Recently, on the Old Fogeys' Movie Channel (motto: I've Lost The Remote But I Didn't Know How To Use It Anyway), I watched the 1957 film Jamboree. In that flick, Honey Winn, an innocent young girl trying to break into the cut-throat, big-city entertainment scene, tells her future singing partner that she hails from the town of "Wetdog, Maine."
I assumed Wetdog was a fictional place — a lot like Rumford, only it probably smells better. But recent debate over the controversial plan to gouge an east-west highway across the guts of Maine, prompted me to check the map, and it turns out Wetdog is located dead in the path of the proposed road.
I made a phone call to find out how Wetdog's citizens were dealing with the possibility their homes might soon be bulldozed under and paved over.
"It's the biggest thing to hit this town since Honey went off to sing them sappy white-bread songs," said First Selectman Polonius Sphincter. "We've been waiting for this break for decades, so's we can unload our worthless real estate and move someplace cool, like Caratunk."
Told that Caratunk was also in the path of the highway, Sphincter was undeterred.
"Great," he said. "I'll get to sell out twice."
Elsewhere, though, the reaction to creating a huge surgical scar across the state's midsection has been less enthusiastic. In fact, the very legislators who pushed through a bill to have taxpayers front the $300,000 cost of a feasibility study for what's supposed to be a privately financed project are suddenly having second thoughts. This after-the-fact caution could have been caused by any number of factors, such as a reconsideration of the highway's economic benefits, a reassessment of its environmental impact, or the possibility it would allow more teenagers from Wetdog to escape.
It could have been, but it wasn't.
These are, after all, politicians, and, like the clueless Honey Winn, they're easily persuaded to betray anyone and anything in order to preserve their careers. And, as their constituents have made clear in recent weeks, the careers of elected officials who support the east-west highway have a projected lifespan somewhat shorter than the Wetdog Grange Hall (motto: Demolished In 1959).
"I've got so many constituents who are convinced its coming right through their living room," Republican state Senator Douglas Thomas — currently of Ripley, but facing an involuntary transfer to Roadkill — told the MaineToday Media newspapers. "I'm out campaigning door to door and people are upset. I didn't think we'd be stepping into this kind of hornets' nest."
Thomas said lots of folks are convinced that the businesspeople who want to build the road will somehow be able to use the power of eminent domain to seize the properties they need. Of course, that's silly, because Maine law mostly prohibits the government — the only entity that can invoke eminent domain — from using its authority to benefit private enterprise. It would take a special act of the Legislature — the same Legislature that just approved public funding for studying the feasibility of a non-public road — to allow such a thing.