Bad history

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  February 21, 2007

It’s not as if Democratic state senator John Martin of Eagle Lake doesn’t have any positive qualities. He’s politically adept. He’s loyal to his friends.

And, uh . . . that’s about it.

During a legislative career dating back to 1964, Martin, currently the Senate’s assistant majority leader and formerly the speaker of the House, has earned a reputation for being ruthless, vindictive, arrogant, and obstructive.

On his good days.

Martin also has a tendency to use the past as his personal plaything. Having hung around the State House for so long, he knows that whatever spin he puts on historical events will be accepted as fact by legislators — who, thanks to term limits, have no institutional memory — and journalists — who, thanks to timidity, incompetence, or laziness, have no desire to challenge Martin’s myth making.

A case in point: one of Martin’s protégés, a lawyer named Chuck Dow, got hammered by Republicans after he was nominated for a District Court judgeship by Governor John Baldacci. Most of the criticism centered on Dow’s age — he’s 33 — his lack of courtroom experience — less than five months — and his background as a political operative for influential Democrats. In spite of his questionable qualifications, Dow was confirmed for the job by the Democratically controlled Senate.

Even though his guy won, Martin felt compelled to defend Dow in a February 11 op-ed published in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Martin argued that Dow was the latest in a long line of illustrious jurists unfairly attacked for their youthfulness and the thinness of their resumes.

His first example: Chief Justice Leigh Saufley of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. When Saufley was nominated for a District Court seat in 1990, said Martin, “she was told she was too young to wear a robe and she lacked the appropriate experience. She was too green, too wet behind the ears.”

The clanging noise you hear is the irony alarm.

What Martin neglects to mention is that the people who told Saufley that stuff were Democrats, including some of the senator’s closest allies. Barry Hobbins, then, as now, the Senate chair of the Judiciary Committee, was among those who claimed that numerous (unnamed) lawyers planned to show up at Saufley’s confirmation hearing to oppose her nomination.

In fact, none did, because Hobbins and the other Dems weren’t really interested in derailing the nomination. They just wanted an at-large judge, one of their cronies, transferred to the Portland court seat Saufley was supposed to get. Once GOP Governor John McKernan agreed to switch Saufley to an at-large slot, Democrats forgot all about her alleged lack of experience and unanimously confirmed her.

Politics aside, Martin’s comparison of Saufley and Dow doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Although she was only two years older when nominated than he is now, she had years of litigation experience in private practice, as legal counsel to the Veterans Hospital in Togus and as an assistant attorney general representing the Department of Human Services. She was then promoted to deputy attorney general, placing her in charge of all child and adult protective cases in Maine, proceedings that constitute a major part of District Court judges’ workloads.

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