Cleaning up Maine's sleaze

Politicians have left it to the people
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  March 18, 2009

090320_sleeze_m

When tourists admire Maine's picturesque waterfronts, they aren't close enough to smell the barrels reeking with rotting lobster bait. When they gaze upon our bucolic landscapes, they're too far away to smell the manure piles behind the barn. And many Maine residents — certainly most tourists — are unaware of the sleaze lurking within our handsome granite-and-marble State House.
Read Lance Tapley's related story "Official propaganda." 

Applied to government, sleaze connotes disreputable, shabby, probably unethical activities — a violation of public trust, but not necessarily illegal. Outright corruption, of course, exists in Maine. In the 1990s, Democratic house speaker John Martin's top aide went to jail for ballot-box tampering. In the 1980s, a Democratic legislator tampered with absentee ballots — for which he, too, went to the slammer. Governmental corruption at its nastiest is responsible for the physical, sexual, and mental abuse chronically prevalent in state institutions, directly and through careless oversight.

Ugly stuff. Mere sleazy activity, on the other hand, would include things like a gang of Maine Turnpike Authority executives regularly wining and dining each other lavishly, at public expense, or cheerfully letting turnpike contractors pick up their tabs (see "E-ZPass on Ethics," by Lance Tapley, August 3, 2006).

Capitol-watchers have frequently drawn my attention to what they see as suspicious friendships between Governor John Baldacci and lobbyists-campaign fundraisers Severin Beliveau and James Mitchell. A real-estate company partly owned by Beliveau has obtained a lot of state-office rentals. The administration sold the state's wholesale liquor monopoly to a Beliveau client in a deal that possibly cost the state treasury hundreds of millions of dollars. And the governor keeps trying to get the Legislature to send prisoners to an out-of-state corporate lockup represented by his cousin Mitchell. I've never found anything illegal in these matters, but they smell pretty high to a lot of people.

Maine government smells most where special interests hold sway, the odors usually arising from the corrupting influence of money. Books have been written about the subservience of Maine government to financial power, notably William Osborn's The Paper Plantation: The Nader Report on the Pulp and Paper Industry in Maine, which in the 1970s described the forest industry's historical political dominance.

Ever wonder why the corporations and the rich folks who own them are continually rewarded with tax breaks while state services are slashed for the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the disabled? Ever wonder why the Legislature hasn't fashioned a more equitable tax system despite decades of public outcry? For the same reason both Democrats and Republicans in Washington continue to reward Wall Street's greedy incompetents despite colossal public anger: politicians, lobbyists, corporate leaders, top bureaucrats, and some just-plain-rich people constitute a self-dealing private and public elite, Democrat and Republican, that controls the government — an elite that plays musical chairs. Just like in Washington, in Augusta there's a revolving door between the public and private sectors. Politics isn't so much ideology as influence.

1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |   next >
  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, Maine Turnpike Authority,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY LANCE TAPLEY
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   SUBVERSIVE SUMMER  |  June 18, 2014
    Prisons, pot festivals, and Orgonon: Here are some different views of summertime Maine — seen through my personal political lens.
  •   LEFT-RIGHT CONVERGENCE - REALLY?  |  June 06, 2014
    “Unstoppable: A Gathering on Left-Right Convergence,” sponsored by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, featured 26 prominent liberal and conservative leaders discussing issues on which they shared positions. One was the minimum wage.
  •   STATE OF POLARIZATION  |  April 30, 2014
    As the campaign season begins, leading the charge on one side is a rural- and northern-Maine-based Trickle-Down Tea Party governor who sees government’s chief role as helping the rich (which he says indirectly helps working people), while he vetoes every bill in sight directly helping the poor and the struggling middle class, including Medicaid expansion, the issue that most occupied the Legislature this year and last.
  •   MICHAEL JAMES SENT BACK TO PRISON  |  April 16, 2014
    The hearing’s topic was whether James’s “antisocial personality disorder” was enough of a mental disease to keep him from being sent to prison.
  •   LOCKING UP THE MENTALLY ILL  |  April 03, 2014
    The merger of the prison and mental-health systems continues

 See all articles by: LANCE TAPLEY