Politics & Other Mistakes: Between the ditches

7 mins read
Al Diamon

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 Sen. 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 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.

What are the odds of that happening? Practically zero, unless powerful figures such as Cianbro Corp. CEO Peter Vigue (the guy who’s been pushing this idea for years and whose company stands to profit from building highway infrastructure) decided to flex their political muscle with GOP lawmakers. That seems as farfetched as the plot of “Jamboree.”

Even if it wasn’t, surely legislative Democrats would oppose such a move. I’m talking about guys like state Rep. Herbert “Herbie” Clark of Millinocket, who’s running against Thomas this fall and is … hmmm, a cosponsor of the legislation paying for the study. Herbie (he really calls himself that) insisted in an op-ed he wrote for the Bangor Daily News that he only did so because he was bamboozled by Thomas.

“I supported it because I thought he had done his homework and this was something communities throughout rural Maine were supportive of,” Herbie wrote. “It’s clear to me now that he didn’t and I shouldn’t have supported the measure.”

Herbie goes on to claim Thomas is little more than Vigue’s stooge, which makes Herbie Vigue’s stooge twice removed.

The east-west highway has always been one of those ideas that works better in concept than reality, sort of like the premise that a vacuous girl from Wetdog Maine could become a big star as half of a duo dubbed “America’s Singing Sweethearts.” Support for the project is strong among Canadian truckers, people who draw Cianbro paychecks and Wetdog property owners.

Elsewhere, not so much.

For veteran legislators like Thomas and Clark to pretend they were unaware of this until now is strong evidence that voters in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties are being represented by a pair of boobs who are so out of touch that even a road project of this size couldn’t reach them.

I’m out of gas. Now it’s your turn to put the hammer down and email me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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