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Governor LePage's re-election: The Governor's incumbency and politics of fear may be enough to win a threesome race in an evolving new Maine

Does Governor Paul LePage look like a winner?

Many, including this writer, believed he would be defeated next month. We assumed early polls showing over 60 percent Maine disapproval meant voters would abandon Independent candidate Eliot Cutler and elect his chief opponent, Democrat Congressman Mike Michaud.

But LePage has major advantages. The one openly debated is how he benefits from a three-way race. Beyond that, I have yet to see any major insights on two other substantive issues: A fundamentally changing electorate and his gubernatorial incumbency.

Michaud and LePage are campaigning in a demographically transforming Maine and America. Issues in the aggregate (like gay marriage, wealth concentration, a declining middle class, Obamacare, a culturally different millennial generation, and immigration) are creating a new American political center. A harbinger of this inevitable transformation is the 2012 re-election of President Obama.

Yet the turnout of these emerging new voters is lower in non-presidential years. A review of the 2010 election indicates a stronger turnout from a conservative, change-resistant and older, voting block favoring LePage Republican Tea Party-type candidates. Presently, the Governor has over 30 percent Maine voter support. If this demographic segment mirrors national trends of an over 60 percent turnout, LePage support could easily be in the 40 percent range.

Then there is LePage's incumbency. As Maine's highest office holder, he controls state government's "bully pulpit." In a 24-7 media world, his reprehensible rhetoric, especially as "infotainment," gets instant media attention. The good news for Michaud is that this LePage advantage, loaded with distorted sound bites, diminishes in debates. The Governor is on on the same playing field with Cutler and Michaud. And the latter is working to make clear that the race is between LePage and him.

Finally, future change is often the fodder of fear. LePage wants to have Michaud perceived in voters' minds as some destined dishonest candidate of darkness. It will work if LePage convinces undecided voters that this moderate Democrat is some wacky liberal embracing immigrant welfare cheaters.

Playing off electoral disgust over political division, LePage and Cutler are competing to be the anti-political independent business savior destined to clean up the mess. In this threesome race, LePage's incumbency use of a politics of fear is his ticket to reelection. That is offset when Michaud reminds voters about LePage's numerous falsehoods and his partisan divisiveness. Unfortunately, too many of them may end up believing that, loose lips aside, the moderate result of state policies was due less to LePage's leadership and more a legislature of Democrats and moderate Republicans opposed to his extremist efforts.

A revealing strength in Michaud's campaign is his evolution as a candidate. In the face of Cutler's withering attacks, he isn't troubled. Why should he be? Like past successfully elected leaders, he is responding to positive changes he sees in our future demographic reality.

Think of Lincoln's evolution on slavery. Few voters know that Hillary Clinton was once a Goldwater Republican and President Bill Clinton signed the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. President Lyndon Johnson, as Senate Democrat leader, was a Dixiecrat racial segregationist. They all evolved; especially Johnson, who went on to become the civil rights president of the 20th Century.

Former mill labor worker Michaud's other campaign strength will be evident if the Verso mills closure makes livable wages a resonating election issue. He is most effective when talking about a shrinking middle class and bipartisanship. Like President Johnson with the U.S. Senate, Michaud was a strong bipartisan Maine legislative leader. This contrasts with LePage's failure to work with even moderate Republican legislators and Cutler's lack of state legislative experience.

The unknown remains whether LePage's incumbent play on public fears against inevitable change will discourage enough Cutler proponents from switching to Michaud. This explains why ardent Obama supporters, like the President himself, are campaigning to get out the needed Michaud vote on election day.

In the end, an even nominal Cutler percent may suffice to have the effect that another independent, Ralph Nader, had on the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election.

Will enough anti-LePage voters, hopeful about Maine's future, see Cutler as a false choice and switch to Michaud? Will there be enough pro-Michaud "new center" voters on election day to make a difference?

We will find out on Nov. 4.

(Ralph C. Carmona is Regent Emeritus from the University of California and adjunct professor at Southern Maine Community College.)

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 21:58

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Life altering

It was supposed to change the way we lived, the way we thought about things and the way we moved ourselves through space and time from one place to another — from here to there. mcdonald-john

It never happened, of course. In fact, after it was introduced, very little changed.
"It" was the Segway.
In broadcasting, "segue" is when a host executes a seamless transition from one numb topic to another. The thing that was supposed to change life on earth was called a segway (identical pronunciation) and it involves, not a broadcasting technique, but a mode of transportation.

The life-changing Segway — a self-balancing, high tech scooter — was the creation of inventor Dean Kamen, owner of DEKA Research & Development Company in Manchester, N.H., inventor of the handy-dandy hydraulic infusion pump and holder of more than 150 patents.

I remember that Kamen's Segway was unveiled several years ago with great fanfare — and some ridicule.
This Segway uses a combination of gyroscopes for balance and microchips and software to run. They claim that after about 10 minutes, even non-computer geeks can master the basics. To move forward or backward, just lean on the balls of the feet or on the heels and off you go. Just don't lean accidentally or the Segway may create an accident of its own.

To turn, the rider twists a wheel on the handlebars — sort of like the throttle on a motorcycle. Sort of.
Anyway, in an interview the 51-year-old Kamen once said, "I started inventing things early. At 5 years old, I figured out a way to make my bed without having to run from one side of the bed to another," he said describing a system of pulleys, blankets and strings. "It always seemed like such a big frustration." I guess the thought of leaving his bed a rumpled mess — like a normal kid would — never occurred to him. And how he survived childhood sleeping with all those ropes and strings and pulleys all over his bed I'll never know.

I bring up the whole subject of Segways because I was looking through my newspaper clip file recently and came across an article telling about how Segways and "Segway tours" would be available on Portland's fashionable Eastern Prom.

Segway dealer Annie Cook was offering guided tours of the Eastern Promenade that allowed customers to try out the two-wheeled high-tech transport gizmos.

Cook's business, Segway Maine was set to provide twice-daily tours, adding just one more way to get from here to there in Maine's largest port city.

Until Segways arrived, choices for moving around Portland included amphibious duck boats, harbor boat tours, busses dressed-up as trolleys and a narrow-gauge railroad.

If you wanted a two-hour tour it cost you $62 if you were from away and $49 for Maine residents. Don't you wish ALL Maine businesses priced things that way?

Those who wanted a three-hour tour were reminded of what happened to Gilligan's S.S. Minnow.

Cook — an authorized Segway dealer for Southern Maine — hoped to give people a chance to test out a Segway without dropping $3,895 or so for the basic model. Fancier versions can cost $600 more.

In an interview at the time, Cook said the Segway will make you think "outside the box." I assume it's best if you first take your Segway outside its box, too.

I'm not sure how many Segways Cook's company has sold here in Maine, but since people's lives in Portland haven't changed radically, and the way we think about things has not been altered all that much, either, I would guess not many life-changing Segways have been sold.
As they say in broadcasting — just before a segue — "now this ..."

(Maine humorist and best-selling author John McDonald is a professional storyteller who has been performing and entertaining audiences in the small towns and big cities of New England for decades. He is an author whose books include "Maine Trivia, A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar" and "Down the Road a Piece: A Storyteller's Guide to Maine." He writes a weekly humor column that is published in many Maine newspapers. John is also the founder of the Maine Storyteller Festival and his talk show can be heard each weekend on WGAN in Portland. For details, visit http://mainestoryteller.com.)


Last Updated on Friday, 24 October 2014 00:42

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Cutler unplugged

To my great surprise I was granted a one on one interview with Independent candidate for governor, Eliot Cutler on Thursday morning. In fact, it was Cutler himself who invited me to sit down with him at his campaign headquarters in downtown Portland. shorr-chris

I videotaped the interview with my camera phone, which gives an interesting perspective, and can be watched in its entirety at my blog page for The Bangor Daily News (tides.bangordailynews.com).

Cutler was candid, and we discussed a range of issues.

Here's a slightly shortened version of what he had to say:

Chris Shorr: "Could you respond to reports by Mike Tipping of The Bangor Daily News that the Republican Party has been sending out fliers in support of you to liberal voters?"
Eliot Cutler: "(laughs) I don't get those fliers, I guess I've seen one, I think. I didn't ask them to do it, I doubt they're doing it for my benefit. If it's the same flier that (a campaign staffer) had then it looked to me to be accurate, which is more than I can say about some bloggers."

CS: "I think the basis of (Tipping's) argument was that it's going to liberal voters, as opposed to Republican voters."

EC: "Chris, I have no idea who it's going to. I have only seen it on the desk of one of my staff people, and I think it was sent to her because she must be classified as a 'liberal voter'. I mean I don't know what I could say about it, I wouldn't spend my money that way and I haven't spent any of my money promoting either of my opponents. We're just trying to get our message heard, you know we don't have money pouring in from out of state which is where I presume that flier came from."

CS: "So you've mentioned that you support photos on EBT cards, could you elaborate on that?"

EC: "I don't see a problem with photos on EBT cards. I have a photo on my driver's license, but (photos on EBT cards) are more expensive than what I propose doing which is putting microchips in the EBT cards so that you can keep them from being used for the things that we don't want them used for."

CS: "Where do you stand on the issue of turning USM into a 'metropolitan' university?"

EC: "If I knew better what that means, I could take a position I suppose. I don't fully understand what that means. What I do think is that southern Maine and the metropolitan area of Portland needs to have a good university, you need a great university in order to grow. You can't find a great and growing city in America that doesn't have a brilliant university, and I think the University of Southern Maine oughta be a really good university. But it's gonna be a transition to get there, because I think that decisions that were made years ago about the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine System were the wrong decisions and they plunged both the system and USM into a terrible situation, and now we've got to work our way out of it, and it's gonna be painful, and there are gonna be people who are gonna lose their jobs, and I feel badly for them. I feel badly for students whose majors are gonna be changed or terminated, but we have got to make changes in public higher education in the state of Maine."

CS: "So there's a lot of folks who are opposing the metropolitan idea who say that the whole idea of a financial crisis (within USM and the university system) is manufactured. Are you versed enough to respond?"

EC: "I was chair of the board of the Muskie School for 10 years, and I knew at the time it was happening that we were sliding into financial circumstances that were going to be horribly difficult to unwind. I saw it, and I challenged the president, who later became the chancellor, but it went on and on and on. No one can persuade me that the University of Maine System and the University of Southern Maine is not in a financial bind, it is."

CS: "What do you have to say to people like me who believe that your candidacy serves to skew the results in LePage's favor?"

EC: "What do I say to you? I say to you, if you think that I'll be the best governor in the state of Maine, then I want your vote, and I'm asking for your vote. But if you don't think so, then vote for somebody else, but don't vote your fears. Because that kind of strategic voting is what put Paul LePage in office the first time."

CS: "OK, last question, if you had to fill out your ballot, and you weren't on the ballot, who would you vote for?"

EC: "I'd write myself in."

(Chris Shorr is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta. He blogs at tides.bangordailynews.com and writes this column for the Weekend Edition of The Portland Daily Sun. Contact Chris by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

Last Updated on Friday, 24 October 2014 00:43

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The game

They say that even midterm elections offer what's called a "Super Bowl" effect, meaning that people who are not necessarily football fans suddenly "tune in" for the cultural event. You know, they are the ones at the back of the party, Bogarting the shrimp and wondering why kicks after touchdowns are only one point while kicks before touchdowns are three points.
So, welcome fellow citizens. Now that you're here, I'd like to share a few Big Ideas.
First: Blame voters. robinson-curtis-new
Seriously, when somebody says that one group or another "bought" the election, they basically mean they spent a zillion dollars on negative advertising, which only work because voters are apparently dumber than Finding Bigfoot fans.
When a candidate says they cannot "defend their image," they mean they are getting creamed.
That's because, for all the chatter about social media and such, the elections boil down to attack ads. Let's be clear: The only reason these things work is that we spend more time researching new car tires than we spend on choosing leaders.
When we start going to their websites and reading position papers, then money will mean less. If that day comes, I'm guessing, a major problem will also be how to route the flying pigs.
Secondly: Fixing Congress really is simple.
Congressional policy is all about things being "not that simple."
But it is.
The fact is that our political parties have divided up the country in ways that would make the Five Families blush. Giving one party massive control in the district means that getting the nomination likely means winning the election. In turn, this means control of the most powerful nation on earth falls to those willing to vote in obscure House of Representative primaries.
Those people happen to be, not in all cases but in enough to matter, totally insane.
Consider this: By any measure, approval ratings for Congress are a single digit, and for many that would be the central digit of either (or both) hands. Yet we shall return more than 90 percent of these folks to Washington.
The Washington Post reports that the Cook Political Report rates only 43 seats as toss-up or leaning Republican or Democrat — or 9.8 percent of the House. Another report noted that one reason House Republicans are less concerned about immigration is that many simply do not have many Latino voters in their districts — in fact, some have noted that the GOP can retain the House without getting a single Latino vote.
One solution is that we can demand redistricting by objective folks.
Then there's my other idea: "The Jury House."
I believe that if a random selection process is good enough for the judicial branch, it's good enough for the legislative branch. If we expect the "common folk" to sort through evidence in a trial to see who broke the law, then we can expect them to make the laws.
We just do it like the jury pool. Select at random and send anyone without a decent excuse to Washington. One huge advantage is that, as anyone dealing with jury duty knows, it's a system where the best liars exit the process, leaving honest folks to take time off work and listen to lawyers.
As for the United States Senate, we only need to raise pay to $1 million per year. You get what you pay for, and if our democracy is truly for sale then we need to make a competitive bid.
Lastly: Parking Enforcement Power
I feel strongly that virtually every urban area should be turned over to the emergency rule of parking enforcement — now hear me out on this.
I've lived in Washington and Los Angeles and have visited virtually every urban environment in the United States, having worked from Old Port to Compton. The only thing that's worked well in every single place has been parking enforcement.
If Washington, D.C. could somehow apply its parking ticket system to its educational system, Harvard would have to expand fourfold. My Chicago friends assure me that applying the Windy City's parking enforcement efficiency to crime solving would reduce "murder" to meaning a gathering of crows.
Before you mock, remember they caught Son of Sam with a parking ticket. And does anyone think for a minute that Portland's snow removal is as good as its parking enforcement?
Oh, and until we take these common sense measures, they also they should ban political TV ads like they do in the United Kingdom, and like we do with tobacco advertising here. It's just hurting America, and if that's reason to cancel the original Crossfire CNN show, then it should be good enough for saving civilization as we know it.
Enjoy the game.

(Curtis Robinson is the founding editor of The Portland Sun.)


Last Updated on Friday, 24 October 2014 00:44

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Carwash calculations

Can Maine really be identified by the state of one's car? Does that question have anything to do the environment or economics? With the snow months just ahead, the questions are now nagging at me.10-24-14-oped-TH-car-wash

These thoughts never crossed my mind until a winter visit to the nation's capital just a few years back. My sister, who lives outside Washington, D.C., summoned me for an urgent trip to the Greek embassy to handle some legal affairs related to the old country.

Like a dutiful man of the Mediterranean family that (I'd like to think) I am, I dispatched myself late the next day — in a good ol' nor'easter. The drive to D.C., took an extra four hours because of the weather slow downs. But as always, the Subaru was a champ.

I pulled into my sister's subdivision quite late, and after a few more hours of pondering legal documents, hit the sack in the basement apartment to prepare for our early visit to the consular office. Halkias-Telly

The next morning, my eyelids still peeling apart with the dryness of multiple cobwebs, I had barely stumbled upstairs to the kitchen, hunting down the day's first coffee, when my sister hit me with this tangent: "Before we head downtown, I'll treat you to a carwash, just a few blocks away."

With nary a cup of Joe yet in sight, I made my way to the front of the house and looked out to the driveway. The Forester sat where I left it the night before, its noir frame streaked with salt from the trip, a common winter sight throughout New England. I headed back to the kitchen as my mother, now also entering the fray, handed her only son his caffeinated destiny.

I couldn't help but ask: "What wrong with my car?"

"Well, nothing really," my sister replied. "It's just, well, you know, a bit unseemly."

"Looks fine to me," I observed. "Besides, I'm heading back to Maine tomorrow; it's only going to get salted up on the trip back, so who cares?"

Apparently, as I found out over the next few hours, everyone in D.C. cared.

It wasn't a tough conclusion to reach, either. From the moment we pulled out of my sister's driveway and rolled through neighborhood after neighborhood of suburbia, I began to catch on. Car upon car was spotless.

Navigating the Beltway didn't change that either. Hordes of polished vehicles screamed by like cheetahs on safari, all heading somewhere in a hurry. Even driving through Georgetown to Embassy Row, every car seemed to flash its glossy smile at my highway-scarred wagon with the green out-of-state plates.

Maybe too green for their liking. I considered several things as I drove around Washington, all while suffering my sister's indignities. One was that, while I like a clean car as well as the next guy, an awful lot of water is wasted at a car wash. Since I had lived in that area years ago, I know cars get dirty in the winter, even in Virginia.

But how much do you need to wash your car so your neighbors won't look down their noses at you? Was a well-manicured SUV also part of the zoning codes? It sure seemed like it.

The other thing was that a carwash isn't free. I tried to do some quick math and figured that my sister and her neighbors — and a whole lot more folks in that area — might spend several thousand dollars a year just to make their car's appearance match their cookie-cutter front lawns.

That speaks somewhat to the level of disposable middle-class income in large urban areas. I know a whole lot of families, in Maine and elsewhere, that could sure use that carwash money just to buy a reliable vehicle, let alone spiffy one up for the Joneses sake.

D.C. is an activist town, a Mecca of policy wonks like my sister who will remind you at every chance that global warming is tied to something or other — and that's not even something with which I disagree. Yet in a concrete jungle that needs little off-road capability, the density of gas-guzzling behemoths — all nice and shiny at that — is startling.

More than anything, it's a town of deal making. And God bless them, but those folks have made some kind of deal with the devil.

It's an awesome place to visit. Maybe next time I'll book a flight.

(Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. You may contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or follow him on Twitter at @TellyHalkias. He blogs at fromthestacks.bangordailynews.com.)

Last Updated on Friday, 24 October 2014 00:44

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