Bill Nemitz – Press Herald Sat, 25 Mar 2017 08:00:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bill Nemitz: A sermon for those on the mound, from one who’s been there Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Dennis Eckersley, the onetime closer and now TV color commentator for the Boston Red Sox, once said, “I can’t recall too much about pitching, but I was anxious to get it over with.”

I, on the other hand, remember every agonizing second of my brief career on the pitcher’s mound. And like Eckersley, I wanted only for it to end.

It lasted all of one-half inning.

Memories of my long-ago trauma were tweaked this week with the news that all over Maine, high schoolers are scraping off the winter rust in anticipation of the start of baseball season on April 12.

Pitchers, who began throwing this week, will face a new set of rules this year: Per order of the Maine Principals’ Association, they face a limit of 110 pitches per game. Also, should they throw more than 95 pitches in one outing, they must get four days of rest before taking the mound again.

All of which got me thinking: Nowhere in team sports is there a position so lonely as that of the pitcher.

Throw well and you’re the hero.

Throw poorly and you’re the goat.

Throw somewhere in between and you’re at best a glutton for punishment, not to mention a candidate for psychotherapy.

It happened 50 years ago this summer.

Having just turned 13, I was too old to play Little League that year.

But when I heard about a summer league being formed for kids my age and slightly older, I jumped at the chance to reclaim my familiar – and often terrifying – corner at third base.

That is until the coach, whom I’d never met, saw me throw and asked, “Have you ever pitched?”

Yeah, right.

Me? … Pitch? …Was this guy crazy or what?

“Uhh … no,” I replied. “I play third.”

“Take the mound,” he said. “Let’s have a look.”

Fast forward to the first inning of our first game.

My Dad is among the smattering of fans on the hill behind our bench. Normally, he’s the one who gives me the thumbs-up and yells something mortifying like, “Go get ’em, Bill!”

But Dad’s strangely quiet on this day, just watching. His kid is … pitching?

For the first time ever, I take the mound. It’s all so unfamiliar: the beat-up rubber, the sticky rosin bag, the fact that everyone, on and off the field, is suddenly focused exclusively on me …

I wind up, feeling clumsy. I let the first pitch fly, thinking all the while, “Am I doing this right? … Do I look stupid? … Where’s it going to go?”

Ball one.

Again, I go through the unfamiliar motion. “Geez, that strike zone looks so tiny from up here,” I think midway through the wind-up.

And then, as I release the ball, “Dear God, please don’t let it hit him!”

Ball two.

Balls three and four come in rapid succession.

Same for the next batter – four balls in a row, and suddenly there are runners on first and second and no outs.

Same for the batter after that – and now the bases are loaded.

My teammates, full of chatter just a few minutes ago, have all gone silent.

I look to the bench, where my new coach halfheartedly claps his hands in encouragement. I see his hands come together, but I don’t hear any sound.

I look to the hill behind the bench. There sits my Dad, helplessly calm.

Did he just nod – or is he looking down because he can’t bear to make eye contact with his sudden failure of a son?

I want to run away, but I’m trapped by the simple reality that baseball, for better or worse, tends to frown on simply giving up. The ball weighs a ton. The next kid up to the plate looks more scared than I am.

And then, out of nowhere, I get angry.

“You want it? Here, take it!” I mutter, rearing back and throwing, eyes closed, as hard as I can. Only when I hear the “pop” in the catcher’s mitt do I look.

Strike one.

I’m still mad. I hurl it again, same way, without a thought for what I’m doing. If I kill the poor kid cowering at the plate, so be it.

Strike two.

I go on to strike out not just this batter, but the two who follow.

I walk off the mound to cheers, pats on the back from my teammates, a thumbs-up from my Dad. Yet I make a beeline for my coach.

“I’m begging you, please don’t make me go back out there,” I implore him. “I’m not a pitcher. I play third. Please!”

Coach relents. My pitching career – three walks, three K’s, no earned runs, a lifetime of nightmares about rosin bags – mercifully comes to an end.

These days, after the snow surrenders our soggy diamonds, I often pull over to catch a minute or three of a Little League or high school game in progress.

My eyes, like all eyes, go directly to the pitcher.

One kid, all by himself, with the outcome of the game literally in his hands.

Behind him, an entire team, poised not to act, but to react: A good pitch requires nothing of them. One bad pitch, however, and they must keep it from becoming a catastrophe.

And the batter, these days all swagger and Big Papi preparation, also waits. Go ahead, he tells the pitcher with his eyes, go ahead and try …

Bob Feller, a Cleveland Indians mound legend, once observed, “When you make a bad pitch and the hitter puts it out of the park and you cost your team the game, it’s a real test of your maturity to be able to stand in front of your locker 15 minutes later and admit it to the world. How many people in other professions would be willing to have their job performances evaluated that way, in front of millions, every afternoon at 5 o’clock?”

And so here’s to the pitchers – the good, the bad, those who command and those who collapse.

You truly are a different breed.

You work alone, even as you’re surrounded by others.

You stand atop a small hill, the better for the rest of us to watch you succeed or fail.

To do that well – heck, to do it at all – takes just a little bit of crazy.

That and a ton of courage.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 23 Mar 2017 09:08:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: State cutting programs for mentally ill? She minds Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Donna Deigan sat in a downtown coffee shop Tuesday morning as the blizzard bore down on Brunswick, her materials neatly arranged before her on the table: a checklist of issues to discuss in our interview, her recent testimony to the Maine Legislature, a single dollar bill.

“This right here is a piece of paper,” she said, picking up the dollar. “It is not living, it is not breathing. But we put so much value on it.”

Putting it back down, she continued: “I’m a living, breathing person. And I may have a mental illness, but I still have something to contribute to the world. And that is sharing my story.”

It might be easy to lose Deigan in the rising tide of Mainers whose mental health services are once again under siege in Augusta – if not for one thing.

She refuses to disappear.

Deigan, 50, has long struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder – none of which was properly treated until she finally underwent intensive treatment with Sweetser, a statewide behavioral health care provider, just over three years ago.

She grew up in Cleveland, where she was verbally, physically and sexually abused as a child. She remembers coping with a dysfunctional household by becoming “Robin,” her imaginary twin, “in order to try and pretend I was somebody else because I hated the way I was being treated.”

She’s been raped three times over the course of her life.

She’s been hospitalized during mental health crises.

More than once in her tumultuous past, she’s attempted suicide.

Even now, if she forgets just one thing in her morning routine – get up, shower, brush teeth … – it’s likely to throw her off balance for the entire day.

Yet she refuses to disappear.

Last spring, Deigan was one of more than 400 clients of Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Associates who were thrown into a tailspin when the agency abruptly shut down with no apparent thought to those who relied on its services for case management, therapy and community-based support.

At the same time, she was one of some 8,000 Mainers rocked by changes in Maine- Care rules that now limit intensive community support services to those with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and other acute mental health impairments.

That crackdown continues under the broader effort by Gov. Paul LePage to cut taxes at the expense of Maine’s most vulnerable: Under a proposed rate change by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, reimbursements to agencies that provide support services to the mentally ill would be pared by close to 25 percent.

As a DHHS spokeswoman put it in January, LePage’s budget aims to shrink “the size and cost of state government” by targeting “short-sighted welfare policies that have perpetuated dependency.”

Still, despite such demonizing rhetoric, Deigan refuses to disappear.

Last month, she listened to LePage’s State of the State address – the first one she’d ever heard – and shook her head when she heard the governor thump away at the “Do No Harm” theme of his budget.

” ‘Do no harm.’ He kept repeating that,” she said. “But he’s harming people. And at what point do you draw the line between governing a state and actually hurting your citizens? At what point do you draw the line?”

Deigan draws it at the emergency room entrance to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick.

There, working for a local mental health agency, she now provides peer counseling support for those with no place else to turn.

Late last month, nerves shaking her like a leaf, she stood up before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees to talk about her work. No, make that her newfound calling.

“What happens when a person has a heart attack?” Deigan asked lawmakers. “They go to the emergency room and are treated!”

Not so for mental health patients, she continued, listing 10 teenagers, elderly folks and others in between who have showed up in crisis on her watch and waited for days to be routed to proper treatment – or, in some cases, to just be sent home.

“Physical trauma is treated immediately,” she testified. “Why does trauma of the mind, which is part of the body, get delayed, cut off and ignored?”

Last summer, working with state Rep. Joyce McCreight, D-Harpswell, Deigan co-founded the Behavioral Health Coalition for Maine. It’s a group of about 20 mental health providers, substance abuse experts and law enforcement officials leaning into the winds of blame and shame on behalf of those too scared, or too caught up in daily survival, to do it themselves.

Refusing to disappear, Deigan now chairs the group.

On Tuesday, she’ll speak to lawmakers about mental health recovery at a gathering of the Legislature’s bipartisan Behavioral Health Caucus, organized by McCreight to counterbalance LePage and Co.

In an interview Friday, McCreight marveled at the change she’s seen in Deigan since the two first met a year ago amid the unfolding MaineCare cuts and the Merrymeeting closure.

“She’s amazing,” McCreight said. “It’s been so inspiring to see her do this.”

That said, McCreight added, Deigan remains a person in need of her own mental health help – and she knows it.

Last June, the death of Deigan’s mother – they’d reconciled in recent years – drove her into a deep depression.

She climbed back out.

Then in December, issues with her estranged brother – her lone surviving direct relative – touched off a crisis so severe that she actually contemplated suicide for the first time in years.

Again, she survived.

“She’s one of those people who are very good about reaching out when she needs help – and we’re not all very good at that,” McCreight said. “All along the way, I see her getting more confident, stronger.”

Back at the coffee shop, Deigan explained what it’s like to be in a mental health crisis without readily available support:

“You’re in a very … dark … tunnel. Alone. You cannot see the light. And there’s a huge rock pile. The rocks are all over you. And you’re weighted down. And you cannot move those rocks on your own.”

As she spoke, the visibility outside dropped by the minute with the incoming storm.

Deigan reached once again for that dollar bill.

“It takes a village, it takes a state,” she said. “It takes people to choose to understand, not just take away a piece of paper and say, ‘We’re taking this dollar away from you because it has more value than you do.’ ”

In the coming weeks, the powers that be in Augusta will fight tooth and nail over that dollar. But win, lose or draw, one thing will not change.

Donna Deigan, living proof that mental health treatment creates a stronger, sounder, more compassionate society, will keep standing tall. Not just for herself, but for thousands of fellow Mainers just like her.

They will not disappear.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 18 Mar 2017 19:05:50 +0000
Bill Nemitz: One comma left out gives judge pause in Oakhurst overtime case Fri, 17 Mar 2017 02:16:00 +0000 Grammarians rejoice! The Oxford comma survives.

Chances are you’ve never heard of this arcane little punctuation mark, considered by many a useless piece of clutter amid the complexities of proper English usage.

Only, it isn’t. In fact, the absence of an Oxford comma, also known as a serial comma, could soon cost one Maine company a ton of money.

“For want of a comma, we have this case,” began Judge David Barron of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a unanimous ruling handed down Monday.

The decision reopens the door for a class-action lawsuit against Oakhurst Dairy by its drivers, who claim in a case dating back to 2014 that they illegally were denied overtime pay.

Not so, countered Oakhurst, arguing that state law specifically exempts the drivers from eligibility for overtime compensation.

That would be the same state law that’s apparently missing a serial comma.

The law states that overtime is not required for employees engaged in “the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.”

We’ll get back to that in a second.

First, let’s look at how a serial comma – used before the final item in a list of three or more things, just before the conjunction “and” or “or” – can change the entire meaning of a sentence.

With a serial comma: “We invited the strippers, Trump, and Putin.”

Without a serial comma: “We invited the strippers, Trump and Putin.”

(Full disclosure: A long-cited version of the above, commonly found online, uses the names “Kennedy” and “Stalin.” I updated it because, well, it just felt more relevant.)

In the first example, the serial comma makes it clear that the invitees include Trump and Putin, along with the strippers.

In the second, however, the lack of a comma suggests that Trump and Putin are, in fact, the strippers.

Now that we’ve burned that image onto your brain, back to the lawsuit.

At issue before the Court of Appeals was the phrase “packing for shipment or distribution of” the various perishable products.

Oakhurst claimed, and a lower court agreed, that “distribution” means the company’s drivers and thus exempts Oakhurst from having to pay them overtime.

Not so fast, countered the drivers.

Without a serial comma before the word “or,” both “distribution” and “shipment” flow directly from the phrase “packing for …” Since they drive the trucks and don’t pack anything, the drivers argued, they are not included among the list of exempted jobs.

Put another way, had the statute read “storing, packing for shipment, or distribution,” the drivers would have been out of luck.

Judge Barron, bless him, spent 29 pages examining the absent comma from every conceivable angle.

He looked at the 214-page Maine Legislative Drafting Manual – yes, there is such a thing.

Right there on page 113, it specifically advises, “Although authorities on punctuation may differ, when drafting Maine law or rules, don’t use a comma between the penultimate and the last item of a series.”

Aha! Case closed … or not.

Barron also noted this overarching advice from page 114 of the drafting manual: “Be careful if an item in the series is modified.”

Meaning, without a serial comma, both “shipment” and “distribution” easily can be seen as modifiers for “packing for …” As in “packing for shipment or (packing for) distribution.”

That may be bad news for packers who work more than 40 hours a week. But because the drivers pack nothing whatsoever and are not set apart by a serial comma, Barron reasoned, they still get their overtime.

The judge also plunged bravely into gerunds, which are nouns formed from verbs by adding “ing.” (See: “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing …”)

Because neither “shipment” nor “distribution” is a gerund, noted Barron, they are notably out of sync with the other exempt jobs – further supporting the notion that lawmakers used those words only to modify the job of “packing for …”

(Of course, one could counter that the average Maine legislator doesn’t know a gerund from a gerbil. But hey, the law is the law.)

What really tipped it for the court, however, was existing case law requiring, when ambiguity is found in Maine’s wage-and-hour laws, that they “should be liberally construed to further the beneficent purposes for which they were enacted.”

Because overtime laws are intended to benefit employees, the judge essentially ruled, a tie in this case goes to the drivers.

Augusta attorney David Webbert, representing the drivers, said in an interview Thursday that Judge Barron certainly “earned his paycheck” with this lengthy, erudite decision.

“This is an example of the rule of law actually working for the average person – not the rule of law designed to protect the powerful,” Webbert said. “I think it was a really well-written decision. I was really proud of the Court of Appeals for not taking shortcuts.”

The case now will proceed either to settlement talks – ultimately, this week’s decision could benefit upward of 125 drivers – or additional court proceedings to, as Webbert put it, “add up the money.”

But when that’s all said and done, a timeless lesson will remain: Language without proper punctuation is like a highway with improperly placed road signs. One missed comma and you simply can’t get there from here.

Webbert, who once chaired his local school board and was dismayed to learn that grammar wasn’t taught as a stand-alone subject, sees this as a wake-up call not only for lawmakers, but for us all.

“It’s not just about grammar,” he said. “It’s about communicating well.”

Just ask those strippers, Trump and Putin.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 17 Mar 2017 11:59:06 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Threats make films about Jewish life more vital than ever Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Two Jews are dispatched to assassinate Hitler during the height of World War II.

Acting on a tip, they hide outside his home one evening, waiting for him to appear.

A half hour goes by. Nothing.

An hour passes. Still nothing.

Two hours. No Hitler.

“Gee,” one Jew finally says to the other, a look of concern clouding his face. “I hope nothing happened to him!”

Welcome to “The Last Laugh,” an 85-minute documentary that asks and offers a variety of answers to the seat-squirming question, “Can humor be found anywhere in the Holocaust?”

Wednesday marks the 20th rollout of the Maine Jewish Film Festival, which over the next two weeks will screen more than 30 films – dramas, documentaries, comedies, shorts, you name it – at venues in Portland, Brunswick, Lewiston and Waterville.

Never been? Well, considering the headlines these days, there’s no time like the present.

Last week, in an alarming sign of the times, another wave of bomb threats targeted Jewish Community Centers and day schools in six states.

Here in Maine, a threat laden with anti-Semitic slurs emptied the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine back in January – one of nearly 150 such acts of cowardice that have traumatized Jewish populations throughout the United States and Canada since the start of 2017.

“I think that in fact we see ourselves as an antidote to that,” said Barbara Merson, executive director of the Maine Jewish Film Festival, in an interview at her Portland office last week. “Because generally speaking, anti-Semitism is very often based on a lack of knowledge. And our films are about the global Jewish experience. So if you come and watch them, you will be entertained, but you will also learn something about Jewish communities all over the world and issues that resonate in Jewish communities.”

It all started back in the mid-1990s with a few videos shown on a TV screen at Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland.

That eventually led to a weekend of screenings at The Movies on Exchange Street in Portland, recalled David Connerty-Marin, the festival’s co-founder and first executive director.

“We sold out every single one,” said Connerty-Marin, who now lives in Washington, D.C., but will travel to Portland next weekend for opening night. “And we knew that we were filling a need.”

They still are. Nothing gets people talking, after all, like a good movie.

The cornerstone of this year’s festival is “The Women’s Balcony,” a provocative, often humorous tale of an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem where one day the women’s balcony collapses during a bar mitzvah.

The accident leaves the rabbi’s wife in a coma, which in turn renders the shocked rabbi unable to perform his duties.

Enter new, young Rabbi David with his unexpectedly fundamentalist views, including the notion that the women’s immodesty contributed to the collapse. Thus, much to the shock of the women in the congregation, the newly repaired synagogue includes no balcony – banishing the women to an anteroom.

Good luck with that plan, Rabbi David.

The documentary “Freedom Runners” focuses on a group of students in Israel, all African asylum seekers. They came under the wing of a young Jewish teacher in Tel Aviv, who helped them form a competitive running club.

The runners excelled all the way to national Israeli competitions. There they hit a brick wall: Their lack of Israeli citizenship prevented them from receiving the trophies and other honors they so clearly had earned.

Merson screened the film recently for the high school track team in Lewiston, which includes a number of African immigrants.

“The situation really resonated,” she said.

Then there’s “An American Tail,” the 1986 animated film about the Mousekewitzes, a family of Jewish mice emigrating from Russia to religious freedom in the United States.

Merson has showed that film in Lewiston, too. And while that audience also was far from all Jewish, she said, it hit home.

“The idea of coming over on a boat and being in a strange place – that resonates with a lot of people,” she noted.

“Bogdan’s Journey” is the true story of Bogdan Bialek, a Catholic from Poland who persuades people in the Polish city of Kielce to confront an ugly chapter of their past: the pogrom, or organized massacre, of 40 Jews seeking refuge there in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

Bialek, along with the film’s co-directors, will attend the preview of the film at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the CTN studio on Congress Street in Portland. The trio will participate in a panel discussion after the film – one of many such post-screening discussions throughout the festival.

The list goes on: “For the Love of Spock,” created by Adam Nimoy, son of the legendary Leonard Nimoy; “Freedom to Marry,” a timely look back at the struggle for marriage equality through the eyes of Evan Wolfson, founder of the group Freedom to Marry, and Portland civil rights attorney Mary Bonauto; the Oscar-nominated documentary “Joe’s Violin,” about a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who donated his violin to a 12-year-old girl from the Bronx and thus changed both of their lives.

For the complete lineup of films, tickets, show times and locations, go to

And if you’re still wondering whether a Jewish film festival might be worth a few hours of your time, consider your options over the next couple of weeks.

You can sit by yourself, night after night, in front of the mind-numbing cable news on your living room TV.

Or you can take in something truly different with a roomful of fellow Mainers. And then, even better, linger for a while to talk about it.

“We provide a common experience,” said Merson. “It’s a way of having civil discourse on potentially difficult issues.”

And just maybe, now and then, a good chuckle.

UPDATE: Let’s hear it for late-winter thaws.

Back on Feb. 23, I wrote about Robert Banks, a disabled Maine veteran who was en route from one federal job to another when President Trump’s federal hiring freeze kicked in and left Banks unemployed.

Thanks to the dogged work of Kate Simson, who works in the Portland office of Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Banks is headed for his new job after all at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island.

He starts a week from Monday.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 13 Mar 2017 15:55:40 +0000
Podcast: Is a LePage vs. King race in the offing? Panhandlers and the Pope. Fri, 10 Mar 2017 20:32:29 +0000 Portland Press Herald Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and columnists Bill Nemitz, Alan Caron and Cynthia Dill talk about: What the Pope had to say about giving to panhandlers, and what Paul LePage is up to in Washington, Angus King’s central role in the Russia scandal, late-night TV in the Trump era, and what they’re reading.

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Bill Nemitz: As Portland addresses panhandling, pope offers inspiration Thu, 09 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Here’s a radical idea guaranteed to make heads explode: Rather than twist ourselves up in knots over Portland’s legion of panhandlers, we should give to them freely, frequently and without worry about what they might do with the money.

Relax, restive masses. This is not the brainchild of Mayor Ethan Strimling, Progressive Portland or any of those other socialist types plotting to take over the People’s Republic of Portland.

It comes from Pope Francis.

“There are many excuses” for ignoring people who beg on the street, Francis told the Italian magazine Scarp de’ Tenis (Italian for “Tennis Shoes”) in an interview last week, one day before the start of Lent.

But giving to such people, the pope said, “is always right.”

What’s more, Francis said, just “tossing money and not looking in (their) eyes is not a Christian” way to practice charity. Instead, you should reach out and touch the person, treat him or her like a fellow human, show some real compassion.

The pope made his remarks to the magazine, which serves the homeless and other outcasts in the Italian city of Milan, in anticipation of a visit there later this month. But in just over a week, his words have gone global.

The Catholic News Service first picked it up, followed by an editorial Friday in The New York Times that concluded, “Maybe compassion is the right call.”

It’s a timely issue for Portland, where solutions to the “panhandling problem” have been bandied about for years.

City Hall’s latest proposal: creation of the “Portland Opportunity Crew,” a 36-week pilot program through which panhandlers will be offered the opportunity to work for six hours a day in exchange for two meals, water and the city’s minimum wage of $10.86 an hour.

But that $42,000 project, however well-intentioned, can only do so much – for now, the works crews will be limited to five people per day and will be deployed only two days a week.

The rest of the panhandlers, from those who can’t work to those who decline the work to those who don’t get asked, will still be out there. What’s worse, they’ll all suffer the stigma of having turned down honest labor, whether it’s true or not.

So back to the daily dilemma: Do you give sometimes, all the time or never? And if you do, how do you reconcile your kindness with the real possibility that your donation will go no further than a tall can of Anheuser-Busch Natty Daddy?

Scarp de’ Tenis asked Pope Francis that very question – although (it being Italy and all) they referenced a “glass of wine.”

The pope’s response: If “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s OK. Instead, ask yourself what do you do on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?”

He also suggested you consider that “you are luckier, with a house, a wife, children” and thus should directly shoulder some of the responsibility to help those less fortunate.

All of which got me thinking about my dear wife, Andrea, who came home one evening last fall with a remarkable story.

She’d stepped out for a breath of fresh air during the afternoon when she came across a man on Exchange Street with a lengthy sign.

It stated that he’d just found work, but had not yet been paid and needed money for food for his two kids. Without it, he later explained, the Department of Human Services caseworker who occasionally stopped by might notice the bare cupboard and take the children away.

Call her naïve, but after speaking with the man for a few minutes, Andrea believed him.

The problem was she had no cash in her purse. So she walked down to the Cabot Farmer’s Annex on Commercial Street, purchased some cheese and sausage and brought it back to the guy.

Then they walked up to Monument Square, where she ran up to her office and brought back a bag brimming with baby carrots that she keeps for workday snacks. A co-worker had tossed in a box of crackers.

The man, having already stuffed his sign in a trash can because “I don’t want my kids to think I’m a bum,” couldn’t have been more grateful.

More recently, while she walked up Preble Street one morning to her office, Andrea crossed paths with another lost soul who looked her in the eye and asked, “Do you have any spare change for a warm beverage in exchange for a song?”

She told him the song wasn’t necessary. But he insisted.

“It’s only eight lines long,” he promised.

She relented.

“I wasn’t always homeless,” he first explained, recalling how he’d worked as a tanner in Sanford and how one morning he awoke to find his girlfriend on the floor, dead from pneumonia.

Finally, in a pitch-perfect voice, he began to sing. The song was about dreams, Andrea later recalled, and when he finished, they both had tears in their eyes.

“All I had was a five,” she said. “So I gave it to him.”

“Whoa!” the man said. “Are you opposed to hugs?”

“No,” replied Andrea with a smile.

With that, these two strangers embraced for a moment, formally introduced themselves, wished each other well and went on with their vastly different lives.

“You’re lucky you weren’t mugged,” I told her that evening.

“No,” she protested. “It really wasn’t like that. Besides, there were other people around.”

I thought about that hug this week when I about the pope’s insistence that helping someone in need cannot be an afterthought. “One can look at a homeless person and see him as a person or else as if he were a dog,” he said. “And they notice this different way of looking.”

Far better to truly connect with the beggars among us, Francis said, “by looking them in the eyes and touching their hands.”

Me? I confess I’m not quite there yet. I still can’t shake the memory of the con artist who breathlessly stopped me on the sidewalk three times in the same week, each time claiming he’d just run out of gas and needed to get to his kids and blah … blah … blah …

(The first time, I gave him a buck. The second time, I lied that I had no money. The third time, I told him to take a hike.)

Still, all this talk about panhandling – from Portland City Hall all the way to the Vatican – leads me to two revelations:

Pope Francis, for all his simplicity, is one provocative pontiff.

And I think I married a saint.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 08 Mar 2017 23:28:43 +0000
Bill Nemitz: In Westbrook, young eyes focus early on the college prize Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Heads up, Unity College. Allison Liberge has her eye on you.

“Instead of living there, I’m just going to get an apartment,” Allison, scholarship firmly in hand, said last week. “If you live on campus, it costs a lot more money. And I’m not saying I don’t have the money, because I do. I have a college savings account.

“Yes, it would be easier to live on campus and get to my classes. But it would probably be better to live in an apartment – maybe with my friends, maybe with a pet or something. If I live on campus, there’s like a lot of people and if roommates have friends, then their friends all will come over and their friends’ friends will come over and … I could just have it way easier if I just stayed in an apartment.”

Allison is 10.

She’s one of 42 third- and fourth-graders from Westbrook honored on Wednesday with $100 Maine College Aspirations Scholarships by the Maine College Circle. Over the past 15 years, the Yarmouth-based nonprofit has nudged more than 60,000 kids from 115 Maine communities toward the dream of higher education, starting as early as Grade 3.

This year, almost half of Westbrook’s 400 or so third- and fourth-graders took part in workshops and wrote application essays for the scholarships.

Young Westbrook students are awarded scholarships for college after submitting essays. Students gather on stage after receiving their Future of Maine college aspirations scholarships. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Wednesday’s ceremony at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, attended by fellow students, teachers and scores of proud parents and grandparents, mirrored the Academy Awards: Winners’ names and faces flashed on the big screen while Bob Stuart, executive director of the Maine College Circle, summoned each student down into the spotlight with a lengthy recitation of his or her accomplishments, and, in more than a few cases, short lists of target schools.

“Before they called my name, I almost had a heart attack,” confessed Allison. She’s a fourth-grader at the Oxford-Cumberland Canal School, where Cara Colgan, her teacher, has called her “Spectacular Allison” since the first day of school last September.

Her mother, Ashley Clark, took time off from her shift at Dunkin’ Donuts on Main Street in Westbrook to be there, flowers in hand, when Allison’s name was finally called.

“Allison’s had a pretty rough life,” Clark later said, fighting back tears.

We won’t go into details here, other than to say Allison, her two sisters and their mom live in a small apartment in Westbrook. Her father, as Allison put it, “is out of the picture right now. And so I am trying to make my mom happy.”

She wants to be a veterinarian because, as she wrote in her essay, she once rescued a baby bird that had fallen from a tree and tried, with the help of Mom and her grandmother, to nurse it back to health. The bird lived for only a few hours.

“We didn’t really have a lot. We just had a cardboard box and the internet,” Allison recalled. “But if I become a veterinarian, I’ll have a bunch of things like medicines … and animals that aren’t wild. I’ll also have my brain. And knowledge.”

Allison first heard about Unity College during a video presentation on Maine schools.

“Me and my friend were like, ‘Hmm … let’s just write that down,’ ” she recalled. “There’s things you can do there with animals and it’s really about nature and a lot of outdoorsy stuff.”

Leeroy Peppers, whose essay was about becoming a zookeeper, gets a hug from his grandmother Sharlene Beesley after receiving his Future of Maine college aspirations scholarship. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Third-grader Leeroy Pepper, 9, wants to become a zookeeper via the State University of New York System. He even titled his essay “Leeroy the Zookeeper.”

The moment Leeroy heard his name called on Wednesday, he took off at a dead sprint for the stage – much to the delight of the audience.

You see, when master of ceremonies Stuart urged the kids not to dally when their names were called, Leeroy took it to mean get down there pronto or no scholarship.

“So that’s all I thought about,” he said. “I’m never going to change my mind from being a zookeeper.”

He’s already got the course titles down: mammalogy, herpetology, animal development, aquatic entomology, behavioral biology …

But what about interacting daily with lions and tigers? Might that not give him pause?

“Lions and tigers? I ain’t scared,” replied Leeroy.

So what does scare him?

“Probably nothing.”

Canal Elementary School student Abdul Abdullahi gives the thumbs up while walking to receive his Future of Maine college aspirations scholarship. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Fellow third-grader Abdul Abdullahi, 8, has two goals: One is to become a doctor. The other is to work as an interpreter, just like his father, who immigrated to this country from Somalia and now works in the Lewiston school system while also studying at the University of New England.

“Imagine me being a doctor,” Abdul wrote in his essay. “I know I can do it.”

Abdul has his sights set on, among other schools, Yale University. But he had a question.

“So if you’re a kid, can you go to a college and have a tour?” he asked.

Yes. And the scholarship money, raised through local businesses and such corporate sponsors as Unum, Dead River Co., University Credit Union, United Way of Greater Portland and the University of New England, can be used to defray the travel costs.

“Good,” said Abdul. “I’ve got about … nine more years.”

Then there’s Benjamin Augustino. While only 8 and still in the third grade at Canal School, he knows this much: He loves football and sees himself someday crushing it with the University of Miami Hurricanes.

Canal Elementary School student Benjamin Augustino, who wrote about attending the University of Maine, looks at a projected photograph of himself after receiving his Future of Maine college aspirations scholarship. taff photo by Derek Davis

Benjamin’s inspiration? Trevor Bates, who played for the Westbrook Blue Blazes, the University of Maine Black Bears and now the New England Patriots.

“Trevor Bates is a name known by kids in Westbrook,” wrote Benjamin in his essay. “Someday I hope I could be like him and kids will know my name too.”

But Benjamin’s ambitions extend far beyond football. He also wants to become an architect and, along the way, enroll in the University of Miami’s Reserve Officer Training Corps “so I could serve our country.”

Benjamin’s presentation included a letter from the Westbrook High School coaching staff, who caught wind that he wants to follow in the footsteps of linebacker Bates.

“Trevor is an inspiration to us all,” the coaches wrote. “And now, so are you.”

And so it went, for two solid hours. Applause … teary-eyed parents … more applause … lofty dreams … and underlying it all, the realization that college is an achievable goal for any Maine kid who dares to think big.

Like many hardworking parents, Ashley Clark, Allison’s mom, had to rush back to her job at Dunkin’ Donuts after watching her daughter, poised and oh-so-prepared, accept the first of what undoubtedly will be many honors.

But Clark will not soon forget how it felt to watch an entire community tell Allison what she’s been telling her little girl all along.

“I’m a single mom. I have two other daughters besides her. And I work my butt off. And sometimes it’s really early nights for us,” Clark said. “But I tell her, ‘You know, Allison, if you keep getting good grades, you can learn your way through college. You can get scholarships on scholarships. Don’t focus on the price. Don’t let that hold you back.’ ”

As for the Maine College Circle, what can she say?

“I can’t express enough how grateful I am that they have this program,” Clark said. “I think it’s wonderful. A mother can never have too much help.”

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, 05 Mar 2017 06:42:38 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Police body cameras are useful tools, but they can distort the truth Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Three cheers for Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

“I am saddened, I’m disappointed, and I’ll tell you I’m disgusted by any use of a tragedy to further some kind of political agenda around body cameras,” an angry Sauschuck said Tuesday – one day before a protester at City Hall called him “murderer” to his face.

The source of the chief’s frustration: painfully predictable demands for body cameras on Portland police officers – right now – after last weekend’s fatal police shooting of Chance David Baker in the Union Station Plaza parking lot on St. John Street.

According to police and eyewitnesses, Baker, 22, brandished what looked very much like a rifle. It turned out to be a pellet gun.

Witnesses said he randomly aimed the gun at passing vehicles before putting it down, apparently to adjust his pants. Then, against police orders, he picked up the weapon and was shot in the forehead by Sgt. Nicholas Goodman.

Enter Mayor Ethan Strimling, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the fledgling, shoot-from-the-hip activist group Progressive Portland, all of whom quickly called for the accelerated implementation of an existing plan to put body cameras on every cop in Portland beginning in July 2018.

The implication: Had body cameras been in use last weekend, we’d all know a lot more about what happened and why.

Or not.

Meet Professor Seth Stoughton. He’s a former Special Response Team officer for the Tallahassee Police Department in Florida and now teaches at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

He’s also an avid researcher of body cameras, which he supports with certain caveats, and has shared his expertise in recent years with thousands of judges, prosecutors and others throughout the country.

“I often compare body cameras to hammers,” Stoughton said in an interview Friday. “There are a number of jobs that the hammer is a perfect tool for. If you need to drive a nail, it’s great. If you need to pull a nail out and it has a claw on it, then it’s a pretty good tool.

“But if you’re trying to put a screw through a piece of wood, you’re only going to make things worse using a hammer. It doesn’t work so well.”


“What worries me about body cameras is the tendency that we have to assume that they will be a perfect tool to solve a large number of problems in a very holistic way,” Stoughton continued. “And just like a hammer, body cameras are limited tools. They’re really good for some things, and they’re not going to be very good for some things.”

Stoughton has produced a series of videos – shot close up from a body camera and simultaneously from a distance – to demonstrate his point.

In one, the “officer” (played by Stoughton) approaches a vehicle occupied by a noticeably agitated African-American man.

Without warning, the driver’s door suddenly swings open. The man jumps out and runs. The officer falls to the ground. It’s all over in seconds.

The body-camera angle suggests that the man knocked the officer down and fled. But the footage taken from a distance shows that neither the man nor the car door touched the officer, who simply fell down.

And the reason the man was so freaked out in the first place?

There was a bee in the car. (If you listen closely as the officer first approaches, you can hear the man hollering, “Bee! Bee! Bee!”) He’s simply trying to avoid getting stung.

In another body-camera video without audio, the officer and a man appear to be engaged in a violent confrontation inside a parking garage.

From a distance, it turns out they’re dancing to salsa music.

Then there’s the body-camera video Stoughton did with Jeff Rossen of NBC News. It shows the officer approaching a despondent Rossen and suddenly, for no apparent reason, wrestling him to the ground.

In reality, as the longer-range shot shows, there was a darn good reason for the takedown. Outside the narrow range of the body camera, Rossen had a fake handgun and stuck it point-blank into the officer’s abdomen.

Stoughton maintains that the closer a body camera gets to the person being confronted by a police officer, the less useful it becomes.

“As soon as there’s physical movement, so that the camera is bouncing around on the officer’s clothing, you effectively lose all or almost all of the value of that camera,” he said. “In the wrong set of circumstances, body cameras can be misleading. It can give people a false perception about what happened.”

And it’s not just commotion that can distort the real picture.

Because body cameras are worn on the chest, the viewer typically looks up at the person in front of the officer. That often makes the subjects look much bigger than the officer – even when they’re of similar size.

“When you look up at someone, they look taller, they look broader, and that’s more threatening,” Stoughton said. “So if all we had was the (body camera) video, people would say, “Wow, this guy’s much, much taller than the officer.’ And they would be very confident of that. They’d be wrong, but they’d be confident of that.”

Which brings us to one final concern: Videos, unlike written statements or court testimony, powerfully impact the viewing public to the point where they consider themselves actual eyewitnesses to an event.

And to that elevated status each of us brings all of our own biases – including support or suspicion of our local police.

Thus, cautions Stoughton, “it’s important to recognize the limitations of the information the video can actually provide. And it’s also important to recognize the limitations of our ability to interpret the information provided via the video.”

Equally if not more important, Stoughton said, is for police departments to take the necessary time to carefully develop policies – with ample input from the community, the courts, prosecutors, private attorneys and police officers themselves – on exactly how and when to use body cameras.

(And then to make those policies public – a lesson learned the hard way last month by South Portland’s police department when it initially kept its body-camera policy secret. After a loud outcry, the four-page policy was released.)

Stoughton believes such policies should reflect the delicate balancing of three benefits: signaling to the community that a police force is striving to be open and transparent; using body cameras to promote greater civility among both police and the public; and providing evidence, however useful it may or may not be, that otherwise would not exist.

Add to that, he noted, stringent enforcement of the policy once the body cameras have actually been deployed.

All of which takes time.

“It is much more important to do it the right way than it is to do it quickly,” Stoughton said. “If you do it quickly and you do it the wrong way, not only will it not have short-term benefits, but it can have long-term costs.”

Clearly, Chief Sauschuck intends to do this the right way, starting with a pilot program.

That’s one reason why, shortly after he was called a murderer by one of a dozen young protesters who see the world only in black and white, the Portland City Council on Wednesday applauded Sauschuck for being named Maine’s 2017 Police Chief of the Year.

He’s more than earned it.

And knee-jerk reactions aside, Portland is lucky to have him.

Correction: This story was updated at 8:14 a.m. on Feb. 26 to clarify that the time frame for Chief Sauschuck’s pilot program is not yet certain.

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, 26 Feb 2017 08:15:37 +0000
Podcast: The debate over body cameras exposes city hall conflicts Fri, 24 Feb 2017 19:57:53 +0000 Portland Press Herald Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and columnists Bill Nemitz, Alan Caron and Cynthia Dill talk about a new poll on the makeup of the electorate; How police body cams became a hot topic in Portland, exposing divisions in city hall, and if Bernie Sanders’ supporters are unfairly blaming Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump.

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]]> 0, 24 Feb 2017 15:57:55 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Trump’s hiring freeze means disabled vet from Casco’s out of a job Thu, 23 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 One minute, Robert Banks was happily moving from a good job with the Veterans Administration to a better one with the Department of the Navy. The next, he was run over by the Trump Train.

“I don’t want to rag on the presidency,” Banks said over a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts in Windham on Monday, which happened to be Presidents Day. “But he’s making some really stupid decisions.”

Banks, 44, lives in a summer camp owned by his parents in Casco. He’s there not by choice but by necessity: Thanks to President Trump’s month-old federal hiring freeze and a colossal case of unfortunate timing, Banks just went from a proud, disabled veteran with a bright future to a casualty in the crusade to Make America Great Again.

A little history:

Three months after he graduated from Morse High School in Bath back in 1991, Banks enlisted in the Army. He remained on active duty for eight years, serving in the Persian Gulf War and, among other deployments, at Camp Eagle in South Korea.

It was there, while transporting a load of 50-caliber machine guns to be calibrated, that his Humvee collided with another vehicle. Banks, who was in the back, sustained serious injuries to his neck and spine – a primary contributor to his 90-percent, service-related disability rating.

Upon leaving the regular Army in 1999, Banks joined an Army Reserve unit in Auburn for another five years.

During the same time, he went to work for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office – first as a corrections officer, then as a patrol deputy, and finally as the department’s internal affairs investigator and human resources officer.

Feeling burned out from more than a dozen years in law enforcement, he left that job in 2013 for work at the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus. A year later he snagged a position with the Department of the Navy as a logistics management specialist at Bath Iron Works.

But Banks needed a change of scenery. Long divorced, with a daughter preparing to enter college and a 10-year relationship that had just ended, he pulled up stakes last year and headed for Colorado and a job helping disabled veterans with prosthetics at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center.

“I got to help a lot of veterans, and I liked the job. Half your job is talking. The other half is providing a service for them,” Banks said. “It was very enjoyable, but I missed home. I missed New England. I missed my daughter.”

So back he went onto the federal job sites and, lo and behold, he spotted an opening as an administrative/technical specialist at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I.

He got the job.

“We look forward to your acceptance of this offer and are certain that you will enjoy a challenging and rewarding career at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Newport,” said the letter from the Navy dated Jan. 11.

Banks’ start date was to be Feb. 6. Rather than move all his belongings across the county, he sold almost everything he owned, hopped into the 2017 Toyota Tacoma pickup he’d recently purchased and headed back East.

It was somewhere in Pennsylvania, while watching a Fox News broadcast on a hotel TV, that he first heard of the hiring freeze.

“But I was hired. I went through my emails and I went through the acceptance letter, you know, saying ‘Congratulations…’ The VA had released all of my personnel records to (the Navy), which is like the end game,” he said. “I slept well that night. I wasn’t worried so much. I thought I was good.”

He thought wrong.

The next morning, Banks dashed off an email to Newport to confirm all was still on track.

“Unfortunately, due to the recent hiring freeze, we are not able to establish a start date at this time,” read the email response from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. “All hiring actions are on hold until we receive further guidance.”

This despite an exemption to Trump’s memorandum – for job offers that were accepted before Jan. 22 (Banks had accepted his almost two weeks earlier) and had start dates before Feb. 22 (Banks has email correspondence indicating his start date would be Feb. 6).

No matter. Banks suddenly found himself with no job in Colorado (he’d already resigned) and no job in Newport (where they now maintain he was never formally hired).

His Plan B – another civilian job he’d been offered with the Navy in Pennsylvania – also evaporated (or froze) right before his eyes.

So here he sits back in Maine, unemployed and understandably in shock. He’s applied for some 20 positions since he arrived back home, but the moment most non-government employers hear the words “veteran” and “disabled,” well, let’s just say no one is beating a path to his door.

Banks, a libertarian, didn’t vote for Trump, mostly because he had trouble trusting him. But he accepts Trump as his president and respects the office as much now as he did throughout the 13 years when the chief executive was his commander in chief.

Still, he wonders if the guy now in the White House truly grasps the impact of what he’s doing.

“I’m not sure if he is thinking things through,” Banks said. “He seems to just want to fulfill his promises he made with no regard as to its effects.”

More than anything, though, Banks feels shortchanged. His military service, his time in law enforcement, his additional years serving his government as a highly skilled civilian … and now this?

“I’m not the swamp. I’m not the person that needs to get drained,” he said. “I work. I’m a good worker. I’ve put my time in – I always have. I’m the one you want to keep.”

Finishing his coffee, he added, “And here I am on the sideline.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 23 Feb 2017 12:22:21 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Think millennials are lazy? Meet the guy who helps keep Maine’s roads clear Sun, 19 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The next time someone complains that young adults can’t get out of Maine fast enough, that there’s nothing to keep them here, that too many of them are more interested in whining than in working, refer them to Joe Somerset.

“People say we millennials don’t work. We’re lazy. We just want everything handed to us. And for a portion of the population, that might be true,” Joe said last week during a break from his job at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly Inc. in Gorham. “But at the same time, there’s just as many of us out there that are busting our backs, earning a blue-collar living.”

A week ago this evening, while snowplow drivers far and wide went about beating back the second of three storms that dumped 3 feet of snow or more on much of Maine, Joe grabbed his sleeping bag, hopped in his pickup and headed for work.

Sunday is normally the one day of the week he can call his own. But heavy snow means an armada of snow plows on the road – each relying on a maze of hydraulic lines to maneuver the massive blades up and down, side to side … and whatever you do, don’t lose track of that wing plow.

Problem is, hydraulic lines break. And when they do, a snowplow is essentially kaput until a new line, with precisely the right fittings at each end, can be fabricated — not tomorrow, not next week, but right now.

Joe Somerset fixes a broken hose at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly. He gets plenty of work when snow plows are running around the clock and says he gets his work ethic from his father, who rises at 2 a.m. to drive a dairy truck. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Enter Joe Somerset.

He’s 22. He lives with his parents in Buxton in the same house where his mother grew up.

But when necessary, he sleeps on a cot in the loft overlooking his workbench at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly. Or tries to sleep, as was the case last Sunday night.

“I was up for like 31 hours,” Joe recalled. “I came in, I did some stuff around the shop, I made some hoses. By the time I climb upstairs into my cot and started to fall asleep around one o’clock in the morning, the phone’s ringing to come back down, make some more hoses, let the guy in who’s come to pick them up. So I might have maybe caught 20 or 30 minutes of sleep that night … but not really.”

Much has been made in recent years about the shortage of able-bodied young Mainers who can drive the state’s economy forward while the rest of us grow older and less productive.

Many say, quite correctly, that the state’s future hinges on the energy and talent of immigrants and young adults who come here from away searching for quality of life – offsetting the steady drain of native Mainers who vamoose upon reaching adulthood and never look back.

Overlooked in all that hand-wringing, though, are the young men and women who are born here, grow up here and actually stay here because, well, they know a good thing when they see it.

Joe is one of those people.

“I probably will never leave Maine,” he said. “I love this state.”

He first went to work when he was a 14-year-old at Bonny Eagle High School. John and Ramona Snell, owners of Snell Family Farm in Buxton, knew from the start that this kid was a keeper.

Eight years later, he still is — in addition to his full-time job making hydraulic hose assemblies, Joe spends as many as 30 hours a week with the Snells, tilling the fields, planting and harvesting and, of course, fixing the farm equipment when it breaks down.

“He is energetic and ambitious, determined to get ahead and not expecting anyone to hand him things in life,” Ramona Snell said in an email last week. “He’s immensely helpful to us.”

Joe Somerset’s work gloves wait for him at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly. Somerset, 22, works there full-time and also works at Snelling’s Farm. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Then there’s the carpentry, roofing and other construction work Joe does with his dad, Mike Somerset, who rises around 2 a.m. each day to drive a truck for Oakhurst Dairy.

“That’s where I get my work ethic from,” Joe said. “My dad just drives, drives, drives, drives and drives. He’s always working.”

To Joe, hard work is not something to be endured. It’s a way of life — sometimes for money, sometimes not.

Just last week, shortly after he got out his towing straps and yanked two vehicles out of the snowbank on River Road in Buxton, Joe logged onto Facebook.

There he saw people complaining that the school bus stops hadn’t been adequately cleared of snow, forcing their kids to wait for the bus in the street.

“Well, none of these people who are complaining about the bus stop not being shoveled out went out there and shoveled out a bus stop,” he noted. “They just complain about it. You’re going to complain about it, but you’re going to let your kid stand in the street?”

Ditto for the wags who see a fire crew out there shoveling out hydrants while the fire engine idles nearby.

“People say, ‘Hey that’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to be driving around in a half-million dollar firetruck,'” Joe said. ‘Well, it’s right across from your driveway. Why don’t you go and shovel out the fire hydrant?”

Shaking his head, he grinned out from under his thick red beard. “I think we do live in a world where people might complain a little too much.”

A registered Republican, Joe’s too busy to get bogged down in the red-hot rhetoric now radiating from Washington, D.C. There’s too much “pissing and moaning” on both sides, he thinks, and not enough energy being put into “coming up with actual solutions to the problems.”

Little wonder that more than once over the years, people have told Joe he’s “an old soul.”

Maybe that’s because he’s teaching himself the art of blacksmithing (in his spare time) or dreams of one day owning a chunk of land and starting his own farm.

Or perhaps it means that this rural millennial who last week spent the wee hours doing his part to keep the plows running – the Snells now call him “an unsung hero in the snow removal business” – embodies the fabric of Maine.

Unlike so many of his peers, there’s simply no place on Earth he’d rather be.

Joe Somerset wipes the oil from his hands after fixing a hose at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“For the ones who stay, you kind of grow up and realize one day that your pickup truck doesn’t run off hopes and dreams,” he said. “So you start working and you realize, ‘Hey, it ain’t bad here. I’m making a living. I’m not living paycheck to paycheck. I’ve got gas in my tank, a roof over my head, food in my belly.'”

Break time was over. Time to get back to work.

“For some people, they realize that’s enough,” Joe said. “They don’t need to run away to a different state to find that. It’s here.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Somerset in the workshop at Hydraulic Hose and Assemblies. Somerset makes hydraulic hoses and has been working on a farm since high school. He usually clocks somewhere between 60-70 hours of work a week.Sun, 19 Feb 2017 16:41:03 +0000
Podcast: Maine’s delegation engaging in politics in Washington. Fri, 17 Feb 2017 07:00:41 +0000 After a week off due to poor weather, Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and columnists Bill Nemitz, Alan Caron and Cynthia Dill return to the podcast to talk about the challenges and opportunities facing our elected representatives in Washington.

Will Bruce Poliquin ever take a stand?

Are liberals too critical of Susan Collins?

Will Angus King be on TV a lot?

and what’s up with Paul LePage?

Download this episode

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]]> 0, 18 Feb 2017 09:47:12 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Even under fire, Collins remains best hope for Senate sanity Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 And the understatement of the week goes to … Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

“These are not easy times to be in public office. They really aren’t,” Collins said Friday as she traveled home for the weekend from the nation’s capital, also known as the District of Calamity.

Collins should know. From the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as President Trump’s new education secretary to the reprimand of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren under the Senate’s now infamous Rule 19, Collins is to the current national angst what a lightning rod is to a bolt from on high.

The harder she tries to straddle the Great Political Divide, the more she winds up getting torched.

Let’s start with the DeVos nomination, which Collins opposed in a 50-50 deadlock broken only by the highly unusual intervention of Vice President Mike Pence.

Conservatives, including Gov. Paul LePage, were furious with Collins for breaking ranks with her party and announcing well in advance that DeVos would not get her vote.

At the same time, liberals lambasted her for letting DeVos escape the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (giving it the best acronym on Capitol Hill: HELP) with a favorable report to the full Senate.

Had Collins gone the other way in the committee’s 12-11 party-line vote, these critics say, she could have prevented the DeVos nomination from ever reaching the Senate floor.

Not true.

Several times in recent years – see: Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork (Supreme Court justice); John Tower (Defense secretary) and John Bolton (United Nations ambassador) – presidential nominees have emerged from their confirmation hearings with either an unfavorable vote or no recommendation by the oversight committee.

Their fates before the full Senate ranged from approval (Thomas) to rejection (Bork and Tower) to stalemate, followed by a presidential “recess appointment” (Bolton).

Collins, who joined fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in ultimately opposing DeVos, offered this explanation for the apparent contradiction between her committee and floor votes:

“I truly believe that presidents are entitled to considerable deference in putting together their Cabinets. And that, to me, means that each and every senator should have a voice in deciding whether or not to support the nominee. It’s not something that should be shut off early in the process, particularly not at the committee level.”

Disagree with that if you must. But to those who insist that Collins would have stopped DeVos in her tracks by voting “no” in committee, history begs to differ.

“They’re just mistaken about that,” Collins said.

On to the Warren rebuke.

To recap: Warren, in a floor speech opposing the certain confirmation of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, read quotes from two historical giants: the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Upon reading Kennedy’s decades-old description of Sessions (at the time a U.S. attorney nominated for a federal judgeship) as “a disgrace to the Justice Department,” Warren was warned by the Senate’s presiding officer to refrain from further besmirching the senator from Alabama.

Warren went on to read the equally critical letter by King. That’s when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suddenly appeared and, to Warren’s clear surprise, invoked Rule 19.

The rarely invoked rule states, “No Senator shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

The presiding officer sided with McConnell. Warren appealed. And with that, the entire Senate was summoned to vote on whether to silence Warren.

Enter Collins.

Approaching Warren prior to the vote, Collins asked if they could speak privately. Warren agreed and they headed for an anteroom just off the Senate chamber.

“My goal was to be the peacemaker,” Collins said. “We talked for, I’d say, 15 minutes.”

Collins declined to reveal details of the private chat, but essentially she told Warren that the enforcement of Rule 19 would be bad for the Senate and if Warren agreed to rephrase her remarks, Collins would work on McConnell to back down as well.


“I will plead to being unsuccessful,” Collins said.

In other words, the two women found themselves on opposing courses that were, by then, impossible to alter?

“I think that’s fair,” Collins replied. “On both sides.”

The conversation ended. Warren went out of her way to hold open the door to the Republican side of the chamber for Collins, who is still hobbled by a broken ankle she suffered last fall.

“So there were no hard feelings there, for lack of a better word,” Collins recalled.

Collins then voted to invoke Rule 19 against Warren because, she said, the Senate’s nonpartisan parliamentarian had found Warren in violation and that was good enough for Collins.

“I think invoking Rule 19 is a big deal,” Collins said. “We do have rules in the Senate, we do have norms, that are intended to prevent the Senate debate from spinning out of control. It’s an attempt to have civility.”

So what about last year’s arguably worse violation by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who stood on the Senate floor and called McConnell a liar?

(That contradiction, it’s worth noting, was a tipping point for Maine Sen. Angus King. In a thinly veiled reference to Cruz, he asked the presiding officer if calling another senator a liar would violate Rule 19; after being told it would, King voted against silencing Warren.)

Collins noted that Cruz’s comment came late one night when virtually the entire Senate had gone home – not exactly the hyper-politicized atmosphere in which Warren sounded off.

That said, she added, “Absolutely, Rule 19 was definitely violated when Ted Cruz called Mitch McConnell a liar. And it should have been invoked.”

In retrospect, the Rule 19 smackdown probably helped Warren more than it hurt her – starting with the T-shirts now selling like hotcakes with McConnell’s tone-deaf quote, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” printed across the front.

“(McConnell’s) protest was to try to make people say, ‘She should not have violated the Senate rules,’ ” mused Collins. Yet “among (Warren’s) supporters, the reaction was, “Yay! She violated the Senate rules!’ So it is fraught with irony.”

As is this: To roundly condemn Collins for a committee vote on DeVos that made no difference, or a procedural wrist slap that ultimately amplified Warren’s declaration of conscience, is to overlook Collins’ larger role in these dark times.

Love her, hate her or pray quietly that she sees the light, Maine’s senior senator remains one of the nation’s most hopeful counterbalances to Trump & Company once the wheels truly fly off. And fly off they inevitably will.

Tighten your seat belt, Sen. Collins. This ride has just begun.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 11 Feb 2017 22:23:44 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LePage’s tax reform plan would hurt those he says he wants to help Thu, 09 Feb 2017 03:57:01 +0000 Of all the utterances that echoed through the State House before, during and after Gov. Paul LePage’s State of the State speech Tuesday evening, Richard Sukeforth’s was perhaps the most telling.

“This is unusual,” Sukeforth, 80, told Morning Sentinel reporter Amy Calder as he munched on a sandwich and sipped punch in the governor’s Cabinet room before heading to the House balcony for LePage’s address. “I don’t very often get an invitation to anything.”

Yet there he was, Exhibit A in LePage’s crusade to essentially prevent Maine municipalities from enforcing the law against those who refuse – or forget – to pay their property taxes year … after year … after year …

Let’s begin with the obvious: Sukeforth and his ailing wife, Leonette, are, without question, sympathetic figures.

Old and frail, they were evicted in December from their home on Lovejoy Pond in Albion. The town had foreclosed on and then sold the property after the Sukeforths failed to pay $4,000 in property taxes that had accumulated over the past several years.

It’s a complicated story, well documented by Calder over the past two months. But essentially it boils down to two very different narratives.

Friends and family say Richard Sukeforth, a military veteran, suffers from an early stage of dementia and should not be held responsible for losing track of his finances.

They also say the town should have accepted a last-minute offer by a caring neighbor to pay off the tax bill – albeit after the town had foreclosed and formally put the property up for auction.

The town counters that it forgave the Sukeforths’ back taxes for two years and tried repeatedly to resolve the issue with them. But in the end, town officials say, the Sukeforths’ continued failure to pay left them no choice but to follow the law, foreclose and sell the property to the highest bidder.

That would be neighbor Jason Marks. He submitted the winning bid of $6,500 for the Sukeforths’ home – described by Calder as a “rundown camp” – back in August.

Marks says he offered to rent the house back to the Sukeforths while they made arrangements on where to go next. But, he told Calder, Sukeforth refused to pay.

Marks also tried to clean up the property at the behest of his insurance company. Again, he said, Sukeforth refused.

Marks even went so far as to contact Sen. Susan Collins’ office to see whether she might be able to help the Sukeforths. A staffer there said Sukeforth “fell through every crack there is,” he recalled.

“It’s not that I bought the property with the intentions of kicking him out and being done with it,” Marks insisted. “I tried doing something along the way to help.”

Enter LePage, who in recent weeks has used the Sukeforths as his rallying cry for keeping elderly Mainers in their homes via reverse mortgages, tax abatements, even signing the property over to the town to ensure the back taxes are paid upon the homeowner’s death.

All ideas worth considering, to be sure.

But here’s the rub: At the same time LePage advocates for protection from tax foreclosure on the elderly (“In fact, it should be like this for everyone,” he said at one point), he continues to pursue his holiest of grails: outright elimination of Maine’s income tax.

And how might he accomplish that? Well, there’s increasing and broadening the sales tax to the tune of about $1.5 billion – the amount now raised through the income tax.

That would be a huge net gain for those wealthy Mainers who currently pay hefty income tax bills and could absorb the increased sales tax without even blinking.

But what about those on fixed incomes – like the Sukeforths – who pay little or no income tax? That sales tax increase would be a disaster.

Then there’s the property tax itself.

To suggest that Maine could eliminate its income tax without adversely affecting property tax bills statewide isn’t just intellectually dishonest. It’s a moral affront to the very people LePage claims he’s trying to protect.

Inevitably, in the wake of an income tax repeal, municipal revenue sharing by the state would go down – leaving already cash-strapped municipalities to make up the difference.

Up goes the local property tax.

Ditto for state school funding, which for years has fallen woefully short of the 55 percent share required by state law. Remove the income tax from the state’s revenue stream (citizens initiatives like November’s notwithstanding), and that goal goes from elusive to virtually impossible.

And, once again, up goes the local property tax.

The point here is not that Mainers of limited means, particularly the elderly, don’t need help “aging in place,” as the saying goes. They do – and given Maine’s rising median age, that need is only going to expand.

Rather, what makes LePage’s speech so hard to digest is his clear desire to have it both ways: Save poor, aging Mainers from the nasty property tax in one breath and, in the next, embrace a wealth-friendly policy guaranteed to ratchet the property tax even higher.

And, at the same time, make villains of municipal officials who are legally bound to assess and collect property taxes not based on what tugs on their heartstrings but on what is required by law.

Reading the story of Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, who now live with their daughter in Holden, I came away thinking that it was all so preventable.

A quick, pre-emptive check of the local tax rolls by a family member or friend – it’s all public information, after all – would have been enough to confirm (or refute) Richard Sukeforth’s alleged assurances to those close to him that he had taken care of his tax obligations. When, in fact, he hadn’t.

Someone in his inner circle also might have learned long ago that he was eligible for upwards of $1,200 per month in military pension benefits. After LePage announced that Tuesday, the entire Legislature gave Sukeforth a prolonged – and somewhat ironic – standing ovation.

I have no doubt that all of this – the foreclosure, the eviction, the sudden windfall, the sandwich and punch in the governor’s Cabinet room – leaves Richard Sukeforth bewildered and more than a little confused.

At the same time, I hope he and his wife are better positioned for what years they have left than they were a few months ago.

That, as we say here in Maine, is the way life should be.

But to be used as window dressing even while LePage sells his bait-and-switch approach to tax reform?

That’s just wrong.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 08 Feb 2017 23:24:44 +0000
Bill Nemitz: In 1919, journalism heavyweight foresaw the degradation of news and politics Sun, 05 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 So you think we’ve never been in a mess like this before?

You think that last week’s reference by Trump administration senior adviser Kellyanne Conway to the “Bowling Green massacre,” which never happened, is but the latest example of the “fake news” and “alternative facts” that threaten our very democracy?

Walter Lippmann might respectfully disagree. Almost a century ago, the late, legendary father of American journalism all but saw this coming.

It’s been just over a week since my neighbor Andy Packard stopped by to drop off an old, musty copy of Lippmann’s book “Liberty and the News.”

He inherited the small, hardbound volume from his father, a learned man who fought in World War I and left behind many of the literary gems that now fill Andy’s personal library.

Andy thought this one – a collection of three essays first penned by Lippmann in 1919 for the Atlantic Monthly – might lend a little perspective to the train wreck now occurring at the intersection of politics, the news media and a citizenry struggling to separate what’s real from what isn’t.

Smart guy, that Andy Packard.

Lippmann, who would go on to coin monumental terms such as “Cold War” and “stereotype” before his death in 1974, was but 30 years old when he wrote “Liberty and the News.”

In 104 short pages, he laid out what he saw as both the mission of journalism – to help an increasingly overwhelmed public make sense of an increasingly confusing world – and the press’ most pressing needs in the decades ahead.

He called for more journalism schools – there were precious few at the time – to train reporters and editors in the process of collecting, digesting and disseminating truthful information.

“What are the qualifications for being a surgeon? A certain minimum of special training,” Lippmann wrote. “What are the qualifications for operating daily on the heart and soul of a nation? None.”

He called for “expert organized reporters” – think the Pew Research Center – who have “no horror of dullness, no interest in being dramatic.” Instead, they would mine the minutiae of government and other institutions to provide deeper context and even suggest paths forward for a public lost in the daily babble.

He championed the pooling of talent and resources to create “an authentic news service” – think the modern-day Associated Press – that provides a mass audience with fact-based reporting and thus “supplies what the community is begging for and cannot get.”

But mostly what Lippmann warned against was allowing propaganda to infect the truth. And, for those dark times when the truth succumbs to outright lies, he invoked the responsible journalist’s duty to doggedly set the record straight.

Consider the following passage on what Lippmann called “our most abysmal ignorance” in dealing with immigrants. But where he mentions “Bolshevism,” substitute “radical Islamic terrorism”:

“If we read (the immigrant’s) press at all, it is to discover ‘Bolshevism’ in it and to blacken all immigrants with suspicion. For his culture and his aspirations, for his high gifts of hope and variety, we have neither eyes nor ears. The immigrant colonies are like holes in the road which we never notice until we trip over them. Then, because we have no current information and no background of fact, we are, of course, the undiscriminating objects of any agitator who chooses to rant against ‘foreigners.'”

(Or “rapists,” as then-candidate Donald Trump once called Mexicans coming into this country.)

Tired already of “alternative facts” spewing from the White House? Lippmann called them by their real name:

“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the information by which to detect lies. Trite as the conclusion may at first seem, it has, I believe, immense practical consequences and may perhaps offer an escape from the logomachy (read: White House daily press briefing) into which the contests of liberty do easily degenerate.”

Still reeling from Donald Trump’s mind-numbing claim that his inauguration crowd was the largest in U.S. history? Hardly news to Lippmann:

“Demagoguery is a parasite that flourishes where discrimination fails, and only those who are at grips with things themselves are impervious to it. For, in the last analysis, the demagogue, whether of the Right or the Left, is consciously or unconsciously an undetected liar.”

Not even Lippmann, of course, could have foreseen the internet as a spawning ground for “fake news” sites. Yet he clearly understood their antidote:

“In going behind opinion to the information which it exploits, and in making the validity of the news our ideal, we shall be fighting the battle where it is really being fought. We shall be protecting for the public interest that which all the special interests in the world are most anxious to corrupt.”

Then there’s Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist, who recently called the media the “opposition party” and suggested that news organizations “shut up and just listen for a while.”

Embedded in Bannon’s quote are faint echoes of the Sedition Act of 1918, passed the year before Lippmann wrote his essays and repealed in 1921.

The short-lived law, enacted in the waning days of World War I, made it a federal crime to”willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the federal government.

Cue Lippmann: “It may be bad to suppress a particular opinion, but the really deadly thing is to suppress the news.”

Finally, for those who fear, less than a month into the Trump administration, that the country is on a fast track to disaster, Lippmann offers this alternative road map:

“We shall advance when we have learned humility; when we have learned to seek the truth, to reveal it and publish it; when we care more for that than for the privilege of arguing about ideas in the fog of uncertainty.”

The fog of uncertainty. Is there any more apt description of the United States of America in the winter of 2017?

Friday morning, upon finishing “Liberty and the News,” I called Andy Packard to thank him for hanging onto it all these years and for loaning it to me at this troubled time.

“I’d like you to keep it,” Andy said magnanimously.

Keep it? I’ll treasure it.

Lippmann’s sage words, after all, provide us a timeless touchstone, a ray of hope, a much-needed window to our rough-and-tumble past.

Today’s chill winds notwithstanding, it’s a window best left open.

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, 05 Feb 2017 16:44:28 +0000
Episode 35 – How protest movements and referendum questions go awry. Senator Collins in the spotlight on confirmations Fri, 03 Feb 2017 19:39:24 +0000 This week on the Portland Press Herald Podcast. Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and columnists Bill Nemitz, Alan Caron and Cynthia Dill discuss the collapse of the plea deal with the Commercial Street Black Lives Matter protesters, how Senator Collins is going to deal with Cabinet and Supreme Court nominations, and if the legislature is going to ignore citizen-initiated referendums on ranked-choice voting and minimum wage.

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]]> 0, 03 Feb 2017 14:42:00 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Got a message for Maine’s leaders in D.C.? Be civil and sincere, and don’t be from away Thu, 02 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 I recently received an email from a reader who, while no supporter of President Trump, still harbors the hope that Congress will “listen and govern with integrity.”

His question: “What resources do people use for contacting their representatives? Is there a recommended format that would elicit their attention to one’s concerns?”

I sent him the telephone numbers for all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation, along with a useful list now circulating online of do’s and don’ts when making such a call.

“Good luck!” I told him.

But even as I hit the send button, I wondered: Do these calls truly matter anymore? Or have we reached the point on Capitol Hill where votes are so rooted in ideology and partisan marching orders that the lone constituent call from back home, however heartfelt, has about as much impact as a howl at the moon?

So I reached out to a couple of friends who once worked in high-level positions for members of Congress from Maine. I promised I wouldn’t use their names to avoid embarrassing them or their old bosses – and to encourage their candor.

“When people call,” I asked both, “do our elected representatives listen?”

Replied one, “It absolutely does make a difference. Maybe there are times when voices aren’t important, but right now it’s hard for elected officials to ignore those voices.”

Said the other, “It depends. If it’s a hot-button issue, yes.”

Take, for example, the imbroglio that until Wednesday afternoon surrounded Sen. Susan Collins and the impending floor vote on Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos.

Collins, while voting in committee this week to forward DeVos’ nomination to the full Senate, simultaneously expressed reservations over the nominee’s “lack of familiarity” with a 1975 federal law that ensures proper education for children with disabilities.

Of course, many other Mainers also have problems with DeVos’ devotion to private, for-profit charter schools, her stunning lack of experience in both education and management, and her for-the-ages observation that guns are needed in certain Wyoming schools “to protect from potential grizzlies.”

The problem with conveying all of this to Collins?

Her phone lines were jammed. Her voicemail was also full and unable to record any more messages.

Why? Because Collins’ numbers, both in Maine and Washington, D.C., had been hijacked by people from all over the country who saw her as a potential Republican swing vote on DeVos and wanted to nudge her one way or the other.

“We are certainly getting a lot of calls, and almost 90 percent of them are from out of state,” Collins lamented in an email Wednesday. “That’s a little bit frustrating because I want to hear from Mainers on these nominations and we are, but we also have a lot of constituents who are trying to get through with questions about the healthcare bill that I’ve introduced and who also need help with casework.”

(Collins, who announced Wednesday afternoon that she would vote against DeVos, suggested that those who can’t get through leave a message via her website,

All of which brings us to Rule 1 of calling Capitol Hill: If you’re not actually a constituent of the targeted member of Congress, your call amounts to little more than a pain in the posterior.

Thus it’s crucial, assuming you’re lucky enough to get through, to immediately state your name, hometown and zip code.

Also, if you don’t require a response, say so – it saves the staffer answering the call the trouble of entering you into a response database.

Rule 2: Get to the point. But be yourself.

If a half-dozen issues are stuck in your craw, pick one. Hold onto the others for another day.

At the same time, don’t let others put words in your mouth.

Political activists, particularly on the left, lately have been flooding email inboxes with blasts that not only exhort you to call your congressional representatives, but also instruct you on exactly what to say.

Take this recent “call script” put out by Progressive Portland:

Good Morning. I am calling to say how horrified I was to learn that when no one was looking in the middle of the night – Senator Collins voted to repeal Obamacare. I’ve voted for her because she was a moderate who worked across the aisle, but she has clearly left Maine behind this week. First (Attorney General nominee Jeff) Sessions, and now repealing ObamaCare? This is unacceptable.

For starters, Obamacare has not yet been repealed. And if you have actually never before voted for Collins, isn’t Progressive Portland instructing you to lie?

Beyond all that, put yourself in the place of the weary, hyper-caffeinated worker bee in Collins’ office who hears, for the 50th time in less than an hour, that yet another Mainer was “horrified” because Collins “left Maine behind” and that this is “unacceptable.”

(Perhaps they should add: “I’m (insert name) and I did not create this message!”)

“If it’s real, from constituents, then they’d better listen,” advised one of our ex-staffers. “But all this scripted, consultant nonsense, I know the impact that it has – and that’s zero. Original and heartfelt – they’re going to look at it 100 times more than if you follow a script. And you know what? I don’t blame them.”

In fact, noted the other former insider, many congressional offices keep two tallies – one of the mass emails and scripted phone calls, the other of people who at least took the time to compose their own thoughts.

“A personal, telling statement is more likely to be bumped to senior staff or even the member of Congress,” that person said.

Rule 3: No temper tantrums.

Now more than ever, comity counts. If you call a congressional office foaming at the mouth, or if you send an email or website message dripping with venom, how do you think the person on the receiving end is going to react?

“If you want to find a way to get your call discounted, that’s the way to go,” said one of our ex-staffers.

You see, working in a congressional office these days is no picnic. The hours are endless, the phones literally never stop ringing and trust me, the person actually taking your call has never, ever cast a vote on anything.

So go ahead and jump into our roiling democracy. But whatever your motivation, complaint or complement, try not to be like the guy in the White House.

Keep it civil.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 02 Feb 2017 17:06:35 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Planned Parenthood now needs protecting Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Last weekend’s massive anti-Trump marches in Portland, Augusta, Washington, D.C., and scores of other locations left one big question largely unanswered:

How, some wondered, do you take all that passion – deep as it so clearly runs – and focus it laser-like on a specific target, a tangible goal, something worth fighting for?

Here’s one: While there’s still time, save Planned Parenthood.

On Thursday, for the first time ever, I visited the Planned Parenthood clinic and offices on Congress Street in Portland.

No holier-than-thou protesters greeted me at the entrance. That happens on Friday, the one day of the week the clinic performs abortions.

It’s also the day that, however unfairly, has too often come to define Planned Parenthood: Religious zealots, waging a sidewalk war against the right to maintain control over one’s own body, loudly shaming women as they enter the clinic for what can be the most wrenching medical procedure of their lives.

“In the past, we’ve had the privilege of being able to be private about (health care) and to have it be a part of your life that you don’t make a public thing,” said Jillian McLeod-Tardiff of Portland, one of three patients who agreed to sit down and talk about Planned Parenthood’s anything-but-certain future.

Their worry: Republicans in Congress, giddy over their impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act, have also vowed to pull the financial plug on an organization that for 100 years has done infinitely more for women’s (and men’s) health than simply perform abortions.

“But now, this is not normal,” McLeod-Tardiff continued. “And the world we are living in is not safe. And we can’t say for sure that our care will be here forever. And so if there’s going to be a time to step up, this is it.”

McLeod-Tardiff works for a private vendor at the Portland International Jetport. She first visited a Planned Parenthood clinic while attending college in Boston – she had no health insurance, yet needed help both deciding on and obtaining birth control.

She now has health insurance through her employer, but still prefers Planned Parenthood over other health-care options – a choice reinforced every time she sits down in the waiting room.

“You see people of all ages,” McLeod-Tardiff said. “People with kids. People by themselves. People who are with their partners. People of all genders. People of all ethnicities.”

Which is a point often lost on those, starting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who would strip Planned Parenthood of any and all Medicaid reimbursements – and thus deprive Maine’s four Planned Parenthood clinics of 25 percent of their operating revenue.

The truth is that abortions account for less than 5 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood. And not a dime of taxpayer money goes toward paying for those abortions, thanks to an annually renewed prohibition that Ryan and Company now want to make permanent.

But eliminate Medicaid funding completely? For wellness exams, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections for women and men (who, by the way, account for 13 percent of the Portland clinic’s patient load)?

Why do that?

“I think it’s really about power,” said Eden Dyer, who lives on Munjoy Hill in Portland and has endometriosis – a painful disorder in which tissue that lines the uterus wall grows outside the uterus as well.

Dyer, who is transgender, sees Planned Parenthood as a place of limitless compassion, not narrow judgment. A place where a decade of severe and chronic pelvic pain (“Well, you know, a lot of women have pain during their periods,” advised one previous doctor.) was met with genuine concern and, just over a week ago, a long-overdue diagnosis.

“I wouldn’t have known what to do. I would have been like, ‘This is probably normal,’ ” said Dyer, who recently almost passed out while walking down Congress Street. “It’s not going to get better, but now I’m on a good track to managing the pain. I’m really grateful to Planned Parenthood for that.”

Dyer is equally thankful that Planned Parenthood is a common first stop for those seeking to initiate their gender transition, “something that quite often saves people’s lives.”

Tessa Corliss lives in Scarborough and works as a waitress in Kittery. Her Planned Parenthood experience dates back to when she was 18, in need of birth control, and a female doctor in another practice declined her request for an IUD because “we only really like to give IUDs to people who haven’t already given birth.”

Enter Planned Parenthood, which provided her with an IUD. And when she almost fainted upon its insertion – it’s called a vasovagal response, a normally benign reaction triggered in this case by contact with the cervical nerve – the staff had her lie down for a half-hour, gently assured her it would pass and even called one of her friends to drive her home.

“They were so unbelievably nice,” recalled Corliss. “It was a kind of compassion that I had never felt at a normal doctor’s office.”

Contrast this with the self-righteous men in Washington who insist that Planned Parenthood is at the root of a moral decay supposedly sweeping the country.

They do so despite numerous polls that demonstrate widespread support for Planned Parenthood.

The latest, released Friday by Quinnipiac University, showed that 62 percent of Americans support continued Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood patients.

Also worth noting: When the 32 percent who opposed such Medicaid reimbursement were asked whether they’d support Planned Parenthood if no taxpayer funds went to abortion (which, again, they currently don’t), that opposition dropped to a mere 12 percent.

(The Quinnipiac poll also found that only 26 percent of Americans now oppose Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion.)

Closer to home, Planned Parenthood commissioned a poll of 600 likely Maine voters five weeks ago by the Kozlow Group, a Virginia-based firm with deep Republican roots. It showed that 70 percent of Mainers statewide support the organization, which serves about 10,000 Mainers.

Even in northern Maine, far from the four clinics in Portland, Topsham, Biddeford and Sanford, 58 percent of the poll respondents gave Planned Parenthood a thumbs-up.

Such numbers are not lost on the likes of Maine Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. Much to her credit, Collins has made clear her opposition to Planned Parenthood defunding and presumably will fight Republican efforts to hide it behind the overall repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

But Collins’ is but one vote. More work needs to be done.

“I’m going to continue to look for ways to get involved,” said McLeod-Tardiff, who already volunteers at least four hours weekly to Planned Parenthood’s phone bank and other activities.

Her suggestion to others: Talk openly and calmly to family, friends, people at work, wherever, about all that Planned Parenthood does – on a sliding scale, based on ability to pay – for those among us with nowhere else to turn.

“Because then,” McLeod-Tardiff said, “folks who do have a perception of Planned Parenthood as a locus of conflict can contrast that with, ‘Oh, this is my friend, this is my co-worker, this is my daughter. She’s lovely. She’s not screaming at me. This is just how she gets her health care. She wants it to continue.’ ”

And she’s far from alone.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Townsend of the Maine Woman's Lobby finishes speaking at a rally for Planned Parenthood in Monument Square in September. Republicans are seeking to fold defunding Planned Parenthood into repeal of the ACA.Sat, 28 Jan 2017 17:43:13 +0000
Podcast: Protest marches send message about Trump. Where does that energy go? Fri, 27 Jan 2017 19:42:33 +0000 This week on the Podcast, our panel, including Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and Columnist Bill Nemitz, Alan Caron and Cynthia Dill, discuss the beginning of the Trump Administration, massive protests last weekend in Portland and around the country, and the Governor’s feisty town hall meeting in Biddeford.

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]]> 0, 27 Jan 2017 14:57:09 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Social media may have State House all atwitter Sun, 22 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 It somehow seems fitting, in the same week the United States of America inaugurated its first Twitter-obsessed president, that the Maine House of Representatives found itself debating the pros and cons of social media.

Personally, I’m torn over a request by Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, to allow House members to fire up their Facebook and other social media accounts when they’re in session.

As a public policy matter, it raises serious questions about discipline, diligence and deportment.

But as pure entertainment? Be still my beating heart.

We begin with House Rule 109, titled “Use of personal electronic communication devices.”

It states, “During all sessions of the House, a member shall restrict that member’s use of all personal electronic communication devices to personal business and business of the House and shall in such use exercise high standards of discretion, conduct and decorum.”

Such high standards, of course, are subject to interpretation. House members routinely have their phones out and laptops open during those lengthy roll calls and interminable debates.

In fact, more than once in recent years, members have been caught from behind watching the Red Sox or playing solitaire when they’re supposed to be conducting the people’s business.

They also send text messages – the quicker, easier alternative to the longstanding practice of scribbling “Hear, hear!” or “You know not of what you speak!” on a scrap of paper, summoning a House page and having it hand-delivered to the object of one’s admiration or scorn.

But Pouliot’s plan, as articulated on Wednesday to the House Rules Committee, goes way beyond that.

He envisioned photos and video recordings, taken by House members of themselves or other House members, popping up on the internet in real time as the people’s representatives go about their constitutional duties.

As reported by Press Herald State House staffer Scott Thistle, Pouliot told the committee, “It is all about creating broader access and insight to the governing process and frankly, it enhances the general public’s ability to participate by using a platform such as Facebook Live that they’re already familiar with.”

Pouliot just turned 30 last month. He knows about these things.

Others don’t.

Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, was once a young buck in the Maine Legislature just like Pouliot. That was … let’s see here … more than a half-century ago.

Now 75, Martin described himself during the hearing as “not a proponent of social media.”

The man’s being modest. He actually hates social media.

“If I had my way, there would be no Facebook and no accounts out there, no tweakers or whatever else,” Martin told Pouliot. “And society would be a lot better off if they read the newspapers and watched the news.”

OK, I admit I loved the society-should-read-newspapers part. But no more Facebook? No “tweakers”?

Give Pouliot credit for respecting his elder. “Social media is not going away,” he gently informed Martin. “I hate to break it to you.”

Still, Martin had a point when he worried aloud that social media “creates more problems” than it solves.

President Trump’s tweets alone have already destabilized the entire planet. When it comes to fake news, Facebook has become an express lane on the disinformation highway. And don’t get me started about Snapchat because, well, I’m not sure how it works.

But back to the House floor. As if these people weren’t dysfunctional enough, imagine what a savvy lawmaker could do with a raw, 30-second video of his opponent proclaiming, “Madam Speaker, I may not be the sharpest tool in the box, but this bill makes no sense! I need help comprehending how it could, in any way, be beneficial to the Maine people!”

The tightly edited Facebook video version: “Madam Speaker, I may not be the sharpest tool in the box. I need help.”

Then there are the perils of the still photo.

Back in 2005, during a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, then-President George W. Bush discreetly penned a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Captured for posterity by a nosy Reuters photographer, the message read, “I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible … W.”

Within hours, the whole universe knew the leader of the free world was, ahem, having trouble following the proceedings.

Nefarious edits and embarrassing moments aside, unleashing the power of social media on the Maine House also raises significant questions about what is and what isn’t a matter of public record.

“Any substantive transmission (by a legislator in the course of his or her official business) is a public record,” said David Cheever, Maine’s state archivist, in an interview on Friday.

Cheever has long struggled to educate anyone and everyone in state government that their official emails are public records and thus should be retained just like written memos were back in the day.

Facebook and Twitter only compound that challenge, Cheever said.

For starters, the moment a lawmaker posts something official on Facebook, it becomes the sole property of Facebook. How then does the state ensure that said posting, assuming it’s juicy enough, is preserved for archival posterity before … poof … it’s erased?

And what if a Facebook skirmish were to break out during a House floor session? One lawmaker starts video-recording another, prompting the other to video-record right back and before you know it, the entire chamber is engulfed in a smartphone shootout. Is all of that a public record?

Quipped Cheever, “All you’re doing is underscoring my inability to do my job.”

Wherever all of this is headed, it’s not going to get there fast. After kicking Pouliot’s proposal around for a while last week, the House Rules Committee voted to table it until … whenever.

Meaning Rep. Martin can rest easy. For the duration of the 128th Maine Legislature, at least, it appears there will be no Facebooking in the House chamber.

Or tweaking.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 21 Jan 2017 21:05:19 +0000
Podcast: What to do about LePage? Collins’ star rises in Washington Fri, 20 Jan 2017 16:57:00 +0000 It’s a full house this week on the Portland Press Herald Podcast. Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich, and columnists Bill Nemitz, Alan Caron and Cynthia Dill chat about what Governor Paul LePage is doing to the State and what Democrats in the state legislature can and can’t do about it. They also talk about Senator Susan Collins’ skillful handling of her pivotal role in a Donald Trump – led government.

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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:

]]>, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:58:47 +0000
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.


]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 14 Jan 2017 20:24:35 +0000
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:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 13 Jan 2017 09:51:35 +0000
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.


]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Mon, 09 Jan 2017 07:09:19 +0000
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:

]]> 0, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 12 Jan 2017 10:19:15 +0000
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.


]]> 21, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 29 Oct 2016 17:14:53 +0000
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