Twenty years on

Looking back on two decades of columns
By AL DIAMON  |  November 16, 2011

There are topics that are even more boring than a columnist writing about how long he's been a columnist.

For instance, a documentary featuring Maine Finance Commissioner Sawin Millet explaining why the current state budget is as awash in red ink as the last one. Or a book called Elect Me To Something: The Collected Writings of State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, With a Foreword by the Honorable Bruce Poliquin — and an Afterword by Bruce, Too. Or any speech given by Congressman Mike Michaud.

Those are all more mind-numbing than reading about a column anniversary. But not by much.

That's why this isn't going to be one of those nostalgic reminiscences ("Two decades ago, I was an idealistic dweeb, caught up in a glorious journalistic adventure") or a phony example of foresight ("In 1991, I predicted that by 2011, Maine would have a portly Republican governor from Waterville with mouth-control issues. Also, flying cars. And meals in pill form, delivered by robot slaves") or self-administered ego stroking ("As every Maine governor since William King in 1820 has said to me, 'You are just friggin' brilliant at pointing out my faults'").

But I couldn't let this week slip by without mentioning that this column is now 20 years old, which means that in 2012, it'll be legally able to buy alcohol.

That should be an improvement.

The first "Politics & Other Mistakes" appeared in the now-defunct Casco Bay Weekly and focused on one of the mainstays of legislative maneuvering, both then and now: The deliberately stupid idea.

In those ancient times, Republican Governor John McKernan, amid a budget crisis, was trying to cover the cost of a 7-percent pay raise due to union workers. McKernan was out of legitimate money-saving ideas, but during a late-night brainstorming session at the State House, one of his cronies suggested unpaid furlough days — in effect giving government employees the same amount of money to work less.

As a fledgling columnist put it, "[I]t was one of the dumbest ideas ever to be suggested in a building that's become famous for dumb ideas."

McKernan assumed the Democratic Legislature would kill the proposal, but by then, he'd have come up with a more reasonable alternative. Instead, the Dems passed his plan, and furloughs have been part of budgets right up until this year.

Now comes the section of the column where the writer — older, wiser, lazier — deftly transitions to current events, providing an example of how things haven't changed a lick since he was a whippersnapper. Or, sometimes, he writes about how things have changed altogether too much, and these whippersnappers today aren't fit to lick the boots of previous generations of whippersnappers. Doesn't matter, as long as his commentary includes the words "lick" and "whippersnapper."

That nifty time shift brings us to the aftermath of the November 8 balloting, which resulted in two ideas of delectable stupidity being shot down and one new brainstorm of surpassing dopiness being born.

First, there was the defeat of the Lewiston casino. The pinheads behind this scheme blamed their landslide loss on Governor Paul LePage's offhand remark that Maine couldn't support five casinos. Recent Maine governors, from Angus King to John Baldacci, have been stunningly unsuccessful at influencing the outcome of referendums, and it's doubtful LePage did any better. But if so, the Lewiston gamblers have no one but themselves to blame for publicizing his comment by attacking it. Combine that with their inept message (we're entitled to this) and their graceless election-night speeches (it's everybody else's fault), and you can bet there'll be a tropical rain forest in Madawaska before there's a casino in Lewiston.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , GOP, John McKernan, Sawin Millet,  More more >
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