened long and hard. Then, as she sensed the strain in my voice subsiding, she gently talked me back to my room.

My wife, alerted by my message, arrived minutes later. We held each other tight and wept, even as my roommate’s last visitors quietly tiptoed past the foot of my bed.

I looked at the clock. My son and his wife were due to arrive in 15 minutes.

“I have some difficult news I need to share with them,” I told the nurse, who already knew. “Is there someplace we can go?”

“Yes … well, sort of,” she said.

It was no bigger than a large closet, a “private space” that on this day was so full of extra chairs and other stored items that you could barely step inside, let alone sit down.

My son and daughter-in-law arrived. I told them we needed to talk. I saw the worried looks on their faces as we frantically pulled the extra furniture out of the tiny room until there was enough space to sit.

Then we talked … and hugged … and cried … and talked some more. It felt claustrophobic – four people huddled in this cramped little cubicle weighing the “what is” against the frightening array of “what ifs.”

Turns out my “what if” hasn’t been so scary after all. The nivolumab has worked, my cancer is in partial remission, and my days as an inpatient at Maine Med, God willing, are behind me.

At the same time, I feel nothing short of blessed to have received the level of care I did. In far too many parts of the world, it’s not a matter of how private your hospital bed is, it’s whether you have access to a hospital bed at all.

Still, to those who would look to this week’s news and grumble that private hospital rooms are a luxury, or that they’re trying to turn Maine Med into some sort of five-star hotel, I would say this:

Never in my life have I needed privacy more than I did that day.

And I suspect I’m not alone.


]]> 52, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 16 Sep 2016 09:11:23 +0000
Bill Nemitz: One-woman show about Margaret Chase Smith is just what we need Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It’s an oft-heard lament these days: Where is the late Margaret Chase Smith when we need her most?

Despair no longer. Next month, at the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, Maine’s matriarch for civility in politics will bring an hour or so of calm to the calamity of 2016.

“I think I know her in ways maybe other people don’t,” said Sally Jones, also known as Smith’s theatrical reincarnation, over a cup of coffee last week in the sun-splashed breakfast nook of her Norway home.

Know her? Give Sally Jones a few hours to put on her makeup, get her hair done just right, don the proper attire and warm up that unmistakable central Maine accent and something remarkable happens. Jones, 75, doesn’t just look and sound like the woman from Skowhegan who once schooled the entire nation on how to singlehandedly take on a demagogue – and win.

She becomes her.

Sally Jones in character as Margaret Chase Smith (Photo courtesy of Sally Jones)

Sally Jones in character as Margaret Chase Smith (Photo courtesy of Sally Jones)

“Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington,” a one-woman play by Maine playwright Linda Britt, first debuted in 2009 in Lewiston and has since been performed over 30 times by Jones in small theaters all over Maine.

She thought her most recent appearances two years ago would be her last. A retired high school English and drama teacher who still acts, directs and produces a variety of theatrical productions, Jones is one busy woman.

Besides, it gets lonely when you finish a show and the cast party consists of … well, you.

But then the Cosmopolitan Club of Bath and the Chocolate Church Arts Center, both of which will benefit from next month’s show, came calling.

“I think people are hungry for civility. They’re hungry to see people able to work together,” said Phyllis Bailey, a member of the all-women Cosmopolitan Club’s board of directors who talked Jones into a one-performance revival on Sunday, Oct, 9, at 2 p.m. (For tickets, go to or call 442-8455.)

Of course, added Bailey, there’s also plenty of current-day application for Smith’s famous “Declaration of Conscience” in 1950 against the red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin – a speech that set the stage for McCarthy’s formal censure by the U.S. Senate four years later.

“At a time when it wasn’t very secure to do so – (Smith) was the only woman in the Senate – she stood up to someone who was being very indiscriminately destructive with his accusations against other people,” said Bailey.

Sound familiar? More on that in a minute.

So convincing is Jones as Smith that unexpected things happen as she first tells her life story and then, still in character, opens a question-and-answer session with her audience with the simple request: “I’m at a disadvantage. You know me but I don’t know you. So I would like you to tell me when our paths have crossed.”

At her first-ever performance in Lewiston back in 2009, then-Mayor Larry Gilbert stood up and introduced himself.

“Oh,” replied the senator. “How nice to see you, Larry.”

“I went to your funeral,” deadpanned Gilbert.

“Everybody cracked up, including me,” recalled Jones. “And I thought, ‘This is my first time improvising in character.’ ”

Without missing a beat, the senator asked Hizzoner, “How did I look?”

At other times, however, the audience connection has been no laughing matter.

There was the woman who lingered after a show in Gardiner until everyone had left and then approached the senator to quietly remind her, “I was once your secretary.”

An older man with an accent proudly approached a stage in Lewiston and recalled for the senator how he’d come to the United States long ago to learn to be a doctor, how his visa had expired, how she’d helped him avoid returning to a country that “was not a good place to be,” how he’d later brought his parents and brothers and sisters over and how they were now all doctors and college professors, contributing mightily to American society.

“And so,” the doctor said, “I just came to thank you.”

An elderly widow, also with a bit of an accent, rose from the second row in South Paris, slowly squeezed her way past her seatmates, actually came up onto the stage and took the senator’s hand in her own.

“I was a German war bride,” the woman said. “And after the war, my husband came home and I wasn’t allowed to. And you brought me here. And I just want to thank you for this wonderful country that I’ve been able to live in.”

As she made her way back to her seat, the woman embraced every person in her row. Looking out from the stage, Jones watched many in the audience wiping tears from their eyes.

Ah, but just around the corner from the poignant past lurks the irksome present. The implicit ground rule – that Mrs. Smith can only discuss the world she knew – begs to be broken.

“What do you think of Sarah Palin?” asked one audience member back in 2012.

Dramatic pause.

“One of the things that I always did is I studied all issues before I voted,” the senator finally replied graciously. “And I don’t feel I’ve studied her as much as I could.”

Artful dodge. What exactly was she trying to avoid?

“Being on the internet,” replied Jones.

Meaning, she explained, the last thing she’d ever want is to see is a viral YouTube video showing the spitting image of Margaret Chase Smith, who died in 1995 at the age of 97, offering a lesson in civil discourse to Sarah Palin … or now Donald Trump … or, for that matter, Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

“Because she would have studied everything,” said Jones. “And if she thought her country was in trouble, then she would speak out. But how do I know? How do we know? We can surmise, but we can’t say for sure.”

Of course, today’s political climate is hot and only going to get hotter. And while Jones is loath to disclose how she feels about the headlines competing for the top of Page 1 lately, she knows it will be harder than ever this time to resist that tug-of-war between Maine’s history and its future.

So she has a plan.

Rather than let us drag her forward, she just might take us back. Make way for Sen. Margaret Chase Smith …

“I was new in the Senate, but there were things going on that were making me highly uncomfortable,” she said in that hauntingly familiar voice. “Mr. McCarthy, Joseph McCarthy, was making accusations and he had … no … evidence! And the cornerstone of our country, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights … were under attack and no one would say anything. Can you imagine?”

Yes, Madam Senator. Yes we can.

]]> 47 Jones will portray Margaret Chase Smith in a one-woman play to be performed Oct. 9 at the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath.Sun, 04 Sep 2016 17:14:05 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Maine’s legislative races turn into a referendum on LePage Thu, 01 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 So there you have it, voters. Maine has another referendum on its hands.

It won’t resemble the six questions already on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot. No, this question will hang like a guillotine over every Republican running for a seat in the 128th Maine Legislature:

Where do you stand on Gov. Paul LePage?

Earlier this week, it appeared the Legislature was headed for a long-overdue day of reckoning with LePage over his now-infamous fixation on the ethnicity of Maine’s drug dealers, along with his even more notorious, obscenity-laden voice mail diatribe against state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook.

Leaders across the political spectrum quickly agreed that “corrective action” was needed. Some Republicans in the Senate went so far as to say that LePage’s latest assault on Maine’s heart and soul required at least some form of official sanction by the people’s representatives in Augusta.

Then, on Tuesday evening, House Republicans met privately to discuss the possibility of a special session to consider such action – the Legislature can call itself into such a session only if majorities of the Democratic and Republican caucuses from both the House and Senate agreed to convene.

It appeared the other three caucuses were ready to roll. But then the House Republicans, in the heat of the moment, wilted.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette told reporters that LePage’s apology, issued earlier that day, was good enough for him. Besides, he said with a straight face, shouldn’t we all be focused on the positive things that have taken place under the LePage administration?

“It’s not up to me to be a psychiatrist and psychoanalyze the governor,” Fredette said.

Nobody’s asking him to do that – although he’s apparently one of the few people in Maine and beyond who hasn’t over the past several days.

Rather, Fredette’s job – much like that of his Republican counterpart, Senate President Michael Thibodeau of Winterport – is to weigh his loyalty to LePage against his leadership duty to his party and gauge how big a shadow the governor now casts over the legislative landscape with Election Day just 68 days away.

Here’s a hint: It’s huge.

So huge that some Republicans in moderate districts, most notably Sen. Amy Volk of Scarborough, will have no reservations whatsoever about denouncing LePage as the embarrassment he so clearly has become.

“What I do not know is whether it is due to substance abuse, mental illness or just ignorance,” Volk posted on her Facebook page Sunday. “Some sort of censure would seem appropriate and I would welcome the ability to go on the record with a vote.”

Volk’s words no doubt came from the heart. At the same time, it’s clear that the more distance she puts between herself and LePage over the coming 10 weeks, the better her chances for re-election.

The same goes for any other Republican now out there knocking on doors in a tight legislative race. As Senate President Thibodeau put it when asked about Volk’s bold move, “She’s not on an island here.”

Contrasted with Volk’s gumption, what makes the House Republicans’ punt so distasteful is that it reeks of plain old partisan obstructionism.

Let’s say they’d agreed to a special session with the stated goal of slapping LePage with a formal censure.

Before Republicans could holler “Point of order!” the proceeding might have morphed into a vote by the Democratic majority to impeach LePage – assuming the Gattine voice mail met the requisite “misdemeanor” as stated in the Maine Constitution.

Then it would be up to the Senate to actually try and convict LePage by a two-thirds vote – no easy feat considering that Republican senators outnumber Democrats 20-15.

Put more simply, LePage likely would have survived a special session with a formal slap on the wrist.

Historic? To be sure.

Humiliating? At least to the extent that this governor can feel humiliation.

But it would have been over – at least until the next gubernatorial eruption. And each and every Republican incumbent on the ballot could have pointed to the censure and said, “See? I was horrified too! And my vote shows it!”

Now all they’ve got is, “Well … um … he did apologize. And lookee here, have I showed you Maine’s latest batch of welfare reforms?”

If these were normal times, Fredette would have a point when he insists, as he did Tuesday, that “we need to be talking about the issues so that the voters clearly understand what are the differences between Republicans and the Democrats.”

But these are not normal times. A national consensus is emerging that Maine’s chief executive is mentally unbalanced, unfit to hold higher office and in serious need of professional help.

At the same time, Maine and its voters have become a punch line for electing him not once, but twice.

(“How come he gets voted into office?” Dotun Adebayo, a radio host with the BBC, asked me during an interview over the weekend. My reply, which ranged from the variables of three-way elections to the conservative bump from the 2014 bear referendum, suddenly felt so wanting.)

The stark reality as we rush headlong toward this election is that when it comes to Maine politics, every discussion will begin and end with Paul LePage.

The liberals didn’t cause this sudden turn of events. Nor did the media or the countless other perceived antagonists in the governor’s personal house of horrors.

No, Paul LePage is now the dominant issue in this legislative election for no reason other than Paul LePage. His mouth. His words. His bile.

That’s worth keeping in mind when a House Republican incumbent comes knocking on the porch door in the next few weeks and, should he or she dare, asks what’s on your mind.

“Where do you stand on LePage?” you might reply.

“Oh, I think what he did was disgraceful,” they’ll all say with furrowed brow. “A sad day for the entire state of Maine!”

Then look them in the eye and ask, “So what did you do about it?”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 120, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 01 Sep 2016 08:09:44 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LePage, just stick to shooting off your mouth Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Dear Governor LePage,

Look at you! Getting all historical on us!

Not to mention hysterical.

I’ve got to tell you, Big Guy, I thought the days you could surprise us with your special brand of crazy were long gone.

From the ladies with chemically induced “little beards” to the invasion of the “ziki flies,” from a political opponent’s “black heart” to our “Gestapo”-like Internal Revenue Service, I counted myself among the many Mainers who have developed an immunity of sorts to your endless litany of fluffernutters.

The shrinks undoubtedly would call this a defense mechanism, a way to keep ourselves from going stark raving mad between now and that glorious day you leave office.

But now you want to go dueling.

With pistols.

And you want to shoot your opponent – state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook – “right between the eyes.”

Go see if your powder is dry while I see if I have this story straight.

On Thursday, one day after you threw another tantrum at a town meeting about all those black and Hispanic drug dealers whose photos you keep in a weird personal scrapbook, you got into spat with a few reporters about critics who reportedly have referred to you as a racist.

Gattine’s name came up, although to date there’s no hard evidence out there that he actually has called you a racist.

No matter. Within minutes, you were on your phone leaving Gattine a voice mail so raunchy that … well … let’s just say if the nuns still could get their hands on you, you’d be speaking in soap bubbles until Labor Day.

Then what did you do? You challenged Gattine to make the message public!

Which he did. And so there the raw recording now sits on the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram website, racking up more clicks than a nude photo of Melania Trump.

I’ve got to hand it to you, Governor. For a guy who hates these newspapers, you sure know how to drive up those page views.

But back to the duel.

You’d no sooner stomped away from those reporters to go have lunch – telling them, paradoxically, “You make me so sick!” – than you summoned them back for a 30-minute chat inside the Blaine House.

There, you said you wished it was 1825 again “and we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between (Gattine’s) eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”

Point of information, Governor?

Alexander Hamilton was fatally shot by Aaron Burr in 1804, not 1825.

(Interesting that you should pick 1825, though. It marked the end of the “Era of Good Feelings,” an eight-year stretch during which partisan rancor was at a low ebb under the administration of President James Monroe.)

But back to the issue at hand: Considering that you’re publicly itching for a duel, and that you also warned Gattine in that voice mail, “I am after you,” you’ve now managed to stir more than a few Mainers out of their self-protective slumber. Some even think you’ve committed a crime this time.

They may have a point. Maine state law defines criminal threatening, a Class D crime, as “intentionally or knowingly plac(ing) another person in fear of imminent bodily injury.”

The threat “I am after you” followed by fantasies of an old-fashioned pistol shot between the eyes?

Yeah, I can see that might make someone weak in the knees, especially a “little son-of-a-bitch, socialist (expletive)” Democrat from southern Maine. Your words, Governor, not mine.

Still, for all the hoopla you’ve generated – CNN, Politico, that obsessive Rachel Maddow on MSNBC – we’ve been down this road before, haven’t we, sir?

You’ve grumbled in the past about assassinating legislators from Lewiston, bombing the Press Herald and shooting a political cartoonist from the Bangor Daily News.

Heck, you even once said you were “about ready to punch” then-Maine Public Broadcasting Network reporter A.J. Higgins, who shrugged it off and went on about his business.

Gattine, much to his credit, appears to be doing the same.

“Obviously that message is upsetting, inappropriate and uncalled for,” Gattine told Press Herald reporter Scott Thistle. “It’s hard to believe it’s from the governor of the state of Maine, but … we need to stay focused on the drug problem we are facing here in Maine and cannot allow this story to be about the governor’s inappropriate and vulgar behaviors.”

Bummer, huh, Big Guy? Looks like no duel after all.

By Friday, in fact, you were in full retreat – or what passes for it in LePage Land.

You apologized to “the people of Maine” for your potty mouth. (Can’t you just see all those chortling young kids from Kittery to Fort Kent, playing that voice mail over and over and over on their smartphones while their parents throw up their hands in despair?)

But you offered no such apology to Gattine, who’s sticking to his guns (no, sir, he’s never dueled) that he didn’t, nor would he ever, call you a racist in the first place.

In fact, at a press gathering on Friday, you doubled down on Gattine, claiming that the voice mail was “intended for his ears and his ears only” and that “he chose to put it on the Portland Press Herald.”

Let’s go back to the tape, Governor. The part in which you say, “I want you to record this and make it public.” Ring a bell?

I watched the whole 36-minute video of Friday’s press conference and I’ve got to say, Big Guy, there were times when I swore you were channeling the late Richard M. Nixon in those dark, final days of his failed presidency.

The way you railed about how all those legislators upstairs are out to get you, the way you fumbled through your drug-dealer scrapbook as if it held the answers to all life’s difficult questions, I half-expected the ghost of Alexander Haig to walk in and order the room cleared in the name of national security!

But alas, you won’t quit like Nixon did, will you?

Nor will you take any responsibility for this latest mess, starting with an honest answer to this most basic of questions: Why does the race of all those drug dealers matter in the first place?

You mention it repeatedly, you told reporters, “because it’s a fact.”

Actually, Big Guy, it isn’t. But grab ahold of this fact:

A modern-day cellphone has a much wider range than a 19th-century dueling pistol.

And the entire country can hear you now.

]]> 239, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:42:27 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Maine’s voter guide offers political influence – for just $500 Thu, 25 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Citizens! Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap invites you to be heard!

The “Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election” soon will go to press, and Dunlap recently issued a reminder that you’d think would be too good for political activists to refuse.

For a paltry $500, proponents and opponents of the six questions appearing on this fall’s statewide ballot can have a published word – actually, as many as 300 words – with Maine voters on whether to legalize marijuana, increase funding for education, expand firearm background checks, raise the minimum wage, institute ranked-choice voting or approve a $100 million infrastructure bond issue.

Such a deal?

“Not many people take advantage of it,” Dunlap conceded in an interview.

Not many indeed.

By law, the state’s voter guide must accommodate a maximum of three comments for and three against each question on the ballot – meaning this year there’s room for 36 people or organizations to sound off on why this or that question should pass or fail.

As of Wednesday, however, the secretary of state’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions had received just one – a plea to vote for Question 2 from Citizens who Support Maine’s Public Schools.

A little background:

The public comment sections in the voter guide have been around since 2006, when the Maine Legislature decided that simply listing the boilerplate information on each referendum wasn’t enough.

Lawmakers agreed that voters needed some context, some guidance, some back-and-forth debate to jump start their critical thinking before they grabbed their ballots and headed into the booths.

Or not.

Of the 42 questions that have appeared on the ballot since 2008, only five have attracted any public comment whatsoever.

That could mean one of two things: Either very few political organizers see much value in making their pitch in the voter guide, which is available before elections at every town hall and public library in Maine, and on the secretary of state’s website.

Or, in this age of Twitter, Facebook, mass emails and other forms of highly targeted, speed-of-light campaigning, many of today’s messaging wunderkinds don’t even know the voter guide exists.

Either way, the secretary of state thinks they’re missing out on a golden opportunity for “the price of a few rolls of stamps.”

“Yeah, this is 500 bucks,” Dunlap said, noting that the money goes to cover printing costs and to “weed out the frivolous ones.”

But in exchange for that money, he continued, “you’re going to reach thousands upon thousands upon thousands of voters. Because people do turn to this. They look for it.”

Go ahead and chuckle. But first answer this question honestly: Before you began reading this, could you rattle off the six questions that you’ll be asked to answer when you head out to vote on Nov. 8?

And since we’re on the subject, when was the last time you stood there in the voting booth, reading and rereading a referendum question and telling yourself, “Geez, I wish I’d taken the time to look into this sooner …”

You’re far from alone.

“Even in the modern information age, there are still people – and plenty of them – they still don’t get a newspaper, they don’t have a television, they don’t have a computer,” Dunlap said. “And they walk into a polling place with absolutely no knowledge of what’s on the ballot.”

And voter guide readers? Also known as the most engaged citizens on Earth?

“They’re looking for the information,” Dunlap noted. “They’re a highly motivated voter. They want to know a little bit more about what’s on the ballot. So they go down to the library, they go down to city hall, they find the voter guide and they start looking at the language and these advocacy pieces that tell them why somebody thinks they should vote for this and why somebody thinks they shouldn’t.”

Better yet, for anyone looking to snag their vote, some voter guide readers peruse the public comments literally seconds before they actually receive their ballots. Can there be a more strategic time to make a strong impression?

The good news, for those average folk with the money and inclination to weigh in – not to mention those highly paid political consultants still asleep at the switch – is that there’s still time.

The Secretary of State’s Office will accept public comments until the end of business on Tuesday. If you’re one of the first three in favor or opposed to whichever question rattles your cage, you’re in.

The rules? Pretty simple.

You must be for or against the question. Nobody wants to waste their precious time on a fence straddler.

You message must be “in plain English.”

That 300-word limit is firm. “Spend some time reading Hemingway,” Dunlap advised. “Learn how to keep things tight.”

Be forewarned that “no grammatical, spelling or textual changes will be made,” so don’t go blaming the secretary of state for your dangling prepositions or mixed metaphors.

That said, your comment cannot contain any “obscene, profane or defamatory language,” “incite or advocate hatred, abuse or violence toward any individual or group,” or “contain any language which may not be circulated through the mails.”

Just out of curiosity, exactly what kind of language “may not be circulated through the mails?”

“I can’t really define what that would mean,” Dunlap replied. “And if I could, you couldn’t print it.”

Finally, be advised that nothing in the rules protects you from criminal or civil liability should your words defame someone or otherwise get you into legal hot water.

Translation: This is a state publication, for crying out loud, not some anonymous internet chat room.

Is it worth it? That’s for you to decide.

But know this: Of the 10 public comments submitted on those five referenda since 2008, eight have turned out to be on the winning side.

Coincidence? Perhaps … or perhaps enough people actually read those mini-treatises and were persuaded.

So go ahead, make a little Maine electoral history. Or at least take pride in knowing you tried.

“As long as it follows the guidelines, I don’t care how coherent it is,” Dunlap said. “That’s their problem.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 4, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 25 Aug 2016 09:06:49 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Leaks sink what’s left of LePage’s credibility Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Fair warning to anyone whose confidential information may be on file with the state of Maine: Stay on the good side of Gov. Paul LePage.

Last week, amid one of his chronic tirades against Maine’s immigrants and refugees, LePage did an interview with the Boston Herald – his apparent go-to newspaper when he wants to spout off without any of those troublesome follow-up questions.

The source of his ire: Adnan Fazeli, the Iranian refugee who became radicalized after moving to Maine in 2009, left his home in Freeport to go off and fight with the Islamic State in Syria in 2013, and died in battle with the Lebanese army in early 2015.

(All of which LePage learned about from a story on the front page of Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald. A newspaper he insists he never reads.)

That LePage would be upset at the news of a jihadist springing from our midst came as no surprise. Many shared his sentiment.

But here’s where it got ominous: The Herald, citing only “Maine officials,” reported that Fazeli “was on food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for at least four years until 2013.”

“LePage said he is now calling for a review of all such benefits in his state,” the Herald continued. “He also said Fazeli’s wife is no longer in Maine.”

Let’s turn now to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7, Part 272.1, which clearly states that those with legal access to information on food stamp recipients “must adequately protect the information against unauthorized disclosure to persons or for purposes not specified in this section.”

Now, I’m no lawyer, but I’d be willing to bet that a politically charged leak to the Boston Herald falls way outside the tightly limited disclosures (to state bureaucrats, law enforcement and immigration officials) permitted under the federal code.

And while LePage denied through his spokesman on Friday that he whispered said leak into the Herald’s ear, the governor expressed no dismay whatsoever that “Maine officials,” on his watch, clearly broke the law by posthumously outing Fazeli.

(Of course, LePage had no problem telling the world that Fazeli’s widow and three children – who, wink-wink, must have been on welfare too – no longer reside in Maine.)

Before LePage lets himself off the hook so easily, however, it’s worth noting that he became at least a de facto party to this federal violation the moment he invoked Fazeli as his newfound reason for instructing the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to “look at our welfare rolls closer.”

“This is very embarrassing to the state of Maine, and I point the finger at (President Obama) and say, ‘How did this happen?’ ” LePage told the Herald. “If the federal government doesn’t do their job, we don’t know what we’re getting.”

(Not to nitpick, but he had the wrong president. When Fazeli arrived in the United States in 2008, George W. Bush occupied the White House.)

The point here is not to defend Fazeli, who pretty much got what he deserved after he decided to take up arms with a band of lunatics bent on destroying civilization as we know it.

Rather, by ignoring the fact that legal confidentiality was violated in this case and then using it to further his own anti-immigrant agenda, LePage has sent a chilling message to anyone who might rub him the wrong way personally, politically or philosophically: State government has private information on you. And you never know when, or how, it just might become public.

Ditto for Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who picked up where LePage left off on Wednesday when she told WCSH that her department is already hard at work rooting out welfare fraud in Maine’s immigrant community.

“There are certainly a number of cases, investigations underway right now, that involve welfare fraud and abuse, that pertain to immigrants, that we are going to continue to devote the necessary resources to guard against the misuse of taxpayer dollars, that in several cases include concerns around criminal activity and terrorism,” Mayhew told the TV station.

Now suppose for a moment that I was to write a column about, say, my “concerns” that senior members of the LePage administration routinely get plastered after work and then drive home drunk.

The appropriate response? How dare I say that! If I’m going to make such a serious allegation, I’d darn well better back it up with some specifics!

Which is why neither I, nor any of my colleagues here at the Maine Sunday Telegram, would ever do such a thing.

Not so for Mayhew. She drops the word “terrorism” like a ticking time bomb at the end of her rambling quote, knowing full well that’s the one word many in her audience will remember – along with, of course, the aforementioned “welfare fraud” and “immigrants.”

Evidence? It’s, ahem, confidential. (At least until it isn’t.)

Accountability? Hey, it’s television. People will remember what was said long after they’ve forgotten who said it.

Compassion for the least fortunate among us? Sure, as long as they don’t have hard-to-pronounce surnames.

Click on the reader comments beneath the online version of this column and I guarantee you’ll find a pack of LePage apologists whining that I can’t seem to sit down at the keyboard lately without zeroing in on the governor or those aligned with him.

You’re damn right I can’t.

Maine is stuck with Paul LePage for another two-plus years. Mary Mayhew has made no secret of her interest in taking his place.

Both have a sworn duty to uphold the law as they go about their official business. Instead, they raise nary an eyebrow while the law gets sucker-punched in the name of political opportunism.

Both have a moral obligation to treat all Maine residents equally, regardless of skin color, ethnic origin or time spent living here.

Instead, to an incessant far-right drumbeat, they single out immigrants and refugees with not-so-subtle undertones of suspicion and contempt.

Both, by virtue of their lofty titles, would have us regard them as leaders.

They’re nothing of the sort.

And as they now turn their blind eyes and deaf ears to the notion of personal privacy, their shame has reached new depths.


]]> 239, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 20 Aug 2016 20:58:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Fazeli’s family deserve our thanks for alerting authorities Thu, 18 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The next time someone says we need to start pounding on the doors of our immigrant communities to “find out what the hell is going on,” remind them of Adnan Fazeli.

Fazeli, 38, died on a battlefield in Lebanon last year after leaving his home and family in Freeport to become a fighter for the Islamic State in Syria.

As reported in Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald, he came to the United States in 2008, became radicalized after moving to Portland from Philadelphia in 2009 and, as time passed, became increasingly isolated from his family and the local immigrant community before suddenly hopping on a plane for the Middle East in August of 2013.

And how do we know all of this now?

Because those closest to him called the FBI, that’s how.

A federal government affidavit, obtained by Press Herald staff writer Scott Dolan, identifies them only as “CI 1,” “CI 2,” “CI 3” and “CI 4.” (“CI” is shorthand for “Cooperating Individual.”)

But a close reading of the document leaves little doubt that some if not all of them were closely connected to Fazeli during the roughly four years he spent with his wife and children first in Portland, then in Westbrook and finally in Freeport.

As Ebrahim Fazeli, Adnan Fazeli’s nephew, told staff writer Megan Doyle, “Our family were the ones that initiated this investigation. We did it long before all these terrorist organizations were in the news.”

It’s a murky world, to be sure. Maine State Police Detective George Loder, acting as a member of an FBI task force, noted in the affidavit that the FBI paid three of the four informants for their information on Adnan Fazeli.

But this much is clear: Without that information, it’s highly doubtful Fazeli would have been so much as a blip on the FBI’s radar screen a full 17 months before he was killed in a battle with the Lebanese army on Jan. 23, 2015.

Noted Loder in the affidavit, “On August 23, 2013, CI 1 told a local FBI agent that CI 1 believed an individual named ‘Abu Nawaf’ (an alias used by Adnan Fazeli) had converted from a Shia to a Sunni Muslim. CI 1 reported further that Nawaf was an Iranian national then residing in Freeport, Maine, and had recently grown a beard and had become very religious …

“CI 1 had overheard Nawaf expressing anti-American rhetoric while at an Iraqi market in Portland, Maine, where Nawaf was known to associate.”

The tips kept coming: “CI 2” told the FBI that Fazeli “at some point changed and became very angry.”

“CI 3” provided Fazeli’s back story from Iran to the United States, where he “did not adapt well” and eventually became radicalized.

“CI 4” provided details of that radicalization, from Fazeli’s conversion to Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Sunni Islam, to his penchant for watching Islamic videos on YouTube.

The good news for Maine is that Fazeli took his anger elsewhere. Ten days before the FBI’s first interview with “CI 1,” Fazeli boarded a Lufthansa flight from Boston to Frankfurt, continued on to Istanbul and never returned.

But what if he had stayed in Maine?

What if, rather than join the fight over there, he’d resolved instead to start one of his own right here in the belly of what he perceived to be the American beast?

Suddenly those “cooperating individuals” would no longer just be helpful sources in solving a puzzle that self-destructed halfway around the world – and thankfully, according to the FBI, left no co-conspirators back in Maine picking up where he left off.

No, with Fazeli still in our midst, our very lives might depend on those informants’ willingness to step forward and sound the alarm.

So with that in mind, what’s the buzz in the wake of Tuesday’s stunning headline?

With painful predictability, both Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin reflexively went after President Obama, claiming that Fazeli is the latest example of an immigration system that LePage called an “utter failure.”

What neither acknowledged is that no system, short of an outright ban on all immigration, can account for the individual who goes off the deep end only after arriving here and deciding for whatever reason – too much time alone on the internet? – that America is the enemy after all.

Nor does a tighter border (or higher wall) protect us from the terrorist who is actually born here and enjoys all the rights and privileges of a U.S. citizen before he turns on his own country. (See: Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen.)

Our only protection against those threats is advance warning. And our only hope for such warning begins and ends with the eyes and ears of those who realize, before anyone else, that something’s not quite right with an Omar Mateen or … an Adnan Fazeli.

More than once in recent months, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called for monitoring mosques throughout this country and, if necessary, shutting some down altogether.

Speaking in Ohio just this week, Trump called for a Commission on Radical Islam that would develop “new protocols” for law enforcement officials as they go about investigating possible terrorist threats.

That may be red meat for the xenophobic masses. But if you’re a new arrival to this country, wondering nervously whether you should drop a dime on a suspicious countryman and thus invite law enforcement into your life, it translates into four easily understood words: Keep your mouth shut.

Ebrahim Fazeli showed no such compunction when, upon learning that his unhinged uncle had gone off to fight with ISIS, he picked up the phone and called federal authorities.

Nor did Adnan Fazeli’s brother, Portland physician Jabbar Fazeli, who told the Bangor Daily News that he too alerted authorities about his brother. He finally decided to go public, Dr. Fazeli said, as a “lesson” to future immigrants with information worth sharing.

That takes courage.

It takes integrity.

And now more than ever, it deserves our heartfelt thanks.

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Bill Nemitz: Feeling cleansed by the Perseid meteor shower Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Where better to look, in this summer of our discontent, than to the heavens?

“It’s just you and the universe. That’s the nice thing about it,” said Eric Harrison in the wee hours Friday as the stars passed – some more quickly than others – over a grassy hilltop in Kennebunk.

Harrison is a proud member of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England, which operates an observatory up a long dirt road off Alewive Road just inside the Kennebunk-Lyman town line.

It’s the perfect place for an extraterrestrial light show.

It all started with the realization last week, somewhere between Hillary Clinton’s latest emails and Donald Trump’s latest call to arms, that I needed a break.

Not just an hour or two with the TV off and the laptop shut tight. No sir, I wanted something totally different, something as far away from American politics as I could get, something truly out of this world.

Something like … the Perseid meteor shower.

I’d read about it for days – how this year’s shower was supposed to be the best since 2009, how the activity would peak with between 100 and 200 meteors per minute just before dawn on Friday, how all you needed were clear skies, a pair of eyes and a blanket to stretch out on and catch the greatest show not on Earth.

So many times I’d resolved to do this kind of thing, only to whack the alarm and go back to sleep. But not this time.

The alarm went off at 2:15.

By 2:30, I was in the car with my ever-accommodating wife, Andrea, who cheerfully agreed to come along on a work night.

By 2:55, we’d found the dirt road and spread out the blanket when …

“There’s one!” Andy exclaimed, pointing directly overhead.

“There’s another,” I said seconds later, this one off to the north.

OK, so it wasn’t exactly the Fourth of July.

It was better.

One after another after another, the streaks of light scratched the dark sky, most leaving a luminescent trail of ionized gas in their wakes.

Want to feel small?

Lie on your back and look at the night sky for an hour or two. Let your eyes adjust to the dark until you realize that the whitish haze behind the brightest stars is actually billions of more stars.

Then watch as dozens of fireballs, burning at up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, criss-cross the universe – or what little of it we can see – like tracer bullets with no gun or target.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I told Andy as we soaked it all in. “Never.”

Enter Harrison, the last holdout from a meteor-watching party that had broken up just an hour earlier.

Ten years ago, Harrison underwent transplants of both his kidney and liver. Just over two years ago, he survived three heart attacks. Not long after that, his girlfriend passed away.

Thus it should come as no surprise that Harrison rejoined the astronomical society a year and a half ago after a prolonged absence, or that he comes to this hilltop every chance he gets.

“It’s my therapy,” he said. “It changes your perspective.”

Harrison, who also enjoys scuba diving (with its near-zero gravity), thinks we’d all do well to get out more after dark.

“People just don’t see it,” he said as we craned our necks (“There’s one! … There’s one!”) skyward. “They live their lives and they turn on their TVs and they’re disconnected from the night sky.”

Or they just don’t bother to look up.

Not long ago, Harrison and a few other society members set up their telescopes outside a bar at a local beach late one night and invited the late-night crowd to come have a look-see.

As one tipsy gent peered at a double star 400 light years away, Harrison tried to put it all in perspective.

“When that light left there,” he said, “we had the Jamestown Colony down here.”

Blew the guy away.

“Oh wow,” the stargazer replied in awe. “I’ve gotta stop smoking weed tonight!”

Behind the razzle-dazzle, it gets even more enchanting.

The Perseid meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Perseus, but that’s only because that’s the point in the sky from which the meteors seem to radiate.

In fact, they come from the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years and leaves a trail of space debris in its wake. When Earth’s orbit crosses that wake each August, the meteors hit our atmosphere about 60 miles up and the fun begins.

What makes this year better than most is that fact that Jupiter’s alignment put an extra gravitational pull on the debris field, putting it more directly in the path of Earth.

In others words, the meteor shower isn’t passing over us. We’re colliding with it at about 132,000 mph.

Want to hear something even more astounding? I just went at least an hour without thinking about Donald Trump.

But since we’re on the topic, Harrison has an interesting take on all this “Make America Great Again” business that’s been clogging up our earthly atmosphere all these months.

He points to New Horizons, the NASA reconnaissance mission that just over a year ago passed within less than 8,000 miles of Pluto; Juno, the NASA spacecraft now orbiting Jupiter; the James Webb Space Telescope that will lift off in 2018 and provide NASA unprecedented direct imaging of planets in faraway solar systems; the OSIRIS-REx launch next month that will collect an asteroid sample and ferry it back to Earth.

How, fellow Americans, can we pull off miracles like that and not be great already?

“This is revolutionary,” Harrison said. “This is like when Galileo first lifted his telescope.”

But back, if only for a few more blissful minutes, to the meteor shower.

At times they seemed so close you could reach up and touch them. Other times they appeared far off on the horizon – I found myself hoping some other lucky souls were out there, flat on their backs, staring straight up at those.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to witness such a spectacle and still think it’s all about us.

“It’s a gift, brother,” said Harrison, eyes still on the sky. “It’s a gift.”

Amen to that.


]]> 8, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 13 Aug 2016 22:25:16 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Collins eclipses colleagues with courageous disavowal of Trump Wed, 10 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Discarding Donald Trump was the easy part. Breaking ranks with her beloved and beleaguered Republican Party, not so much.

“Some will say that as a Republican I have an obligation to support my party’s nominee,” Sen. Susan Collins wrote in a widely acclaimed op-ed for The Washington Post on Monday. “I have thought long and hard about that, for being a Republican is part of what defines me as a person.”

Meaning the decision by Maine’s senior senator to denounce The Donald, simple as it may have seemed, was in fact complicated. Not because of the clown prince atop the Republican ticket, but rather because of the party that Collins cherishes for its past even as it careens toward an anything-but-certain future.

“I revere the history of my party, most particularly the value it has always placed on the worth and dignity of the individual,” Collins wrote. “It is because of Mr. Trump’s inability and unwillingness to honor that legacy that I am unable to support his candidacy.”

Good for her.

Sure, it took awhile. And yes, Collins happens to be dumping Trump amid his post-convention nosedive in the polls.

Still, to do what Collins did three months before Election Day demonstrates far more courage than the vast majority of her tongue-tied Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill. (We’re looking at you, Rep. Bruce Poliquin.)

Some already have likened Collins’ words this week to the legendary Sen. Margaret Chase Smith’s famous “Declaration of Conscience” repudiation of the red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy back in 1950.

Perhaps. Although in this case, a better banner might be “Only the Lonely.”

Left unsaid in Collins’ Trump disavowal was the glaring reality that Trump did not plant himself atop the Republican ticket. Republican voters, however one might define them these days, put him there. With an exclamation point.

Those same Republican loyalists, many attracted in recent years by social and economic dog whistles that put short-term electoral harvests ahead of long-term grassroots cultivation, no longer look so kindly on the likes of Collins.

A moderate woman (strike one) from the Northeast (strike two) who can’t stand Donald Trump and (strike three) isn’t afraid to say it?

It’s a testament to her political prowess that Collins still has a spot on the Republican roster.

Consider: Last Thursday, Republican voters in Tennessee held a primary to nominate a replacement for outgoing U.S. Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher.

The ballot in the deeply conservative district was jampacked with 13 Republican candidates. Not one of them – I repeat, not one – was a woman.

Consider: According to a recent story in Politico, of the 308 Republican congressional districts that have held primaries this year, only 26 have nominated women.

That’s 8 percent female representation, almost mirroring the 9 percent (down from 11 percent in 2006) in the current House Republican Conference. Meanwhile, women represent 33 percent of the House Democratic Caucus.

Consider: A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center showed that Americans who self-identify as Democrats hold an 80-11 percent advantage over Republicans among blacks, a 65-23 percent advantage among Asian Americans and a 56-26 percent advantage among Hispanics.

Republicans, on the other hand, hold a 49-40 percent advantage among whites, including a 54-33 percent lead among white men who have not completed college.

In short, as the country grows more diverse, so does the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, meanwhile, stagnates.

Collins can at least find consolation in the fact that here in Maine, she’s as popular as ever. But therein lurks an irony: Her success flows not from her party, but from the entire spectrum of Maine’s electorate.

In a recent Maine Sunday Telegram poll of more than 600 Maine voters conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, a whopping 73 percent said they had a favorable view of Collins.

Break down a number like that and you’d typically see it skew higher with a politician’s own party, start to erode with unenrolled voters and plummet within the opposition party.

Not so with Collins.

Among those identifying as Republicans, 74 percent had a favorable impression of Collins, while 14 percent viewed her unfavorably.

Democrats, at 71 favorable and 14 percent unfavorable, voiced an almost identical opinion.

Independents held Collins in even higher regard, with 77 percent favorable and only 8 percent unfavorable.

Talk about a double life.

Here in Maine, Collins will be a U.S. senator essentially for as long as she wants to be. The fact that she’s a lifelong Republican is overshadowed by the bigger fact that Mainers of every stripe like who she is, what she does and how she goes about doing it.

Yet out there in the Republican hinterlands, has she become an endangered species?

She stands almost alone among mostly white men who inexplicably cower before the likes of Donald Trump, unable to endorse him yet terrified of invoking the wrath of his Twitter thumb.

Collins, with her 832-word takedown of Trump, suddenly makes them all look so small.

You want paralysis? The day after Collins, Maine’s highest-ranking Republican, stood tall against the man who would hijack her party, Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett put out a statement that tiptoed around any mention of Collins or Trump.

“We are blessed with a broad, open-minded party representing myriad views on specific issues and candidates,” Bennett said. “I have always encouraged our activists to work hard for those Republican candidates they support, and not work against those they don’t support. This is the best way to give our party the definition desired.”

Donald Trump represents the “definition desired” by today’s Maine Republican Party? Did that conclusion come with one of those semicolon winks attached?

Reached by telephone late Tuesday after a day filled with media interviews (she insists she never thought she’d create such a stir), Collins confirmed that no, this was by no means easy.

“Five generations of my family have served in public office as Republicans,” she said. “This is part of my DNA.”

But the woman who proudly organized the Senate’s tripartisan Common Sense Coalition (Maine independent Sen. Angus King also is a member) brushed away the notion that when the smoke shrouding the Republican Party clears after Nov. 8, she’ll be on the outside looking in.

“I’m hard to count out,” said Collins. “If nothing else, I am very persistent. I just don’t give up.”

Monday evening, moments before The Washington Post posted her op-ed online, Collins placed a call to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. He didn’t answer.

“So I left him a voicemail telling him what I was going to do because I didn’t want him to read about it,” Collins said. “I was just trying to be courteous.”


“He called back with an incredibly nice message,” Collins said. “It was really a lovely message.”

He probably envies her.


]]> 103, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 30 Nov 2016 19:38:08 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Dear Donald, prepare to enter a city so different from you Thu, 04 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Dear Donald Trump,

Seriously? You’re on your way to Portland?

A few nagging questions on this glorious August morning as your Trump Train sputters its way toward this afternoon’s rally at Merrill Auditorium:

First, why Maine?

I know, I know. Maine’s four electoral votes are allocated in such a way that you could conceivably pick up one if you win the popular vote up north in our 2nd Congressional District.

That’s one electoral vote. Out of 270 you need to win the presidency.

And you’re the guy who likes to think big?

Next question. Why Portland?

Portland, as your buddy Gov. Paul LePage will be the first to tell you, is not your kind of town.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fabulous enough. Honestly, you could walk through the Old Port and your flaming-orange hair really wouldn’t create all that big of a stir – people would assume either that you’re an aging local dandy in dire need of a good stylist, or you’re one of those spray-tanned tourists scurrying back to the cruise ship before the dinner buffet gets cold.

No sir, Mr. Trump, it’s not your looks. It’s your politics. They just don’t fit well here.

You want to keep Muslims out.

For years, Portland has welcomed Muslims in by the thousands, with open arms, from some of the worst hellholes on Earth. And get this, the longer they’re here, the more attractive this little piece of paradise becomes.

You like to divide and conquer.

Portland likes to unite and, when conflict arises, settle it through consensus.

Sure, other parts of Maine think consensus is for communists. But there’s a lot to be said about a place where real, honest debate solves real problems and the rest of the squawking is left to the sea gulls.

You think we’re doomed and that only you can save us.

Thirty or 40 years ago, Portland was just another dying seaport, its waterfront buildings empty and derelict, its future bleak.

Look out the window of your Trump jet as you fly in today. Look at the jewel this city has become. That’s called a community, Mr. Trump. Inspired and built not by one set of hands, but by many.

You specialize in scaring the bejesus out of people.

On Wednesday, this newspaper and various law enforcement agencies received two emails threatening local police, who later arrested a suspect without incident and continue to investigate.

I fully expect you to exploit the hell out of this unsettling story later today. I’m also waiting to hear you embellish it far beyond what is actually known.

But you will offer nothing resembling a constructive way forward. If you leave Maine stewing in your own special blend of Trump Terror, that will be good enough for you.

You don’t like to be challenged.

Portland, on the other hand, has a long, proud history of speaking truth to power.

Look a few blocks up Congress Street to Monument Square starting at 2 p.m. today. There, you’ll find a throng of local folk who said, in a half-page ad in Wednesday’s newspaper, that you are “unfit and unqualified to be President of this great country.”

They promise to bear “silent witness” against you. I suspect others won’t be so polite.

Which brings me to my next and final question: Why Merrill Auditorium?

Typically, your rallies are held inside spacious, open-floor facilities where hecklers don’t stand a chance. The moment they open their mouths, they disappear inside a scrum of security and your chanting supporters. Then, just like that, they’re gone.

Not so with Merrill Auditorium. It features long rows of seats, with precious little maneuvering room in between.

I mention this because I seriously doubt that all of the folks who file into the auditorium today will be there to sing your praises. There will be rabble-rousers.

Unlike most other places, however, your security folks are going to have a heckuva time getting to them, let alone getting them “the hell outta here.”

Brace yourself, Mr. Trump. Brace yourself.

As I ponder all of this, your campaign appears once again on the verge of a full meltdown.

There’s talk of an “intervention” by party leaders, campaign advisers and members of your family sometime this weekend to try and impress upon you that the general election is here and it’s time to focus, focus, focus …

You, meanwhile, continue to spew in all the wrong directions.

Gold Star families, of which Maine has its share, recoiled in horror this week as you beat up, day after day after day, on the poor (and not so helpless) parents of the late, great Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan.

Military veterans – Did you know Maine has one of the highest per-capita veteran populations in the nation? – shook their heads in disgust at your acceptance of another man’s Purple Heart this week with the quip, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”

And as of Tuesday, you henceforth have a problem with crying infants showing up at your rallies. What, too much competition?

Nobody knows for sure what will happen when you touch down here this afternoon. But given the timing of it all, Mr. Trump, we’re all in full daydream.

I close my eyes and see more than a few Gold Star mothers squeezing their way into Merrill Auditorium and then, one after another, standing up and staring you down.

I see a platoon or two of proud Maine veterans showing up in uniform and rising in rock-solid formation with their backs to you – the only salute you’ll ever truly deserve.

I hear crying babies, lots of crying babies, offering their full-throated, spot-on imitations of the man who would be Crybaby in Chief.

But mostly I see a city that sees right through you, a city that didn’t invite you, a city that will bid you good riddance the moment you are gone.

Welcome to Portland, Mr. Trump.

Why are you here?

]]> 301, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 05 Aug 2016 11:46:01 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Progressive, take note: The older I get, the better I drive Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Call me old and cranky, but I’m ready to throttle Progressive Corp. and its persistent quest to raise auto insurance premiums for Maine drivers of a certain age.

Why? Because, as I prepare to turn 62 this week, I’m a better driver than I’ve ever been, that’s why.

And because when I turn 65 three years hence, the last thing I’ll be in the mood to do is feed the insurance industry’s need for greed.

More on all of that in a minute. First, a bumpy trip down Memory Lane.

Back when I was 16, less than a month after I’d secured my driver’s license, my buddy Rich and I headed up Route 128 in suburban Boston to play our guitars for a folk-singing group and, more importantly, put the moves on a couple of girl singers who had caught our eye.

Yapping away as we left the highway, I took a turn a tad wide and … Boom! … my mom’s station wagon suddenly lurched up on the right side and came crashing back down before careening across the pavement and off into a grassy median strip.

I sat there, stunned. Rich jumped out.

“Looks OK!” he called out, motioning for me to back up. “No, really! It’s fine! C’mon! You’re OK! Nice and slow, now! Easy… easy …”

That’s when the right front wheel fell off.

So much for the double date.

A couple of months later, I was back behind the same wheel (bless my merciful parents) with six friends crammed inside the car, en route to Rich’s house for an evening of fun and frolic.

Again, I had my guitar. Again, I was hopelessly in love – this time with one of my female passengers, only she didn’t know it yet. And again, trouble lurked around the next corner.

Today we call it black ice. Back then it was just a friction-free stretch of back road-turned-skating rink, with dense woods on either side.

The car slid sideways to the right. Miraculously, I managed to pull it out.

Then it slid to the left. This time, I could only holler for everyone to get down as we plowed through the snowbank and descended into the blackness.

Two mammoth trees suddenly appeared in the headlights – the distance between them about a foot narrower than the AMC Matador wagon.

I steered between them anyway – to this day I can hear the crunching sound. In stereo.

Next came a smaller tree. It was dead ahead of us. And then it wasn’t.

I remember finally coming to a stop, turning off the engine and praying to God that no one was hurt. God answered my prayers.

A police officer arrived, summoned by a nearby homeowner who heard the crash. A surprisingly sympathetic young guy who had trouble even standing upright on the slick roadway, the cop reached for his radio and immediately put in an emergency call for sand.

Then Rich showed up in his mother’s station wagon to ferry my traumatized passengers the few remaining miles to his house. Coming from the other direction, he hit the ice just like I did and nearly took out the police cruiser.

“What’s happening?” Rich exclaimed, wide-eyed, as he bounced out of his car and almost fell into the cop’s arms.

Then, after 20 or 30 agonizingly long minutes, my dad’s Toyota Corona slowly came into view.

He got out and stared at my mom’s station wagon, now being coaxed out of the woods by a tow truck with at least 100 feet of winch cable.

I tried to point out how I’d managed to steer between the two biggest trees, but the look on Dad’s face told me I might as well have been talking to the trees.

Heck, even the young police officer tried to stick up for me.

“Sir,” he told my dad, “the road’s impassable. I just called for some sand. We’ve had a number of accidents here in the last – ”

My dad shot him a glare and held up his hand.

“Thank you, officer,” he said icily. “But I’ll be the judge as to whether my son was driving safely tonight.”

The cop and I looked at each other. “Please,” I implored with my eyes, “take me with you.”

Looking back over all those decades, I know now that my father was both frightened and angry – frightened that I’d come so close to killing myself (or someone else), and angry that, thanks to his 16-year-old Mario Andretti, his insurance rates were about to skyrocket. Again.

I also know that back then, loath as I may have been to admit it, I was one dangerous driver. Not reckless, mind you, but dangerous nonetheless in my lack of experience, my willingness to be distracted, my inability to adjust to the conditions around me.

Not so these days.

These days, I’m constantly on the lookout for, well, younger versions of me. And I see them everywhere – not too long ago, one came flying around a corner toward me on Route 112 completely on my side of the road.

I swerved into what should have been his lane to avoid a head-on collision. Then he looked up at the last second (that’s right, a texter) and instinctively swerved back into his lane, forcing me to swerve back into my lane.

Our side mirrors missed by inches. I pulled over to collect myself. He never even hit his brakes.

These days, when it comes to my driving speed, the only person who complains is my dear wife.

“Um … can’t you go a little faster?” she asks patiently as the cars line up bumper-to-bumper behind us.

“No can do,” I reply with a smile. “I’m already doing 38 and the speed limit is 35. We’re flying!”

I tell you all of this to demonstrate just how regressive Progressive was when it suggested to the Maine Bureau of Insurance last month that Mainers should pay, say, 6 percent more for auto insurance simply because they go from being 64 to 65.

Citing a state law that prohibits such a thing, the bureau nixed that request. But now Progressive plans to be back in August, seeking to gouge those 65 and over who are new customers and thus technically aren’t being subjected to a premium “increase.”

“Auto insurance companies should not be able to penalize seniors simply because they are getting older,” protested state Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, who announced last week that he’ll submit legislation to clarify the existing statute and put the brakes on this insult to our intelligence.

Good for Beck, a young man clearly on the move. He just turned 30, has already served four terms in the House and is running for the Maine Senate.

I wonder if he needs a driver.


]]> 52, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 25 Jul 2016 08:38:51 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Burned by plagiarism? Let Gov. LePage be your fixer Wed, 20 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Where is Gov. Paul LePage when Donald Trump needs him most?

Halfway through the four-day Republican National Convention, the newly minted presidential nominee finds himself embroiled in, of all things, a plagiarism scandal.

Trump’s wife, Melania, had no sooner wowed the convention Monday night with words of praise for her spouse when the Twitterverse exploded with incontrovertible evidence that some of those same phrases were first uttered eight years ago by Michelle Obama to describe her husband.

That’s right, the person who Trump & Co. now most love to hate, in addition to Hillary Clinton. Go figure.

Did Melania do it on her own? Doubtful.

Did her speechwriters, referred to by Republican pundit Mike Murphy as “the campaign speechwriting team of Xerox and Konica,” get a little lazy? Bet on it.

More importantly, with his own wife now getting scorched by his latest campaign conflagration, what’s The Donald going to do about it?

Enter Paul LePage. He’s got experience at this kind of thing.

Remember back in 2014, when the LePage administration had its hopes for major Medicaid reform pinned squarely on a contract, valued at just under $1 million, with The Alexander Group?

Conservatives at the time lauded Gary Alexander, the firm’s founder, as a guru at slashing states’ health-care costs by amazing – seriously, folks, we’re talking amazing here – amounts of money without hurting anyone. Except, of course, all those freeloaders who had no business getting government help in the first place.

Then came one of Alexander’s long-awaited reports and, not long after that, the discovery by a plagiarism expert at Dalhousie University that significant chunks of the report had been lifted verbatim from a variety of other sources.

So what did LePage do about it?

Well, he stopped payment on roughly half of the $925,000 yet to be collected by Alexander and his cronies, although he let them keep the half they’d already pocketed.

His administration kept using some of Alexander’s discredited projections, which later proved (no surprise) to be spectacularly off target.

But hey, at least LePage admitted the obvious: He canceled the remainder of the Alexander Group contract and declared, “I am not happy about this.”

(This after Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew earlier chastised Democrats and the media for choosing “to politicize punctuation over policy.”)

Which brings us back to Mrs. Trump, who we can only assume is either mortified that she got caught cribbing or ready to behead the genius who thought her national rollout might be an opportune time for her to channel Michelle Obama.

After several early-Tuesday-morning stumbles, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort stepped up to the microphones in Cleveland and essentially denied reality.

“There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech,” Manafort declared. He then went on (a la Mary Mayhew) to falsely blame the media and Hillary Clinton for going after poor Melania because, get this, Mrs. Trump apparently is the kind of woman who “threatens” the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Trump, meanwhile, refused to even acknowledge a problem in his early morning Tweet: “It was truly an honor to introduce my wife, Melania. Her speech and demeanor were absolutely incredible. Very proud!”

At least he got the “incredible” part right.

Back to LePage, who had planned to go to Cleveland as a Trump supporter but backed out two weeks ago.

“If I felt that he needed me there, I’d have gone,” LePage told WVOM radio hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler at the time.

Little did LePage know.

Had he been there this week, the governor could have gone knocking urgently on the door to Trump’s inner circle. Check that – he could have worked through his buddy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, rather than risk hearing someone from Team Trump respond, “LePage? LePage who?”

His message: Denial is not an option here. Lop off a head or two and move on – you’d be amazed how quickly modern-day Republicans forget anything that clashes with their perception of the way life should be.

Of course, that strategy was easy for LePage. He simply had to give the heave-ho to Alexander, who has since repackaged himself as one of two partners atop Velum Health, which, according to its website, “works with commercial and government entities to significantly lower health care costs without sacrificing services for the consumers and beneficiaries.”

Trump, on the other hand, finds his own wife at the middle of this completely avoidable maelstrom.

A wife who hasn’t exactly been jumping at the chance to speak on her husband’s behalf in the first place.

A wife whose plagiarism was matched only by her prescience when she also said Monday evening, “There will be good times and hard times and unexpected turns – it would not be a Trump contest without excitement and drama.”


So why not nip this blossoming drama in the bud? Why not announce that some previously unknown flunky just received his walking papers for embarrassing the one person in Trump’s universe, beyond The Donald himself, you least want to offend?

Why not – and I honestly can’t believe I’m saying this right now – pull a page from the LePage playbook, admit the error and move on?

Back when he announced his endorsement of Trump on Howie Carr’s radio show in February, LePage noted that he and Trump are “cut from the same cloth” and that with his buddy Christie recently out of the presidential race, it only made sense to line up behind the one presidential hopeful who can’t seem to walk across a room without stepping in it.

“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump,” LePage boasted.

He can say that again.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 99, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 20 Jul 2016 11:12:41 +0000
Bill Nemitz: In a crisis, Donald Trump could panic – or freeze Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 What would be worse in the White House, a crazy man or a coward?

The question came to mind last week after U.S. Sen. Angus King announced he’ll vote for Hillary Clinton come November.

King’s primary reason, as he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo: Unlike Clinton, Republican Donald Trump lacks the “judgment and temperament” needed to be president, as well as the “kind of coolness” required when time is of the essence and there’s no substitute for thoughtful, courageous leadership.

King cited, as an example, a ride he took recently on the National Airborne Operations Center, also known as the “Doomsday Plane,” designed to provide mobile command and control in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.

On the drill, which included an Air Force officer playing the role of the president, a tracking device depicted the launch of enemy missiles while a clock showed 28 minutes and counting.

“That was the time the president had to make a decision,” King recalled. “What got me – it was almost physical – was that in that situation, there’s only one person. There’s no checks and balances, there’s no Congress, there’s no Supreme Court, there’s no consultation. There’s one person making a decision about the future of civilization.”

King’s conclusion: With information pouring in from all over creation (Are they really missiles? Could they be something else?) and precious little time to digest it, Trump is not “somebody I would be comfortable with.”

In other words, Trump very well might make a rash decision we might all later regret – assuming we were all still around to regret it.

But here’s another scenario: Faced with a hugely dangerous situation, the kind that demands equal applications of calm and courage, Trump panics. He freezes. He shuts down.


Once, and only once, during his 13-month campaign have we seen Donald Trump in a truly unguarded moment. A moment when something not only unexpected happened, but something downright scary.

It happened on March 12 at a rally in Dayton, Ohio. As Trump spoke to a cheering crowd inside an airport hangar, a lone man leaped over a barricade and rushed toward the stage before being tackled and carted off by alert Secret Service agents.

Trump, who never saw the guy coming, was alerted by crowd members immediately in front of him.

Panic in his eyes, he lurched to his right, saw the scrum already underway, grabbed hold of one of the four agents who quickly surrounded him and, upon receiving the all clear, shakily turned back toward the microphone.

His face glimmered with sweat. He grabbed the lectern with both hands as if to steady himself, then turned and walked away to watch as the Secret Service dragged the miscreant across the tarmac.

Returning to the lectern, arms extended with both thumbs up, still perspiring, Trump told the front row: “Thank you for the warning. I was ready for him, but it’s much easier if the cops do it, don’t we agree?”

To be clear, this was not just a routine hiccup on the campaign trail. Trump had good reason to be startled the second those people in front of him began screaming and pointing at something not good unfolding behind him.

What made it such a defining moment, though, was Trump’s painfully futile attempt to keep playing the tough guy, to keep up that pugilistic façade, even after he’d clearly just had the daylights scared out of him for all the world to see.

Was he really “ready” for that fence jumper? Not a chance.

In that split-second, fight-or-flight moment, Trump chose flight.

And then, only after the stage was secure and his assailant was safely in handcuffs, did he oh-so-bravely insist he’d been prepared all along to fight.

Talk of fighting – against ISIS, against Hillary Clinton, against immigrants, against the “establishment” – will fill the air this week as Trump descends on Cleveland to finally accept the Republican nomination for president.

But to mistake all of that for courage, when it comes to the Republican standard-bearer, is to willfully ignore the obvious.

Donald Trump is not a brave man.

He may bluster like one, shake his fists like one, call out world leaders and entire segments of the American population like one. But all of that comes from the safety of the podium, buffered by a crowd that greets any sign of adversity with the mindless chant, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

Back Trump into a corner, put him in a situation that demands, as King put it, a certain “kind of coolness,” and the man goes to pieces.

Last week, just before King threw his hat into the ring for Hillary Clinton, a group of esteemed American historians launched a Facebook page ( to explain why, to a man and woman, they think a President Donald Trump would be a disastrous thing.

Leading the “Historians on Donald Trump” charge was none other than David McCullough, a summer resident of Camden, who twice won the Pulitzer Prize for his biographies of John Adams and Harry Truman. He’s also a deserved recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award this country has to offer.

Trump, says the normally apolitical McCullough, “is unwise, he is plainly unprepared, unqualified and, it often seems, unhinged. How could we possibly put our future in the hands of such a man?”

My gut tells me we won’t.

And my guess – my fervent hope – is that as November draws near, events will conspire to unmask Trump once and for all.

It could come during a debate when there’s no cheering crowd to obscure the sight of Trump, like a deer in the headlights, paralyzed by the simplest of foreign policy questions. (“Turkey? They love me over there. They think I’m terrific!”)

It could come when his tanking poll numbers prompt him to quit rather than suffer a humiliating defeat – the one thing that seems to scare him above all else.

It could come when the avalanche of opposition TV ads, all starring The Donald, slowly drown him in his own cauldron of cowardice masquerading as courage.

Angus King is right. Donald Trump indeed lacks the judgment and temperament to hold the future of the planet in his own two hands.

He also lacks the guts.


]]> 396, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 16 Jul 2016 20:07:34 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Credit LePage for putting foot down on domestic abuse Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Nothing takes the tough out of a “tough guy” like an ankle bracelet.

Gov. Paul LePage took a big step toward saving Maine lives last week when he called for statewide use of electronic monitoring devices to keep domestic abusers away from their victims.

“You can say you’re violating their rights,” LePage said during a State House news conference called by the state’s Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel. “Maybe so. But I believe in taking the safe approach because dead people have no rights. They lost them.”

LePage, picking up where a gubernatorial task force left off in 2013, wants to expand four pilot programs now operating in Somerset, Kennebec, Sagadahoc and Cumberland counties. There, ankle bracelets are currently used to track high-risk defendants accused of domestic assault as they await trial or, in a few cases, as a condition of their probation.

If the governor has his way, the GPS-transmitting bracelets will be slapped not only on those charged with domestic violence, but also on anyone subject to a protection-from-abuse order.

That’s a lot of people. And while there’s no question LePage’s heart is in the right place as he advocates for domestic abuse victims, he’ll likely need to reel it in a bit before his proposed legislation becomes law next year.

“You want the violation of electronic monitoring to be treated as the number one emergency by law enforcement at that moment,” said Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, in an interview on Friday. “And they absolutely are, at least in Kennebec and Somerset. They can do that because it happens so infrequently.”

Maloney, working with the courts and law enforcement agencies in her two counties, has been using ankle bracelets to keep track of domestic-assault defendants since 2014.

It’s not for everyone, she said.

Like prosecutors all over Maine, Maloney uses the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA) tool to assess the danger posed by someone charged with domestic violence.

On a 0-to-13 point scale, anyone with a score over 7 is considered very high risk and might well spend the entire pretrial period in the county jail.

Someone scoring over 4, on the other hand, is typically given the option of wearing an ankle bracelet – and paying the $8-per-day cost for the device – in lieu of a sky-high bail.

It works. So far, with the exception of one false alarm, not one monitored defendant in Kennebec or Somerset counties has dared cross into the “exclusion zone” established for the victim.

(Should that happen, an alert is immediately sent to the dispatcher. The first responding police officer heads posthaste to the victim’s location, while other officers set out in pursuit of the violator.)

So why not require that every alleged abuser wear a bracelet as a condition of bail or, for that matter, a protection order?

Because, replied Maloney, “I don’t want it watered down. We do have cases where it’s not appropriate.”

She has a point.

As of Friday, three defendants in Somerset County were going about their business with bracelets affixed to their ankles. At times, according to Teresa Brown, the county’s community corrections supervisor, the number has risen as high as nine.

Multiply that by 10 or even 100 – there were more than 5,000 reported domestic assaults in Maine in 2014 – and you place a significantly bigger burden on law enforcement. And with that, factoring in the inevitable increase in false alarms, you run the risk of slower response times.

At the same time, the lower the threshold for requiring the bracelet, the higher the likelihood of a successful constitutional challenge based on the Fifth Amendment right to due process.

Still, LePage is spot-on in his desire to take this tool, first recommended three years ago by the Governor’s Task Force to Reduce Domestic Violence Through Technology, and start applying it wherever technologically possible in Maine.

Diane Rosenfeld, a lecturer of law and director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School, said in an email last week that that’s a good thing because “domestic violence homicide is so predictable as to be preventable.”

“I applaud Maine for its recent commitment to take threats to women’s lives seriously,” Rosenfeld said.

“GPS monitoring for high-risk domestic abusers is an extremely effective tool for protecting victims from the escalating violence of their abusers. The best results nationally have been where GPS is used in conjunction with a coordinated community response team that represents law enforcement, advocacy support groups, probation officers, batterer intervention counselors and others. High-risk teams monitor cases to ensure offender containment and victim safety. Most importantly, they have saved families from unnecessary and predictable tragedies.”

Lest we forget, after all, the Domestic Homicide Review Panel held its press conference on Thursday to call attention to the fact that 24 of Maine’s 46 homicides in 2014 and 2015 involved domestic violence.

Whenever one of those deaths occurs within her jurisdiction, Maloney immediately checks to see if her office had any previous contact with the victim pertaining to domestic abuse. So far, she’s found none.

“Now, that’s both good and bad,” Maloney said.

The good is that once a victim, typically a woman, makes herself known to authorities, the system has so far managed to prevent her from becoming the next murder statistic.

The bad is that to date, victims in Maloney’s district didn’t seek help while there was still time.

“That’s the most important message,” Maloney said. “No matter what he says to you, no matter what manipulative message is being conveyed, the truth is if you come forward, we’re able to keep you safe. But if you don’t come forward, we can’t.”

And if the victim, for whatever reason, can’t come forward?

That’s where the rest of us come in.

It’s no mystery why ankle bracelets work so well: As long as the would-be perpetrator knows someone is “watching,” he’s powerless. Only when he’s alone with his victim, drowning in his delusions of dominance, does he fancy himself king of his universe.

So on this holiday weekend (and beyond), as the alcohol flows and the domestic nerves occasionally fray, it behooves us all to keep our eyes and ears open.

And yes, if we see something that doesn’t look quite right, it’s time we opened our mouths and sent Maine’s “tough guys” the same message, loud and clear, that those little GPS transmitters do.

We’re watching you.


]]> 68, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 02 Jul 2016 18:44:45 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Trump campaign rally in Bangor is gonna be huge Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A sneak preview of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s visit this afternoon to the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor …

Hello, Bangor, Maine! Great city … great city. Portland? Not so much. But Bangor? I love you people. I mean it. You’re terrific!

So I want to thank my good friend Governor Paul LePage for being here today. That’s right … c’mon up here, Paul. This guy is my kind of people, don’t you agree?

(Wild applause.)

In fact … in fact … I might just have to steal Governor LePage from you once I start putting together my Trump administration. I have big plans for this guy, I’m telling you, big plans.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m thinking Paul LePage would make an excellent Secretary of Discount Shopping, don’t you agree? Am I right? I mean not everyone can afford Trump wine and Trump steaks, and if my buddy Paul knows one thing, it’s how to Make America Great Again on the cheap. So whaddya say, Paul? You on board?

(LePage salutes and takes a deep bow. The crowd roars.)

So I’m driving in here this afternoon and I see this huge, I mean huge, statue of Paul Bunyan sitting there outside and I’m thinking these people up here in Maine, they have a lot in common with me. They like to think big, am I right?

Now, we recently hired a campaign researcher and he tells me that unfortunately, there’s more to this Paul Bunyan guy than he let on back in the day. And if it weren’t for me, Donald Trump, you people would go right on thinking Paul Bunyan is some kind of All-American hero like John Wayne or Ronald Reagan or me, Donald Trump.

Well, folks, here’s the real deal. My campaign has it on good authority that Paul Bunyan was not born here in Maine.

(The audience gasps. In the back, a few people start to boo. Trump holds up both hands.)

No, no. It’s true. And he wasn’t born in Minnesota or Michigan, either.

(More booing.)

The truth is … the truth is … that Paul Bunyan snuck over the Canadian border when he was a 10-year-old kid and passed himself off for a couple of years as a high school varsity basketball player at, what was it here, Valley High School in Bingham. Then he got so big that the other schools finally got suspicious and demanded to see his birth certificate. That’s when they found out he was an illegal … French … Canadian … alien!

(The crowd lapses into stunned silence. “No!” calls a teenage girl high in the VIP section.)

So what does Bunyan do? He heads for the woods and starts chopping down trees with one swing, using logs for toothpicks and rescuing little babies from floods until everyone forgets about the birth certificate and starts treating him like some kind of hero. Kind of like Obama, only Bunyan’s a white guy, which is a good thing because he’s in Maine and big black guys don’t go over too well up here in Maine because all they do is impregnate white girls – am I right, Governor LePage?

(LePage, nodding emphatically, gives a thumbs-up. Trump reaches into his jacket pocket, pulls out a sheet of paper and waves it in the air.)

I have it right here, folks. The birth certificate. Paul Bunyan was born Lucky LaChance in St.-Joseph-de-Beauce, Quebec. My people are handing out copies as I speak.

(Murmurs ripple through the audience as copies of the birth certificate, stamped “100 percent authentic,” circulate throughout the auditorium. Reporters in the press pen hunch over their laptops, furiously Googling “Paul Bunyan” and “St.-Joseph-de-Beauce.”)

So it looks like we’re going to need another wall. But because the Canadians, to the best of my knowledge, are not all rapists and murderers like the Mexicans, I’m not going to make them build it.

I’m told you have fabulous forests right here in Maine, I mean fabulous. So what we’re going to do … what we’re going to do … is take down a bunch of those trees – starting with the state and federal parks because the timber there is absolutely terrific, absolutely terrific – and put you people to work putting up your own log wall between Maine and Canada.

And I’m not just talking any wall, folks. I’m talking a wall so tall that not even Paul Bunyan can get over it!

(A small disturbance breaks out in a far corner of the auditorium. The crowd begins to chant, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”)

Oh, boy. Look what we got now. My people told me they might be busing the Crooked Hillary crowd up from Portland and sure enough … GET ‘EM OUTTA HERE! Don’t hurt them, now, they’re Mainers too …

Say what? I stand corrected. Governor LePage tells me Portland is actually in Northern Massachusetts, which just goes to show that even Donald Trump learns something new every day … Yeah, right. I love you too, Portland. GET ‘EM OUTTA HERE!

So what was I talking about? Oh yeah, golf.

So I’m flying up here in my Trump jet and I’m looking down at all of your terrific trees and your fantastic coastline and I’m saying to myself … because I’m really the only person I like to listen to … I’m saying, “Why don’t they have more golf courses up here?”

Now, if you’re a conventional thinker – meaning if you’re a loser – you’re going to say it’s because Maine is too cold to support a year-round golf industry.

But if you believe in global warming like I do – meaning if you look at something catastrophic and instinctively find ways to make money off it – you know that it won’t be long before Maine is the new South Carolina, that I can tell you.

So here’s my promise to you, Bangor. If Scotland can get a new, fabulous, first-class Trump golf resort, so can you!

(The crowd rises to its feet, cheering.)

If Arizona and Texas can get a wall, so can you!

(“Make America Great” hats wave in the air.)

If Donald Trump can handle the truth about Paul Bunyan, then so can you!

(“Trump! Trump! Trump!”)

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! God bless you, Maine, and God bless Donald Trump!

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 181, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:36:59 +0000
Bill Nemitz: First lady serves up a reason to raise wages Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Hard times have come a knockin’ at the Blaine House door.

Mainers far and wide did a double take last week when WGME-TV reported that first lady Ann LePage has taken a summer job as a waitress at McSeagulls Restaurant in Boothbay Harbor because, as she unabashedly told reporter Jon Chrisos, she could use the extra dough.

“Oh, honey, it’s all about the money. It’s all about the money,” Mrs. LePage said with a laugh while the video camera rolled. As for life as the first family, she later added, “It’s tight sometimes.”

A couple of points worth making here.

First, as the TV report clearly shows, Mrs. LePage has all the attributes of a top-notch waitress. She’s friendly, fast and full of fun as she scurries about doing a job that she “always, always wanted to do.”

Any restaurant in Maine would be lucky to have her.

Second, at $70,000 per year, Maine pays its governor less than any other state in the country.

Sure, the job comes with free housing, free food, free transportation and other perks, but the fact is you’re not going to get rich serving as Maine’s chief executive – at least while you’re still in office.

All of which raises an interesting – and timely – question:

If we take the first lady at her word and accept that times can be tough on a Maine governor’s salary and benefits, what about those Mainers struggling to get by on far, far less?

Put another way, what are the odds that footage of an aproned Mrs. LePage readily admitting, “Oh, honey, it’s all about the money,” will show up this fall in a TV ad supporting the referendum to gradually increase Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 an hour by 2020?

Make no mistake about it, folks, this looming fight goes to the core of the political turmoil roiling not only Maine, but the entire country.

On one side are voices in the business community (with some exceptions) who argue that $12 an hour, with built-in cost-of-living increases after 2020, is way too extreme. They say it will cost jobs, jack up prices and drive a stake through the hearts of small businesses that (as always) are on life support as it is.

Echoing that gloom and doom (again, with some exceptions), are restaurant owners who warn that raising the minimum wage for tipped service workers from $3.75 per hour to the adjusted minimum wage by 2024 will force them to lay off their wait staffs in droves.

Predicting these catastrophes and proving them, however, are two vastly different things.

In a 2014 letter to President Obama on increasing the federal minimum wage, more than 600 economists from across the nation, including seven Nobel laureates, made this observation:

“In recent years there have been important developments in the academic literature on the effect of increases in the minimum wage on employment, with the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”

They continued, “Research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth, and providing some help on the jobs front.”

Meaning rather than hurt the economy, an increased minimum wage can actually help it.

On the other side of this fight we have those low-wage workers.

Last week, Oxfam America and the Economic Policy Institute released a report showing that 181,410 Mainers, or 31.9 percent of the state’s workforce, currently earn less than $12 an hour.

Worse yet, the report states, 130,022 Maine workers, or 22.9 percent, make less than $10 an hour.

Do the math. Working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year – no vacation or paid sick time for this crowd – $12 per hour translates into an annual gross income of $24,960. Doing the same at $10 per hour will get you $20,800.

If “it’s tight sometimes” for Maine’s first lady, imagine what it’s like for those poor neighbors to pay the rent or mortgage, buy the food and keep gas in the car …

And if they have kids who need day care? Forget about it.

So who exactly are these people?

Contrary to the myth sure to be peddled by opponents of this fall’s referendum, they’re not all entry-level teenagers eager to get their first foothold on the ladder to prosperity.

In fact, Oxfam America found, of those Mainers making less than $12 an hour, 26 percent are between 25 and 39 years old, 20 percent are between 40 and 54, and a stunning 18 percent are age 55 or older.

Retirement? Once again, forget about it.

And what about those restaurant servers?

At a recent town hall meeting, before revealing that his wife had gone to work “to supplement the governor’s salary,” Gov. Paul LePage told his audience that his daughter spent last summer earning $28 an hour as a waitress in Boothbay Harbor.

It’s nice work if you can get it. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015, a waiter or waitress in Maine made $18,850, or just over $9 per hour. With tips.

My guess is that Ann LePage, who said she plans to tuck away this summer’s earnings to buy herself a car, will do at least as well as her daughter as she showers locals and tourists alike with her genuine Maine hospitality.

I also suspect that as the co-owner of a home in Boothbay valued by the town at almost a half-million dollars when she and the governor bought it from a bank for $215,000 in 2014, she’ll have no trouble surviving once the LePages depart the governor’s mansion come January of 2019.

But unwittingly or not, Mrs. LePage spoke for more than herself last week when she graciously agreed to let the TV crew show her doing what tens of thousands of low-paid Mainers do every day, every week, every month of the year.

It truly is all about the money.


]]> 231, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 27 Jun 2016 08:33:37 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Assault rifle owners have some growing up to do Thu, 16 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Back when I was a kid, my buddies and I loved to play “Combat!”

We took the name from the ABC series starring Vic Morrow as Sgt. Chip Saunders and Rick Jason as 2nd Lt. Gil Hanley.

They led their seasoned squad of soldiers across the battlefields of World War II with grit, courage and, when necessary, quiet heroism.

We darted behind trees and rocks in our backyards.

They used M1 semi-automatic rifles and M1A1 Thompson submachine guns, or “Tommy guns,” to cut down the dastardly Germans.

We used pieces of wood. And to make it more realistic, each of us spent hours honing our own “FFFFFTTT” – that spitty, exhaling sound that, to us at least, perfectly mimicked the deadly discharge of rapid fire.

Sure, it was fantasy, but it was our fantasy.

And, sure, we eventually outgrew it.

What happened in Orlando early Sunday morning was no fantasy.

Yet another national tragedy was brought to us by a madman with an assault rifle – killing 49, wounding more than 50 and reigniting the debate between those of us who think these firearms in the hands of civilians are nothing short of insanity and those who worship at the altar of military-style weaponry.

Shotguns or hunting rifles? No problem.

Handguns for target shooting or personal protection? Hey, if that’s what floats your boat, be careful and keep them away from the kids.

But “modern sporting rifles,” as the National Rifle Association so euphemistically calls them? Manufactured and marketed to look like, sound like and feel like the same military hardware most recently used in Iraq and Afghanistan?


Here’s my theory: Some guys still like to play Army.

Take for example, the Sig Sauer MCX, the rifle used by Omar Mateen inside the Pulse nightclub last weekend.

A recent review of the weapon on the website “” notes the Sig Sauer MCX was first developed for the U.S. military’s special forces as a rifle “that’s as quiet as an MP5 (and) as deadly as an AK-47.”

“My biggest concern: would Sig Sauer translate the mil(itary) spec masterpiece into a useful semi-automatic civilian model?” writes reviewer Nick Leghorn. “They certainly started on the right foot …”

Indeed. A 30-second promotional video for the rifle shows a guy dressed in black and wearing wraparound sunglasses, running through a foggy, eerily lit set firing at what vaguely appear to be human targets.

“Shooter, make ready,” the narrator intones as the gunman springs into action. “The Sig MCX is here, and it’s unlike anything you’ve seen or heard … It’s the start of a new era.”

In another video, then-Sig Sauer President Kevin Brittingham explains, “The Sig MCX was designed to meet the DOD (Department of Defense) requirement for a weapon that would be as compact as possible, that focused on signature reduction and (was) as quiet as possible.”

And in yet another video, Sig Sauer Defense Program Manager Robby Johnson notes, “All of the employees here respect the military and law enforcement and understand their lives are on the line.”

Let’s set aside the irony that Mateen used his Sig Sauer MCX to shoot a police officer in the head amid Sunday’s carnage. What does any of the company’s hype have to do with a civilian gun owner?

Easy. It fuels the fantasy. It enables grown men, the vast majority of whom haven’t a clue how the horrors of actual combat truly look, sound and smell, to pick up a warlike weapon and squeeze off 10, 20 maybe even 30 rounds of pure, unadulterated daydream.

Take a look at the current crop of firearms classifieds in Uncle Henry’s Weekly Sell or Swap It Guide.

You won’t find many references to the Sig Sauer MCX – it just hit the civilian market in 2015. But you will find plenty of other military-inspired assault rifles, most notably the many variations of the AR-15 now synonymous with mass killings in Newtown, Aurora and San Bernardino.

Reads one Uncle Henry’s ad: “For sale or trade: DPMS AR-15, .223/5.56. iron sights, hard case, will come with one 30-round GI magazine. This is my ‘spare’ AR.”

A “spare” AR-15? As if one isn’t enough?

Then there are those looking to get in on the action.

One advertiser offers a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee in exchange for a new AR-15.

Another has a 17-foot Baretta inboard-outboard boat, with trailer, that has a cracked motor block but still runs. Yours in exchange for a Colt AR-15 SP1.

Think about that. A beautiful day on a lake in Maine in exchange for a few minutes of boom, boom, boom and a paper target riddled with bullet holes. Are we having fun yet?

As I write this, Democrats in the U.S. Senate are engaged in a filibuster aimed at getting the Republican majority to move, if only an inch, toward expanded background checks on gun buyers, or at least keeping guns out of the hands of those on the terrorist watch list.

I’ve yet to hear a word about resurrecting the nation’s assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004 and grows more and more faint, like that shooter in the Sig Sauer video, with each passing year.

Meaning all those military-style weapons, with their quick-change, 30-round magazines, will keep multiplying … and multiplying … and multiplying …

And as they do, they will tragically (and legally) fall into the hands of the Omar Mateens, the Adam Lanzas, the James Holmeses and all the other ticking time bombs whose human toll is tied directly to the ferocity of their firepower.

All this because too many Americans, the vast majority of them white men, consider it their God-given right to play with the same types of guns that the real-life soldiers do.

If only they’d just grow up.


]]> 617, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 16 Jun 2016 08:15:47 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Brave artist ready for Portland – love or hate Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I don’t know how artists do it.

Month after month, they labor away in the studio, channeling their creative juices into their latest masterpiece. Then comes the day of the big unveiling and inevitably, some killjoy at the back of an otherwise silent crowd says, “What the hell is that?”

“It’s what I do,” Portland sculptor Aaron T Stephan said last week. “I always say I’d be more worried if I created sculpture that everybody likes than if it were one that a few people don’t like.”

Good for him. Because Stephan, commissioned by the city of Portland last week to create a piece of public art for the city’s soon-to-be-overhauled Woodfords Corner intersection, is already getting it in both ears – and he’s yet to come up with so much as a rough sketch.

As City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who voted against the $25,000 expenditure, put it so succinctly during Monday’s council session, “The challenge with public art is always that it is public.”

Here’s the problem: Among Stephan’s existing body of work are two sculptures, one in Farmington and the other in Texas, in which he took clusters of everyday streetlights and reconfigured them into, shall we say, something different.

The Portland Public Art Committee, from whose budget surplus the project will be funded, wants Stephan to come up with something similar for what will eventually be a small plaza in front of the Odd Fellows Hall at Woodfords Corner.

Local reaction to photos of the streetlight sculptures in Farmington and Texas, however, has been mixed at best.

“It seems clear that many in the community are not all that enthused about this cluster of lights,” Councilor Nick Mavodones noted before joining Suslovic on the losing side of a 6-3 vote to proceed with the project.

(He’s right: One Portland Press Herald reader commented the next morning that the light sculptures look like the aftermath of a tornado. Observed another: “This disordered spectacle renders one speechless.”)

Still, it could be worse. Back in 2011, after four years of howling from the business folk in Portland’s Boothby Square, “Tracing the Fore” by Cambridge, Massachusetts, landscape artist Shauna Gillies-Smith was unceremoniously uprooted and sold to a sole bidder for $100. (It was either that or a scrap metal dealer.)

The $135,000 work, composed of aluminum “waves” and a specialized grass that quickly succumbed to weeds, was nicknamed “Sawblades” and “Razorblades” by the 150 petitioners who successfully pleaded with City Hall to get rid of it.

“It definitely was frustrating and disappointing,” Gillies-Smith told The New York Times after her work was run out of town.

Stephan, 42, heard the grumbling last week about his pending streetlight creation. Didn’t faze him a bit.

“I’m totally conscious, especially with a project like this, that it’s certainly riding that line (between widespread acclaim and outright insurrection), which I like a lot,” he said.

He’s not kidding.

Two years ago, as part of his first solo exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, Stephan included a series of audio recordings from calls he made to pay-per-minute phone-sex lines. But rather than talk about, well, you know, he engaged the women who answered in discussions about art.

“You probably won’t even think it’s art but I think Thomas Kinkade is pretty awesome,” one of the madams told Stephan. “I mean, OK, so it’s on collectors’ plates primarily, but I love the feel, there’s something very homey, and very Norman Rockwell about it.”

The phone calls cost him $3,000.

It’s all part of what drives much of Stephan’s creative spirit when he embarks on a new project: “I’m taking something from that environment and just altering it a little bit and putting it back.”

He did it with “Lift,” an eye-catcher at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall in which he created a normal-looking maple table and six chairs – except their legs all rise 20 feet off the ground.

He did it with “Becoming,” a map of the world at Hampden Academy made entirely out of pencils embedded, erasers up, on a white wall.

And now, brave man, he’s about to do it with Woodfords Corner.

How hard can it be?

Just a few weeks ago, two teenagers from San Jose decided during a visit to the San Francisco Museum of Art that people tend to take all this art stuff a bit too seriously. So one took off his Burberry eyeglasses, placed them on the floor in front of a blank wall, and stepped back.

Within minutes, the glasses were surrounded by museum visitors, some with cameras, captivated by the “exhibit.” The two pranksters took pictures of the art lovers taking pictures before the blurry-eyed Burberry owner finally stepped forward and reclaimed his spectacles.

But this is different. Stephan is well aware that whatever he creates for Woodfords Corner will be there (he hopes) for many, many years – long enough for people to perhaps start off hating it and, who knows, grow to love it.

He’ll begin by researching the intersection and, in particular, Odd Fellows Hall, located less than a mile from his studio on Walton Street.

“I’ll ask myself: What’s expected to be here? What would be here? How can I play with that?” Stephan said.

Then he’ll come up with his design, which he’ll share during one, maybe two, public forums planned by the Portland Public Art Committee.

That’s where things could get dicey. Nothing gives an artist like Stephan worse heartburn than the phrase “design by committee.”

“That’s the fine line you have to walk, right?” he said. “I’m certainly considering and listening to and interacting with all the information that’s coming in.

“You kind of learn to deal with it and decide what to listen to and what not to listen to and how to digest that in a way that your voice is still there, your strength is still there.”

In other words, he’ll listen to the naysayers – to a point. But sooner or later, the man’s going to have to close his studio door and get to work.

No butterflies? No sleepless nights worrying that whatever he comes up with, as good as he thinks it might be, will be assailed by the 20,000 critics who drive past it each day?

Hey, the guy’s a public artist. He’s got nerves of steel, right?

Right. But he also has ears.

“Talk to me in a week,” Stephan said.


]]> 8, 13 Jun 2016 08:13:28 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Sen. Collins, take a stand and disavow Donald Trump Wed, 08 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Define “absolutely unacceptable.”

That was the phrase appropriately chosen by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Monday to describe Donald Trump’s latest descent into the darkness that was once Collins’ Republican Party.

Still, the question lingers: What is Collins going to do about it?

Trump’s claim – that the judge presiding over the Trump University fraud case has a built-in conflict of interest because he’s of Mexican heritage and Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico – is by no means his first major stumble on the road to the Republican nomination in Cleveland next month. Nor, undoubtedly, will it be his last.

But with each gaffe (Trump heaped more fuel on the fire Sunday by speculating that a Muslim judge also would be conflicted by Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country), you’ve got to wonder how someone like Collins still manages to drag herself out of bed each morning.

Granted, she’s not quite in the same political pickle as, say, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who now finds himself calling Trump’s words “the textbook definition of a racist comment” less than a week after Ryan reluctantly endorsed The Donald for president.

Unlike so many of her colleagues on Capitol Hill, Collins has yet to endorse Trump outright. Instead, she’s said repeatedly that she’ll wait until after the convention to express her presidential preference, that she hopes Trump will clean up his act between now and then, and that she expects, as usual, to support her party heading into the general election.

Now this.

“Donald Trump’s comments on the ethnic heritage and religion of judges are absolutely unacceptable,” Collins said in a written statement. “His statement that Judge (Gonzalo) Curiel could not rule fairly because of his Mexican heritage does not represent our American values. Mr. Trump’s comments demonstrate both a lack of respect for the judicial system and the principle of separation of powers.”

Well said, senator. So well, in fact, that to follow such a clear assessment with down-the-road support for Trump as the nation’s next chief executive would represent the height of hypocrisy – not to mention direct complicity in installing a wack job in the White House.

Collins’ unwillingness to loudly, clearly and permanently disavow Trump sooner rather than later appears rooted in two guiding principles for Maine’s senior senator.

The first is an abiding loyalty to her party.

The second is that when that party appears fractured, the best way to maintain broad support is to remain as noncommittal as possible for as long as the political winds will allow.

Both strategies have served Collins well in the past.

Neither will now.

The party to which she’s devoted her entire adult life is on the brink of collapse.

Seeing the faces of “establishment” Republican leaders these days, as they literally sweat through the latest round of Trump aftershocks, is like watching the flight crew of a jumbo jet after the entire control panel suddenly goes dead. They know they eventually have to land this baby, but they haven’t a clue how they’re going to do it.

As for keeping the base happy, or at least on board, the simple reality for Collins and the few remaining centrist Republicans like her is that this is no longer just another topsy-turvy general election year. It’s a hijacking.

Meaning Collins can’t win.

Her old-school loyalists, if they dare speak up at all, wonder wistfully what’s become of the civility and true conservatism on which they once hoisted the Grand Old Party banner.

The newcomers in the bright red “Make America Great Again” hats, meanwhile, already denounce Collins – whether she backs Trump or not – as a RINO (Republican In Name Only) who’s as bad as the damned Democrats, maybe worse.

“I have news for you Ms Collins ‘We The PEOPLE’ are weary of your kind and no longer have much respect for you or the judges or the lawyers that are part and parcel of the problem in this country,” one reader commented on Tuesday’s Press Herald story on Collins’ remarks. “Even if he is not the ideal candidate, Mr Trump is a breath of fresh air in the stale halls of government. … He speaks for many of us.”

Thus, for all her hedging, Collins has little to gain and a lot to lose by clinging to the delusion, as she implied Tuesday, that all of this is still fixable.

“I do believe in redemption, and I hope that Trump will change,” she said in an interview on WGAN Newsradio.

And what if he does “change”?

Do we then excuse all that he’s said to date as the manipulative hype of a reality TV huckster?

Or are we now past the point of no return? Despite his belated efforts Tuesday to backpedal in the judge brouhaha, is it finally time, in the never-ending offensive that is Donald Trump, to pick a side?

Collins herself acknowledged Tuesday that Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel “are of a different magnitude” and that “this is discouraging because it is so serious in what it says about his world view.”

What it says – and Collins knows this as well as anyone – is that Trump is the Republican Party’s worst nightmare. And it’s high time the party that spawned him, if it’s serious about its future, began standing up to him and stopped quietly enabling him.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham never has stood taller than when he told MSNBC on Tuesday that he could not, and would not, support Trump from this point forward.

“A lot of people want to be loyal to the Republican Party, including me,” Graham said. “But there will come a point in time where we’re going to have to understand that it’s not just about the 2016 race. It’s about the future of our party. I would like to support our nominee – I just can’t.”

See that, Sen. Collins? A loyal Republican, from the Deep South, no less, just announced in no uncertain terms that he’s had it with Donald Trump. And he urged other Republicans to do the same.

To do anything less at this point? To continue to treat this not as a moral imperative but as a political calculation?

That would be absolutely unacceptable.

]]> 78, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 30 Nov 2016 19:38:19 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Bonny Eagle Robotics Team shoots high, scores Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The warehouse sits far back off Main Street in Buxton’s Bar Mills, so out of the way that the high school kids who congregate there – sometimes into the wee hours of the morning – have the place pretty much to themselves.

Which, in this case, is a good thing.

“George and I each put in about 240 hours in the six and a half weeks,” said Jake Moss, a senior at Bonny Eagle High School, sitting next to fellow senior George Mitchell inside the cavernous building last week. “But that was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Welcome to the Bonny Eagle Robotics Team, or BERT Robotics. Also known as our future.

Back in January, just like 3,148 other teams around the world, this eclectic group of 30 kids from all over School Administrative District 6 received a video and a voluminous package of instructions from the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition.

This year’s competition, dubbed “Stronghold,” would go like this: “Two Alliances of three robots each are on a Quest to breach their opponents’ fortifications, weaken their tower with boulders, and capture the opposing tower. Robots score points by breaching opponents’ defenses and scoring boulders through goals in the opposing tower. During the final 20 seconds of the Quest, robots may surround and scale the opposing tower to capture it.”

All-righty then.

Each team had 45 days – not a minute more, not a minute less – to design, build and test its robot.

From scratch.

If it worked, from scaling the defensive “outer works” to shooting “boulders” through the towers’ windows to actually scaling the structures with powerful winches and pulleys, engineering glory awaited.

If it failed, well, there’s always next year.

Founded way back in 1996, BERT Robotics isn’t just an obscure club for science-minded geeks. It’s a kid magnet.

Bonny Eagle High School BERT Robotics Team members Amber Lindberg, left, Jacob Moss and George Mitchell guide their robot "Stein" during the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis.

Bonny Eagle High School BERT Robotics Team members Amber Lindberg, left, Jacob Moss and George Mitchell guide their robot “Stein” during the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis. Courtesy of BERT Robotics Courtesy of BERT Robotics

Moss, a team captain who lives in Limington, still remembers his eureka moment: He was a fifth-grader at Hollis Elementary School when the team paid a visit.

“I was like this tall,” Moss recalled, holding his hand 4 feet off the ground. “And there was a robot that was like twice my size, three times my weight and could lift like 200 pounds. And I’m like that’s the coolest thing you could have seen as a kid. Five-foot-long mechanical arms. It was an insanely over-engineered robot, but absolutely fantastic.”

He immediately joined the elementary school’s Lego robotics team. But alas, there was no team in middle school.

“But I waited,” Moss said. “And then freshman year came around and I was like, boom, on the robotics team.”

The program, as the FIRST slogan goes, is about “more than robots.”

It’s about learning to fundraise – BERT Robotics currently boasts 42 sponsors, from aerospace giant Lockheed Martin (for whom BERT Robotics alumnus Clayton Coburn, now a team mentor, works as an engineer) to Low’s Pizza up the street from the warehouse.

It’s about honing marketing skills – the team has a committee dedicated to its website (, Facebook page ( and other communications throughout Maine’s fourth largest school district.

It’s even about politicking. When the team approached SAD 6 about financial help – the annual construction, registration and travel costs run well into five figures – the district’s board of directors, bless them, allocated $11,000 this year to help BERT Robotics reach once again for glory.

Which they did.

They spent the fall meeting every Wednesday evening inside the heated warehouse, donated at no cost by Rob Connary, owner of the information technology firm ITS Inc.

Not yet knowing what they’d be asked to build or what it would be required to do, they focused instead on teaching the younger kids the basics of metal working, electronics, computer programming …

Guy stuff? Not in these parts.

“There’s no reason it should be male-oriented,” said Mitchell. “No reason at all.”

Thus we have Amber Lindberg, a sophomore from Standish whose family was so involved with the team (her brother was a captain) when she was in middle school that she had no choice but to tag along “if I ever wanted to see them.”

Upon finally joining herself, Lindberg brought her friends along. Of the eight sophomores currently on the team, five are female.

Equally off-target would be the notion that when it comes to BERT Robotics, only budding young Einsteins need apply.

“We’ve had athletes on the team, we’ve had valedictorians,” said Lindberg. “It’s such a mix.”

“We try to appeal to everyone, agreed Moss. “This year we’ve had a bunch of jazz musicians, field hockey players.”

Perhaps that kind of diversity made all the difference: When this year’s instructions arrived, a debate immediately broke out over what the priority should be – a robot proficient at scoring lots of low-value shots through the ground-level targets, or one that could hit the 7-foot-high openings at the top of the towers and thus rack up more points more quickly.

The shoot-for-the-sky group prevailed.

The first prototype robot was named “Frank.” The second, for actual competition, was christened “Stein.”

Stein, from the start, shot like a stud.

Scooping the inflated, soccer-ball-size “boulders” from the field and auguring them into its pneumatic catapult, the robot used a computer-guided camera to zero in on the target and, presto, boulder after boulder sailed cleanly through the tower.

Honestly, to watch 110-pound Stein in action (BERT 133 in red in a video at is to witness the robotics equivalent of an NBA three-point shooting contest.

Beginning in early April, with Stein’s CIM motors, boat winch, light sensor, six wheels, radio transmitter and receiver, 550 paracord and Lord knows what else fine-tuned to the hilt, the BERT Robotics team headed out onto the competition circuit.

They finished first in the state of Maine and fourth in New England, more than enough to qualify for the 2016 FIRST World Championship in St. Louis.

Almost the entire team – 27 kids in all – made the trip.

“I always felt bad (in the past) about the kids who got left behind,” explained John DiRenzo, an electrical engineer at The Baker Co. in Sanford who has mentored the team for 19 years. “Wherever we go now, we all go. It’s open to everyone.”

The first challenge in St. Louis was to find two other teams with which BERT Robotics would form its “alliance.” That task fell to senior Jack Cardell of Buxton, who spent hours scouting other robots and interviewing their creators to find just the right human/technical fit for what would amount to a critical, time-sensitive merger.

Much as the robots may all look alike, it turns out they’re not.

“There are a lot of differences,” said Cardell. “And the human element is definitely a big one.”

BERT Robotics emerged from the qualifying rounds seeded first in its division – the first time in its 20-year history the team had ever been seeded first in anything.

From there, the team’s alliance made it to the division finals – one step away from the eight-alliance playoffs that would determine the world champions.

Then, for 40 earth-shattering seconds, Stein’s radio went dead.

“It just kind of sat there for 40 seconds,” said Mitchell. “Didn’t manage to score many points.”

Long pause.

“And we were bested by Team 330 and their alliance … and they moved on to the Einstein Field (the finals) … and now they are the world champions.”


Added Moss, “Before our radio died, we were winning by a 40-point margin. A 40-point margin. And then we lost.”

Moments after the pivotal match ended, the radio somehow blinked back to life on its own. The problem?

“We’ll never know,” said Lindberg.

But hey, let’s hit the reset button here.

By the time the four-day world championship ended, the BERT Robotics team stood at sixth in the world for Offensive Point Ranking – reflecting Stein’s average offensive output over the course of the competition. Overall, the team ranked ninth in the world.

“We argued it before,” said Moss. “But now that the numbers are out, we can definitely say we have one of the best shooters in the world.”

They can’t quite believe it’s over.

Upon graduating next month, Moss will be off to California Polytechnic State University. Mitchell will leave home in Buxton for Clarkson University in New York to study software engineering, while Cardell will attend Southern Maine Community College and dig into computer science.

Lindberg, meanwhile, will welcome a new batch of freshmen.

“One thing I keep telling everyone is no matter how much you give to this team, it’s always going to give back more,” said Moss. “You put in 240 hours of your free time and a lot of your sleep, but you get back meeting kids from around the world and you get back great friends, great experiences, lots of laughs and hands down the best experience you could take away from high school.”

Not bad for a bunch of kids hanging out in a warehouse.


]]> 1 Eagle High School BERT Robotics Team members Amber Lindberg, left, Jacob Moss and George Mitchell guide their robot "Stein" during the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis.Sat, 28 May 2016 18:28:03 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Here’s a slightly shocking idea for ending Gov. LePage’s lies Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Dear U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch:

First, our heartfelt apology. If you haven’t already, you’re about to receive a request from our governor, Paul LePage, that you’ll probably dismiss at first glance as some kind of poorly executed high school prank.

It isn’t. You see, Madame AG, our governor is crazy as a loon.

What’s worse, he’s a compulsive liar.

And now he wants you, of all people, to bail him out of his latest whopper.

I know. You’re a busy woman. But please, hear me out. I think you can actually be of assistance here.

The story, in a nutshell, goes like this:

Three weeks ago, at one of his tell-it-like-it-isn’t town hall meetings, LePage regaled the crowd with the tale of a junior at Deering High School in Portland who overdosed on heroin three times in one week and was revived with the lifesaving drug Narcan all three times.

“And the third one, he got up and went to class,” LePage claimed. “He didn’t go to the hospital. He didn’t get checked out. He was so used to it he just came out of it and went to class.”

It never happened. The governor made it up.

This week, under pressure from Portland legislators to man up and apologize for maligning the state’s largest city and one of its high schools, LePage went on public radio and instead dug himself in deeper.

“It turns out it was one shot in the school and two shots outside,” he said, saying he got the story from a school resource officer. “And now they’re denying that. So what we’re going to do is, I’m thinking of calling this afternoon, trying to get ahold of the Attorney General Lynch and ask for her investigative arm to come up and look at the school systems in Maine. … I think it’s time maybe we start investigating our schools.”

Geez, Madame AG, do you really have an “investigative arm” that you can actually detach and dispatch, just like that, to faraway Maine?

Or was LePage referring to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which last time I checked already has offices in Portland and Bangor?

Either way, as Maine Public Radio moderator Jennifer Rooks asked the governor, “What would be the federal issue that they would be looking at?”

“Well, it’s a law enforcement issue,” LePage replied. “I think it’s … it’s not being transparent. I can’t be told … I’m suspect now that I’ve been told there were some drugs in the school and now they’re saying, ‘No, that’s fabricated.’ It’s not fabricated. This is an actual conversation I had. The police chief was even in the room.”

Sounds a little rattled, doesn’t he? It’s what happens when a lie starts to unravel and the compulsive liar, rather than simply fess up, starts to backpedal … and backpedal … until finally he trips over himself and lands in a pile of sentence fragments and sharply conflicting assertions. Not pretty.

But back to LePage’s request that you loan Maine your investigative arm. Honestly, Madame AG, there’s no need for it.

Portland’s acting school superintendent, its police chief, a high school principal and a school resource officer all say Gov. LePage took an anecdote set in a local park – no school, no student – and twisted it into something not rooted in reality.

Trust us, Madame AG, it’s not the first time he’s turned the truth into a pretzel.

As documented by reporter Eric Russell in Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald, LePage once claimed that Maine students had to take a special placement exam before they could apply to The College of William & Mary.

Not true.

He once insisted that a wind turbine at the University of Maine at Presque Isle ran on a “little electric motor that turns the blades.”

Wrong again.

He even alleged that Bangor-based author Stephen King, whose love for this state puts LePage to shame, spends most of his time in Florida to avoid paying Maine income taxes.

Lie about Stephen King? Who does that?

So what’s wrong with this guy?

I think he has a textbook case of “pseudologia fantastica,” which is a fancy name for pathological lying.

I came across an article about it in the The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, which describes the core characteristics of pseudologia fantastica, or PF, thusly:

“While the theme of lies can be stereotyped or varied in nature, they are almost always dazzling or fantastical, and often develop into a complicated system of deception. The imaginative fluency of the lies tends to capture public attention, at least in the short term. The lies must keep a certain reference to reality, and though they are often unlikely, they are not beyond the realm of possibility (e.g., ‘I communicate with aliens’). Under close scrutiny the lies can often be easily discredited, and for this reason the lying in PF is frequently noted to be destructive to the liar.”

Now, I’m sure, Madame AG, that you come across pathological liars all the time in your line of work. First as a federal prosecutor and now as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, you can probably spot one of these bozos a mile – or even 600 miles – away.

So rather than investigate Maine’s high schools for surreptitious (not to mention totally fictitious) Narcan resurrections, you could truly help us out here by sending us two simple items from your surplus equipment stockpile:

A portable polygraph machine and an ankle bracelet.

Deering High School, you see, is home to a ton of bright, innovative young minds.

The way I figure it, their top science class could easily retrofit the polygraph for easy attachment to Gov. LePage every time he goes out to speak in public.

At the same time, the kids could run a small electrical current from the polygraph to the ankle bracelet so that every time LePage tells a tall one, he gets zapped. Nothing painful, mind you – just enough to make him reflexively hop off the ground, a silent signal to his audience that he just wandered off into fantasy land.

In a perfect world, Madame AG, Gov. LePage eventually would modify his behavior (like the lab rats do), stick to the truth and stop having to borrow your investigative arm.

But as you and I both know, this is anything but a perfect world.

So we might as well be entertained.


]]> 201, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 25 May 2016 10:03:26 +0000
In a year marked by tragedies, Waynflete seniors host ‘play day’ for mental health Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Every high school class is remembered for something – a state championship, a school play, a prank for the ages. But as next month’s graduation approached, the Waynflete School Class of 2016’s legacy loomed large and burdensome.

“We’re going to remember this for the rest of our lives,” said senior Willy Burdick of Scarborough. “And we should end the year not being the senior class with two suicides that happened in the year, but the senior class that did something about it.”

He sat at a picnic table Monday at Waynflete’s Fore River Fields with fellow senior athletes Nina Moore and Christian Rowe. The wind blew hard across the freshly cut grass, the promise of summer held back by the lingering chill of a cold season that can’t end soon enough.

It happened first on Oct. 31 and again on March 13. Two female students at Waynflete – one a sophomore, the other a junior – took their own lives, the first time in anyone’s memory that suicide has cast its tragic shadow over the private school on Portland’s West End.

By all accounts, the school’s handling of the tragedies has been exemplary. Upon learning of the deaths, and with each family’s permission, administrators posted remarkably open and insightful messages to the student body on the school’s website.

Beyond that, the school consulted with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine to help students channel their grief. For some, that meant sticking as closely as possible to their daily routine; for others, a quiet session away from class with a trusted teacher or counselor to try and navigate the unfathomable.

But kids are kids. And away from the adults, they still talked among themselves. And it was there that these students, especially the seniors, felt the need to do something, anything, to counteract the cloud that threatened to hang over them right up to graduation day and beyond.

So Burdick, brave young man, logged on to the senior class Facebook page.

“I know that I personally have been incredibly affected by these incidents and I want to do something about it,” he wrote back in March. “We have a lot of free time coming up during senior projects and I think that would be a perfect time to research and educate people about suicide and how to prevent it.”

Moore, from Freeport, and Rowe, from South Portland, had been talking to each other about the same thing. Like Burdick, they’re lacrosse players (as was one of the suicide victims).

“There’s a whole stigma around mental health,” said Rowe. “Nina and I were having conversations all the time. I think a lot of students were. But it was really good for Willy to come out and say it. That’s where Nina and I came up with the idea of a lacrosse play day.”

It’s scheduled for Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Fore River Fields, 283 Osgood St., in Portland. And it’s about a lot more than lacrosse or, for that matter, Waynflete.

Suicide has cast its pall over two other local high schools – Falmouth High School and Greely High School in Cumberland – since the beginning of this school year.

Since Moore set up a Facebook page titled “Mental Health Awareness Play Day and Fundraiser,” players from those schools have promised they’ll be there – not for a day of competition, but rather for one of community.

“For me, a lot of it is about bringing mental health out into the light from wherever it is right now,” said Moore. “It’s really important to make it OK to talk about mental illness – just as it is OK to talk about your broken leg or cancer or something like that. It’s an illness and people can’t help that about themselves.”

Sunday’s event aims, if only for a day, to turn the spotlight away from all the pressure of college acceptances and, perish the thought, rejections. Away from the need to be the best, to score the highest, to hit all those marks that adolescents too often silently mistake as measures of their self-worth – until one day they find themselves in a hole too deep to escape.

“I feel like kids are afraid of admitting that they’re struggling,” said Rowe. “Because all that you want to do is look perfect. All society wants to hear is that you’re a success and all they are pushing for is for you to succeed. They’re not willing to accept that you may be having trouble.”

If you’re a teenager reading this right now and nodding your head in agreement, then perhaps there’s a place for you out there on Sunday.

You don’t have to be a lacrosse player. They’ll have Frisbees, Wiffle balls and bats, and other activities to get your heart pumping.

They’ll also have plenty of food and maybe a speaker or two from mental health programs like Family Hope in Scarborough, which helps families and friends help those with mental illness get the help they need.

They’ll even have T-shirts for sale to raise money for suicide prevention – printed on the back are the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and five tips to help suicide prevention. (The most poignant: “Love yourself before loving others.”)

What they won’t have is a memorial service. The time for that has passed. This is about looking forward and, as the outgoing leaders of their school, doing everything they can to ensure that what happened during their senior year never happens again.

As of Thursday, the play day’s Facebook page showed that 91 people plan to show up Sunday. Another 49 are listed as “interested.”

“This is one approach to filling in that blank for people who don’t know what to talk about, don’t know what to say, don’t know how to respond,” said Moore. “Here’s one way.”

It’s easy. Just come out and play.


]]> 13, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 20 May 2016 08:51:36 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Someone lead the game wardens out of the woods, back to reality Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Just when I thought my head would explode if I heard one more mention of “presumptive” presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along came last week’s showdown between the Maine Sunday Telegram and the Maine Warden Service over “North Woods Lawless.”

That was the banner over last Sunday’s riveting story and sidebars by staff writer Colin Woodard about “Operation Red Meat,” a two-year, over-the-top undercover investigation by the warden service in the backwoods of Aroostook County. The headline plays off “North Woods Law,” the Animal Planet TV show that captured the drama – or lack thereof – for the whole world to see.

In the days since the story ran, we’ve had calls by legislators on both sides of the aisle for hearings on who did what and why, followed by full-throated condemnations of Woodard and this newspaper by Gov. Paul LePage and the game wardens, followed by more reports of questionable tactics by the warden service and the undercover agent it’s used, year after year, to reel in the hapless poachers.

So here I sit, still catching my breath from it all.

And I’ve got a few questions:

First and foremost, do Maine’s game wardens know their Alces alces from their Prunus persica?

The former is the scientific name for Maine’s moose. The latter is Latin for the peach.

I ask this because the wardens, in their rather disjointed 2,800-word response to “North Woods Lawless,” acknowledge that they mistook jars of “vegetables” for jars of moose meat while raiding the home of Hope Kelly, the mother of one of the defendants in Operation Red Meat.

As for Ms. Kelly’s claim that they also made off with her prized stock of home-canned peaches, however, the wardens insisted, “At no point did the warden service seize peaches.”

Yet in an evidence photo taken that night by the wardens, right next to a jar of what looks like not-so-red Alces alces is a jar of bright orange Prunus persica.

Go figure.

Why won’t the Maine Warden Service answer the Maine Sunday Telegram’s questions?

For more than six months, reporter Woodard repeatedly has requested interviews with everyone from Col. Joel Wilkinson, commander of the warden service, on down. And the warden service’s terse response to Woodard’s written questions, repeatedly labeling this or that criticism against them “completely inaccurate and untrue,” reads like a heavily sterilized court deposition.

And now they complain, ad nauseam, that their side of the story isn’t being told.

How much did Operation Red Meat cost?

Reasonable people can disagree on whether two years of an undercover agent’s time, along with a raid involving some 30 game wardens and state police backup, was worth the subsequent two arrests and array of non-felony charges against 21 others back in February 2014.

But in order for taxpayers to make that judgment, the least the Maine Warden Service could do is put a price tag on the whole thing. Which they won’t.

Why not?

Why won’t the Maine Warden Service release the emails between game wardens and the “North Woods Law” production company?

This would seem pretty simple: On Nov. 2, 2015, Woodard and the Maine Sunday Telegram submitted a request under the Maine Freedom of Access Act seeking all emails between the wardens and Engel Entertainment, the producers of “North Woods Law.” The Maine Warden Service initially estimated it would take about six hours to fulfill the request.

More than six months later, they still haven’t forked them over.

So even as they thump their chests about enforcing Maine law, let’s not forget that they’re simultaneously breaking it.

Whose side is Maine’s public access ombudsman on?

Her name is Brenda Kielty and her job, according to the state’s website, is “to review complaints about compliance with the Freedom of Access Act and attempt to mediate their resolution.”

According to an endless email chain between the newspapers, the warden service and associated lawyers that now reads like an Abbott and Costello routine, Kielty first got involved in the Freedom of Access dispute on Jan. 20. It’s now May 15, with no resolution in sight.

Suggested question for Ms. Kielty: For an agency that specializes in search and rescue, how hard can it be to find a few emails?

How long is too long for an agent to remain undercover?

William Livezey, the undercover agent at the heart of this and countless other raids, has been scurrying around Maine playing good-old-boy Pennsylvania hunter Bill Fried for at least a dozen years, maybe a lot longer.

It’s hard to fathom, from one investigation to another, that nobody has recognized him. You’ve also got to wonder, after all those years playing a lawbreaker so convincingly, if he still recognizes himself.

What’s with all the beer?

Everywhere Livezey/Fried goes, he seems to have a 12-pack under his arm. He apparently favors Yuengling, which is a clever choice because it’s brewed in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and is not distributed in Maine.

But by all accounts (except, of course, that of the Maine Warden Service), Livezey/Fried does a lot of drinking on the job. Assuming he expenses his, ahem, accessories, might taxpayers be entitled to a look-see at all those years of Yuengling receipts?

And while we’re on the topic of beer, what’s the deal with that garbage can?

According to a story in Friday’s Portland Press Herald, Livezey/Fried once became so drunk during an investigation in York County that he tumbled into a garbage can. Then, according to a target of that operation, he insisted on getting into his car and driving miles to his hotel.

Too bad the “North Woods Law” cameras weren’t rolling for that one. When it comes to reality TV, that’s lightning in a bottle.

Why are 15 pages of a 16-page state policy redacted?

Talk about pure, unadulterated arrogance.

The Maine Sunday Telegram requests a copy of the Maine Warden Service policy on “special investigations” and, upon delivery, virtually the entire thing is blacked out except for some introductory chatter and a few scattered definitions.

And, right at the end, this: “News, Media and Press: Inquiries from the press, news media and other public information outlets will be forwarded to the Augusta office for response by the Colonel, Major or as otherwise directed by the Colonel or Major.”

I’m surprised they didn’t draw in an upraised middle finger.

When is the Maine Warden Service going to stop lying about the Portland Press Herald?

In a statement released Friday evening, warden service spokesman Cpl. John MacDonald claimed that the Press Herald failed to report on the shooting of two New Hampshire police officers early that morning because “they would rather focus on their attempts to smear rather than report on newsworthy events.”

The shootings in Manchester occurred at 2 a.m. Six hours later, at 8:03 a.m., the story was posted on the Press Herald website.

And we’re the ones not telling the truth.

Finally, who spooked the legislators?

Immediately after “North Woods Lawless” broke, lawmakers from both parties promised to pick up where the story left off and start demanding answers to the questions that the Maine Warden Service continues to ignore.

Then LePage opened fire on the newspaper – like nobody saw that coming – and the whole thing took on the specter of yet another political fight that could now sputter to a halt at the edge of Augusta’s great partisan divide.

Let’s hope not.

The only real way to end this thing is to choose the appropriate legislative committee – preferably one with subpoena power – and call in Agent Livezey/Fried and his handlers for a long overdue chat.

They can bring the beer.

Or at least a jar of Prunus persica.


]]> 60, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sun, 15 May 2016 21:24:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A lesson on nepotism and making (wrong) choices in SAD 6 Thu, 12 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Question: How do you know when a school district is in deep trouble?

Answer: When its leadership flunks the straight face test.

This was supposed to be the week that those in charge of School Administrative District 6 stopped acting like the dog ate their homework.

By now, Superintendent Frank Sherburne, who hopscotched around the district’s nepotism policy in snagging a job as an ed tech for his 23-year-old son, Zachariah Sherburne, was supposed to finally have been held accountable for his transgressions.

By now, the district’s directors were supposed to have calmed widespread public concerns after Zachariah was charged with having sex with an underage girl in a nearby school district where he also worked at the time.

And, oh yes, the board also was supposed to have explained how Zachariah managed to work for a month last winter in SAD 6 with none of the credentials required by state law.

Finally by now, SAD 6 taxpayers (myself included) were supposed to have some reassurance that those in charge of our sprawling school system, the fourth largest in Maine, at least know how to read.

Which apparently they don’t.

“It is the policy of the MSAD 6 Board not to employ any person who is a member of the family of a Board Member or the Superintendent,” states the district’s nepotism policy.

Let’s start there.

Back when young Zachariah, already working as an ed tech in SAD 55, apparently spoke with his dad about coming to work in SAD 6, Superintendent Sherburne had two possible answers.

Right answer: “Sorry, son, but we have a policy against that.”

Wrong answer: “Hmm … let me see what I can do.”

Frank Sherburne chose the wrong answer.

Then when the superintendent sat down on Jan. 26 with SAD 6 board Chairwoman Rebecca Bowley and Vice Chairman Jacob Stoddard and brought up hiring his son, they had two possible answers.

Right answer: “Sorry, Frank, but we have a policy against that.”

Wrong answer: “Sure, Frank, we’re OK with that.”

They chose the wrong answer.

What’s worse, Bowley and Stoddard failed to inform the rest of the 14-member board of their winking and nodding until April 4. That was a full three weeks after Zachariah, charged with gross sexual assault and sexual abuse of a minor (who became pregnant), resigned from his SAD 6 ed tech position after just over a month on the job.

It gets worse.

Realizing they had a whopper of a public relations problem on their hands, the board then decided to investigate. But rather than bring in an outsider to sort through this mess, they gave the job to their regular counsel – the Portland law firm of Drummond Woodsum.

Think about that. The law firm conducting an inquest in which the potential exists for a variety of the players to have a variety of conflicting interests, already represents everyone involved.

That’s not an investigation. That’s a heavy coat of primer.

Thus we now have this hard-not-to-laugh-at narrative from the three-page “executive summary” of the investigation released following the board’s lengthy closed-door meeting Tuesday evening:

“The Superintendent, as requested by the Chair, checked with Ms. Hicks, the union president, regarding (Zachariah’s) application for employment and she indicated that she was ‘okay’ with (Zachariah) applying for a position as long as, if he received a position, the classroom teacher was comfortable working with the Superintendent’s son.”

Comfortable? Why on earth wouldn’t the classroom teacher be comfortable?

The executive summary continues: “The Superintendent subsequently informed the Buxton Center Elementary School Principal and Assistant Principal that they could consider (Zachariah’s) application, that they should treat him like any other applicant, and that he (the Superintendent) would not play a part in the decision.”

Zachariah, spoiler alert, got the job.

Back to the executive summary: “We found no evidence that the Superintendent was involved in the hiring process, or that the application process or the decision to hire (Zachariah) was influenced by the fact that he is the Superintendent’s son.”

We pause now for our communal forehead slap.

The elder Sherburne, the big boss, discussed his son’s job application with the school board chair … the vice chair … the union president … the school principal … and the assistant principal. Yet according to the in-house investigation, he had absolutely no influence over his kid getting hired?

Even the full board found that hard to swallow, noting in a statement Tuesday that Sherburne in fact violated the nepotism policy by failing to notify all of them, (not just the chair and vice-chair) before his son was hired.

“This decision displayed a lapse in judgment by the Superintendent and he has accepted responsibility for it,” read the board statement.

But then, having barely slapped Sherburne on the wrist, the board ran for cover: “But the Board is convinced that the extraordinary circumstances outlined in the Nepotism Policy existed and that the decisions made by the Superintendent, the Chair and Vice-Chair were made in good faith and with the best interest of the District in mind.”

Under the nepotism policy’s “extraordinary circumstances” exception, a candidate can be hired if it’s “in the best interests of MSAD 6” and if that person “is qualified for the position to which he/she has been or will be assigned.”

But Zachariah Sherburne, without the necessary state authorization (which he also lacked for his other ed tech job in SAD 55), without an official transcript on file with the Maine Department of Education (the one he’d submitted was deemed insufficient), without even a required eight-week temporary card showing that he had applied for a criminal background check (cue the irony alert), clearly was not qualified to be working as an ed tech in SAD 6.

And much as the board might wish otherwise, this debacle isn’t just about who was or was not acting in “good faith.”

It’s about basic competence, or the lack thereof.

And it’s about choosing to adhere to the law, or choosing to ignore it.

Back in March, one day after his son was arrested, Superintendent Sherburne sent out a sternly worded memo to SAD 6 employees emphasizing that it was their responsibility, not the district’s, to stay up to date on their state certifications.

The memo included this telling statement: “The district can no longer allow extensions on allowing proof of a valid certification, license or CHRC (Criminal History Record Check) because the number of non-compliant employees has grown to such an extent that it takes months for the District to become compliant.”

Meaning this thing is far from over.

Zachariah Sherburne, for all his notoriety, appears to be the tip of a much bigger iceberg when it comes to SAD 6 employees working on the edge of – or just outside – the law.

Frank Sherburne, whose own state certification as a superintendent requires that he stay on top of this stuff, still has plenty of explaining to do.

And the SAD 6 board of directors?

They’re only fooling themselves.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 43, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 12 May 2016 08:03:46 +0000
Narcan veto override presents Maine lawmakers with a life-or-death choice Thu, 28 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Picture yourself with your finger poised over two buttons – a green one that says “yea” and a red one that says “nay.”

Push the green one and someone lying unconscious at death’s door will live.

Push the red one and that person will die.

Your choice.

That choice actually awaits members of the Maine Legislature as they reconvene Friday to slog their way through the many and varied vetoes issued this session by Gov. Paul LePage.

None looms larger than LePage’s veto of L.D. 1547, “An Act to Facilitate Access to Naloxone Hydrochloride,” or Narcan, for people who have experienced opioid-related drug overdoses.

Choose the “yea” button and override LePage’s veto, as the Senate is widely expected to do, and pharmacists statewide will be allowed to dispense the lifesaving antidote pre-emptively to family members, friends and anyone else who wants to rescue an overdose victim while precious seconds tick away.

Choose the “nay” button against an override, as just enough House Republicans who voted earlier against the bill could do, and at least some of those frantic bystanders will watch helplessly as another Mainer dies from the disease – and, yes, it is a disease – of drug addiction.

Put more simply, those Republicans can fall in behind LePage, who stunned many in Maine and around the nation last week when he opined in his veto letter that “naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

Or they can step back from that hopeless rhetoric, take a deep breath, and consider what’s truly at stake with this simple push of a button.

It’s all reminiscent of the “Milgram experiment,” conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram while Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was being tried in Jerusalem back in 1961.

The experiment aimed to determine how people from a variety of occupations and backgrounds would respond to an authority figure’s orders (a la Adolf Hitler) to do something they normally might find abhorrent.

In this case, the test centered on a subject’s ability (or not) to comply with an order to administer electrical shocks at increasing voltages to another person hidden away in an adjacent room whenever that person answered incorrectly to a series of word-match questions.

It was, of course, all a setup. There were no shocks, and the screams from the other room, which grew more blood-curdling with each uptick in the voltage, were also staged.

But the people at the electrical button didn’t know that. And at the repeated prodding of the authority figure, even as some laughed nervously and others sweated profusely, an astounding 65 percent of them kept administering the “shocks” up to what they thought was a maximum of 450 volts.

As Milgram later concluded, “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.”

That terrible destructive process, in this case, is drug addiction.

And lest we lose ourselves in the legislative wrangling, L.D. 1547 is by no means a hypothetical exercise: According to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, 272 people died from drug overdoses in Maine in 2015, a stunning 31 percent increase over the previous year.

“I think there’s a great deal of desperation,” said assistant House Democratic leader Sara Gideon of Freeport, the bill’s sponsor, in an interview Wednesday. “If you go out and talk to people, you are hard-pressed to find somebody who hasn’t been touched by this … who doesn’t know somebody in their circle who has experienced either a loved one who is addicted to drugs or who has overdosed.”

So why not help these people?

In LePage’s increasingly dark world, they’re apparently not worth the effort.

As he put it so clumsily in his veto letter last week, “Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.”

He then doubled down Tuesday in a radio interview with WVOM, saying, “I don’t think Narcan saves lives. I think Narcan extends lives.”

If only he’d included the obvious: In cases of lethal overdose, the absence of Narcan ends lives.

To be so devoid of hope, so lacking in compassion, doesn’t just erode LePage’s standing as Maine’s chief executive. It diminishes him as a human being.

Just as standing up to LePage’s ignorance, as Milo Police Chief Damien Pickel did in a recent department Facebook post, is a sign of utmost integrity.

“Your recent veto of LD 1547 . . . only shows how uninformed you are,” Pickel wrote in an open letter to the governor. “By saying (Narcan) ‘does not truly save lives,’ you are being disingenuous and are doing a disservice to those of us who have administered it. It does save lives. It’s not a safety net for the addict that will ‘perpetuate the use of heroin.’ When an addict is overdosing, they lack the skills to administer it themselves. In fact, an addict hates Narcan because it reverses the effects of the opioid and they immediately go into withdrawal.

“You should listen to your police, fire, EMS and medical professionals before you make any further uninformed statements.”

Sorry, Chief, but that ship sailed a long time ago.

The only question now is who still listens to LePage – starting with you Republican lawmakers who, we can only hope, will do some serious soul-searching before you show up for your last day of work on Friday.

Will you be like Milgram’s hapless subjects and obediently push that “nay” button, even as you know deep down that real lives hang in the balance?

Or will you tune out what you’re hearing from the governor’s office and the party leaders who do his bidding and, on this matter of life and death, do the right thing?

So go ahead. Picture someone you know, maybe even someone you love, lying there on the ground.

Green button or red button.

It’s your call.


]]> 69, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Tue, 06 Dec 2016 14:15:26 +0000