WHAT DID THEY SAY?

If the people who run the University of Maine System were trying to prove that they needed a public relations director, they couldn’t have made a better move than this:

The system announced this week that it had hired Dan Demeritt to serve as its spokesman. The position is a new one, pays $125,000 a year and was filled without following the usual hiring rules.

The timing could not have been worse. The university system is in the middle of a financial crisis during which programs are being eliminated and longtime faculty members are being laid off. It comes after the announcement that the system gave a $40,000 raise to the top financial officer, raising her pay to $205,000 a year.

Demeritt, whose resume includes working for Sen. Susan Collins and Gov. LePage, as well as writing a regular column for the Maine Sunday Telegram over the last two years, sounds like a good fit for the job.

But creating new administrative positions, waiving hiring rules and giving generous raises to administrators all make a statement about the system’s values, and it’s not one in which education comes first.

Maybe with Demeritt on board, the system will be more sensitive to the messages it sends.

FREE SPENDING, NOT FREE SPEECH

When the Supreme Court ruled that limits on campaign contributions to political action committes abridged the freedom of speech, it changed the rules of politics all over America.

If you are wondering how, just take a look at the Democratic primary for Cumberland County sheriff.

Incumbent Kevin Joyce is facing a spirited challenge from Michael Edes, who is the beneficiary of a flood of anti-Joyce radio ads and mailers paid for by a group called Citizens for a Safe Cumberland County. The PAC’s spendng is fueled by a $100,000 contribution from Portland businessman Michael Liberty.

Edes says he doesn’t approve of the negative ads, but he will still benefit from them. Joyce has complained that Edes broke the rules by coordinating with the PAC, which is illegal. The state ethics committee ruled that there’s not enough evidence of a violation to investigate.

But even though there’s been no violation, this should raise questions about how the public is served by giving so much influence over the outcome of an election to one person, by virtue of his access to cash.

We have seen it on the national level, when billionaires kept the candidacies of pet presidential candidates alive after traditional fundraising failures would have required them to pull out. We’ve seen legislative races transformed by late dumps of out-of-state money, drowning out the message of candidates and their local supporters. Now we are seeing one contribution affect a county-level race.

If this trend continues, it will be hard to find people to run for office who aren’t rich or don’t have rich friends. This is not the system we want, but it’s the one that the Supreme Court has created.

GETTING WARMER

You wouldn’t know it from last winter, but Maine is getting warmer fast.

Over the last 30 years, the average anuual temperature has risen 2.5 degrees. The spike was even larger in northern Maine.

That may not sound like much, but it is enough to change where species of plants, fish and animals that will make their homes, or how the high the seas will rise in severe storms. It also makes seawater more acidic, threatening shellfish. Maine should be getting ready for these changes, and as a state we should do all we can to lower carbon emissions.

CONGRATULATIONS

It is an end and a beginning. Seniors in 100 area high schools will be receiving diplomas this week and the next, as they finish their high school careers and head off to jobs, college, the military and other challenges.

More than 400 students in the city of Portland alone have received diplomas already, to the cheers of their family and friends.

Other schools will be having their ceremonies this weekend

We wish them all well, thank them for being part of our community and look forward to hearing about their accomplishments.