FARMINGTON – Buried under several feet of late season snow, communities in mid- and northern Maine are seeing grass again as temperatures soared into the 70s for a couple of days and then had highs remaining in the 50s.
As spring finally begins, Maine’s political waters are as turbulent as the streams roaring with snowmelt. Campuses are awash in “resist” messages and Democrats are plotting revenge. Republicans are navigating the tricky currents of the media-hysterical Trump era.
A Democrat state senator from Saco is proposing a bill to recall all public officials, including the governor, who happens at the moment to be the colorful, controversial Republican Paul LePage.
Mr. LePage will leave office due to term limits next year, and Susan Collins, a four-term Republican U.S. senator, is pondering a run. Collins has a lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union of 46 out of 100, making her one of the most liberal GOP senators. Most of her Democrat colleagues, however, have ACU ratings of less than 10.
A media favorite for her periodic “bipartisanship,” Mrs. Collins’ possible candidacy is being hailed by a major state newspaper as a “healing” measure for the state, which split its two Electoral College votes between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. “Healing,” of course, is shorthand for moving leftward.
A major political controversy continues over one of the nation’s newest federal areas. On August 24, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order creating the 87,563-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. It’s right next door to 200,000-acre Baxter State Park, home to the state’s highest peak, 5,269-foot Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
The North Woods order was one of 33 land takeovers by Obama, who federalized a total of 553 million acres of lands and waters using the 1906 American Antiquities Act. . The total acreage Obama grabbed in Maine is nearly twice as big as Maine’s Acadia National Park, the ninth most visited national park.
Sen. Collins, a majority of the state Assembly, Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Gov. LePage, along with polled residents of local communities, oppose what they see as a federal land grab that could stunt development and cost jobs.
Democrat U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (ACU rating of 5.3) and Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, a de facto Democrat (ACU rating of 5.7) and former Maine governor, support Obama’s order.
Gov. LePage was especially angry, saying, “If average Mainers don’t realize by now that the political system is rigged against them by wealthy, self-serving liberals from away, this is a serious wake-up call.”
One of Mr. Trump’s first major supporters, Mr. LePage will head to Washington in late April or May to lobby for him to overturn the Obama order. Trump, who stumped in Maine numerous times, along with two of his sons, was critical of the monument’s creation. At an October 15 rally in Bangor, he said, “No consideration was made for local concerns, impacts on jobs, or the Maine forestry sector, which is so important.”
The land was donated by Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, who had moved to Maine in the 1970s and met beekeeper Burt Shavitz. The two created a beeswax-based soap business, and Quimby came up with the famous lip balm in 1991 that launched the personal care products empire. In 2007, she sold Burt’s Bees to Clorox for nearly a billion dollars.
Quimby angered local residents by buying thousands of acres beginning in 2001 and closing them to snowmobilers, fishermen and hunters. She evicted people from land leased from timber companies and burned down several of their cabins, creating what the Globe called “a PR nightmare.” Her son, Lucas St. Clair, assumed control in 2012 and re-opened much of the land in 2013. Mr. St. Clair helped calm the waters, but bitterness remains.
Unemployment is a major issue in a region where two paper mills have closed since 2008, the latest in 2014. Monument opponents want to revive the timber industry, while supporters say the designation will bring tourists and might lead to a new national park. In any case, while the elites tell those seeking work to take a hike, it’s a long way from being over.
“President Obama is once again taking unilateral action against the will of the people, this time the citizens of rural Maine,” LePage said in a statement. “The Quimby family used high-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to go around the people of Maine ….”
In a Feb. 14 letter to Mr. Trump, Gov. LePage wrote, “‘those cold timid souls who neither know victory or defeat’ argue that you, as president, cannot undo a national monument because it has never been done before.
“They also never envisioned President Trump.”