As the late, great playwright Tennessee Williams once wrote, “A vacuum is a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff nature replaces it with.”

Including flying dinosaurs.

Two news stories this week, both by Steve Collins of the Sun Journal in Lewiston, demonstrated in wildly varying detail what can happen when reasonable, responsible people opt not to run for elective office.

One tale involved a departing member of the Oxford Hills school board who fervently believes, in addition to other knuckleheaded notions, that dinosaurs still flew around “out West” when the cowboys arrived a mere two centuries ago.

The other political tidbit featured a candidate for the Maine Legislature who set off a social media firestorm when he called a student survivor of the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, a “skinhead lesbian.”

Let’s start with the dinosaurs.

Robert Celeste, 74, was the only candidate listed on the ballot when he won his seat on the Oxford Hills School District board in 2016.

That he even wanted to be on the board is itself a mystery – Celeste told the Sun Journal’s Collins that he believes parents should either educate their children at home or send them to a church school.

He also believes the “mixed race” was not created by God, but by “rape, slavery and prostitution.” Yet, he insists that doesn’t make him a racist.

He holds that, according to the Bible, only 6,450 years have passed since Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden, where they previously cavorted peacefully with dinosaurs and other animals. Anyone who thinks otherwise, Celeste insists, “is saying that God lied.”

And speaking of the dinosaurs, he actually does maintain that they still inhabited the Rocky Mountains when cowboys first appeared on the eastern horizon. What happened next, alas, is lost to history.

Finally, Celeste complains that 14-year-old girls wear clothes that are “too provocative” and he wonders why they “want to make me commit adultery.”

Again, people, we’re talking about a guy who was elected two years ago to his local school board. A guy put there, at least in part, by people who saw one name on the ballot, automatically checked it and never gave it another thought.

Celeste stepped down last week, citing his and his wife’s illnesses. In a remarkable moment of self-awareness, he noted, “It’s time for someone else to do it.”

Which brings us to Leslie Gibson of Sabattus.

Gibson, a Republican, wants to be the next state representative from House District 57, where current Rep. Stephen Wood, R-Greene, is term-limited out. For weeks, first-timer Gibson’s candidacy has looked like a lock – as of Wednesday morning, he was the only candidate on file with the secretary of state.

Then came Gibson’s Twitter post in reaction to 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez. She’s one of the many students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland who have spoken out against gun violence since a lone gunman murdered 17 people there on Feb. 14.

“There is nothing about this skinhead lesbian that impresses me and there is nothing that she has to say unless you’re a frothing at the mouth moonbat,” Gibson wrote on his Twitter feed.

He went on to post that Gonzalez wasn’t a true survivor because “she was in a totally different part of the school” and that David Hogg, another Parkland student who has been critical of the National Rifle Association, is a “bald faced liar.”

Seriously? The guy’s about to go knocking on doors asking people to support him as their elected representative, yet he still has time to go after a couple of traumatized teenagers 1,600 miles away?

Gibson, having apparently received a crash course in civil discourse, later posted an apology to Gonzalez.

“I would like to extend my hand in friendship and understanding to you,” he added.

Then, crisis resolved, he flipped the “private” switch on both his personal and campaign Twitter accounts. Transparent he is no longer.

Unlike the Oxford Hills dinosaur expert, Gibson at least revealed his inner self while there was still time to do something about it.

Despite a Democratic organizer’s lament earlier this week that the party couldn’t find someone willing to run against Gibson, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said Wednesday that the Democratic vacancy on the primary ballot will be filled by today’s 5 p.m. deadline for candidate filings.

“There’s no question that Gibson’s comments have really energized folks in the community and have brought forward more candidate interest,” Bartlett said.

That may not be good for Gibson, who can no longer count on taking the express lane to the State House. But competition, no matter where you may find yourself on the political spectrum, is the fuel that drives democracy.

Running for office, to be sure, takes time, energy and, yes, money.

But it also takes a healthy dose of courage – especially for those driven not by ego or the sound of their own voice, but by a simple desire to make their community, their state, even their world a better place.

It’s too soon to tell how many ballots come November will offer only one choice – which, in the end, is no choice at all.

Even after today’s filing deadline, some of the candidates from both major parties will actually be “place holders” who keep a spot open in the hope that a real candidate can be recruited to take their place before the June primary.

I spoke Wednesday with several of Maine’s top Democrats. To a person, they said they expect 2018 to be a “banner year” for recruiting candidates – many of them motivated by the Trump presidency, the #MeToo movement and, closer to home, such issues as MaineCare expansion and the long-awaited curtain call of Gov. Paul LePage.

On the Republican side, meanwhile, state party spokesman Garrett Murch noted in an email, “Recruiting is always a challenge for all political parties. Here in Maine it is a citizen legislature and people have to make time to serve, and it often doesn’t fit into the lives of many of the good people who would like to run.”

That said, Murch wrote, “We are confident we will field a strong slate of candidates statewide.”

Let’s hope so. On both sides.

No matter what the elected office, nothing sucks worse than a vacuum.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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