Photo courtesy of News Center Maine

It’s a question that will linger long after Sen. Susan Collins embarks on her fifth term representing Maine on Capitol Hill: What was the deal with Bill Green?

For almost half a century before he retired a year ago, the affable and (until now) apolitical reporter and anchor for News Center Maine charmed his way into Mainers hearts with his folksy, outdoors-oriented reporting from every corner of the state.

“Remember, kids,” he’d say in his sign-off to “Bill Green’s Maine,” his weekly show, “don’t go braggin’ just ‘cause you’re from Maine.”

Now he sat at his home in Cumberland Wednesday morning, exhausted from an election night in which he introduced Collins to an adoring crowd in Bangor. She presented him with a forest-green Yeti tumbler, a token of appreciation for helping her win one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.

Bill Green? The Bill Green who never went anywhere without a twinkle in his eye and an I-love-life smile on his face? That Bill Green?

“I know that my goodwill has suffered,” he said.

No exaggeration there. While Collins supporters cheered his repeated television ads endorsing the incumbent Republican and, in the final days, criticizing her opponent, Democrat Sara Gideon, Gideon loyalists took to Twitter and Facebook Wednesday morning to call him unspeakable names and a political neophyte who had no idea what he was getting himself into.

Yet, at the same time, many of Green’s detractors grudgingly acknowledged that his ads – particularly the first one, in which he mocked Collins’ opponents by suggesting their next criticism would be that the incumbent “doesn’t like dogs” – carried far more weight than the run-of-the-mill messaging that for months flooded Maine’s airwaves.

“I bet folks unmuted their tvs for that Bill Green ad,” tweeted one Monday morning quarterback.

Opined another, referring to a continued Republican majority in the Senate, “So Bill Green could be responsible for (Majority Leader) Mitch (McConnell) preventing Biden from passing a public option, more stimulus, a climate change plan and labor protections (among others) and making a lot of appointments.”

Still another, wondering why so many people voted for Collins, asked, “Are they giving it to her because they still think it’s Bill Green’s Maine?”

Who knows? But for Collins, Green’s return to the screen couldn’t have come at a better time.

The endorsement blitz is the fruit, as these things often are, of a longtime friendship.

Green’s sister Julie worked with Collins back when both were at what was then Husson College in Bangor – Julie worked as director of student affairs and community engagement, Collins as head of Husson’s Center for Family Business. Their politics were different – Bill Green still laughingly calls his sister a “bomb-throwing socialist” – but the two women became fast friends: Julie enthusiastically worked on Collins’ Senate campaigns. Collins spoke at Julie’s wedding.

Through it all, Green developed his own friendship with Collins. Thus, when they crossed paths last December at Julie’s retirement party, one month after Green’s own retirement from News Center Maine, he told her, “Susan, if you want me to give you an endorsement after September, I’d be glad to do that. If you need it.”

She needed it. Faced with repeated polls showing Gideon with a small but steady lead over the four-term incumbent, the Collins campaign took Green up on his offer. He did it for free, he said, dispelling suggestions by some that when he said “Paid for by Susan Collins” at the end of one ad, he meant money was going into his pocket.

The first ad, in which he decried attacks on Collins as “shameful,” turned heads. In fact, the idea of Green going political in his retirement so concerned his old employer that then-News Center Maine anchor Lee Nelson took a few moments in early October to distance the station from “our beloved friend and former colleague.”

“Bill Green is entitled to be a spokesperson for or endorse any politician he likes now,” Nelson said. “However, it is important to note News Center Maine does not endorse any candidate ever.”

Green, a registered Democrat and self-described moderate, thought he’d signed on to do a single appearance – he did the tongue-in-cheek “Susan Collins hates dogs” ad over the objections of a Washington, D.C., producer who considered it too hokey. But soon the Collins campaign wanted more – at times more than he was willing to provide.

“I was being pressured to become more negative,” Green acknowledged, adding that he’s never met Gideon and “I don’t dislike her.”

Yet, in the final days of the campaign, after weeks of primarily defending Collins against attacks funded by out-of-state money, Green did change his tone and went directly after the challenger.

In his last ad, he called Gideon, the speaker of the Maine House, “a virtual unknown who will be at the bottom of the Senate in seniority. … For them, this isn’t even about Maine. But for us, it is.”

The late ad played directly, and effectively, into the Collins campaign’s insinuation that Gideon, who moved here years ago from Rhode Island, is “from away” and therefore can’t be trusted.

“If you find that negative, I guess it was,” Green conceded.

There’s a noticeable naivete to Green’s late-in-life toe dip into the political cauldron. His denunciation of all the anti-Collins outside money pouring into the race, for example, overlooked the fact that when it came to playing rough, Collins gave as good as she got.

And when he accused Gideon of a “power grab” in his final ad, Green sidestepped the obvious question: If Gideon running for the Senate is a power grab, then what do you call Collins’ much-ballyhooed seniority after 24 years in Washington?

So, what now? Will Green become a regular on the political circuit, lending his name to campaigns in need of a homegrown catalyst? Or is this a one-off favor for a friend who appreciated his optics enough to have him on stage at her outdoor celebration during the wee hours on Wednesday?

“I’m just going to go about living my life. I’m not going to engage the trolls,” Green said, noting that for all the grief he’s catching on social media, many people he’s encountered in person the past few weeks have gone out of their way to thank him.

Meaning, as some have half-kiddingly suggested, no run for governor?”

“I couldn’t beat Janet,” he replied, referring to Gov. Janet Mills. “And I admire Janet greatly. So, no.”

Wait. Was that another endorsement?


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