This is a cautionary tale about people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
No, not members of the Legislature. Or high-ranking officials from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Or even Portland city councilors. I figure you’re smart enough to ignore those idiots without my help.
I’m talking about journalists.
Particularly journalists from national media outlets, who come to Maine with preconceived notions about what’s going on, talk only to people who agree with those preconceptions and consider a quick visit to Peaks Island to be a sufficient sampling of the attitudes, opinions and quaint dietary habits of rural Mainers. (“You should have seen it. They were eating lobsters with their hands!”)
Some of these ace reporters have done just enough homework to be dangerous.
“Portland is in the 1st District, and it’s heavily Democratic,” a network TV anchor once told me. “And Lewiston’s in the 2nd District, so it’s Republican.”
Not since the glaciers receded.
“Maine voters are extremely independent,” a syndicated political columnist informed me a few years ago. “Incumbents in this state are always in danger.”
Of growing fat from complacency.
“What happens in Maine sets the trend for the rest of the country,” a prominent New York reporter announced after a few drinks in the Old Port. “It’s a bellwether state.”
Which is how Alf Landon got elected president in 1936.
I suspect most of these people come to Maine during the summers and early falls of election years not because they believe their own hooey about something important going on here, but because it’s a sweet deal. They get some beach time and seafood dinners on the company tab, while putting in the bare minimum of work. (“Yeah, chief, I talked to Governor John Baldacci. He really has a good grasp of what’s going on, politically.”)
In 2002, a reporter for a national magazine I’d never heard of (“We’re like the New Republic, only not so conservative”) called me about the US Senate race between Republican incumbent Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Chellie Pingree. We talked for half an hour, during which he revealed he’d been in Portland and to Pingree’s home on North Haven. Based on that thorough survey of the state, he was convinced the Dem candidate would win.
He wasn’t just surprised when I told him there wasn’t the remotest chance of that happening, he was completely honked off. He stopped just shy of telling me I didn’t know anything about Maine politics. Then, he hung up.
And he left all my comments out of his story, which concluded, “Democrats, progressives and labor types find themselves not just hoping but feeling in their bones that a gust of Maine populism, merging with the corporate accountability zeitgeist, could catch in Chellie’s sails and carry her to Washington.”
Apparently, he was unaware the prevailing coastal winds blow in the opposite direction.
I was reminded of these odd encounters last month when I read a story in the Bangor Daily News filed by Vicki Ekstrom of the Boston University Washington News Service. Ekstrom interviewed Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report about how he viewed this year’s US Senate race between Collins and Democratic Congressman Tom Allen.