Politics & Other Mistakes: Off the track

6 mins read

Al Diamon

I’ve been thinking about what makes a first-rate kook.

There are at least 20 announced and unannounced candidates for governor, and we certainly don’t want to elect one of them, only to discover we’ve chosen a kook who’s second-rate.


So, it’s important to examine the qualifications required to stand out in a crowd of fruitcakes.

Irrationality is certainly a big factor, although that quality alone isn’t sufficient to earn a seat at the head table for the annual meeting of the Maine Association of Nuts, Idiots, Absurdities and Cockeyed Screwballs (MANIACS).

If holding irrational views were all it took to qualify for the political whackjob hall of fame, Maine Family Policy Council executive director Michael Heath would have been inducted long ago, based on his often-espoused bedrock belief that he’ll go straight to hell if he’s ever kissed by a guy.

Heath is too uptight for the MANIACS. They know that a good kook has a carefree attitude. For instance, a kook would probably kiss back. With tongue.

A sterling example of the proper approach to attaining hall-of-fame status is Gary Merrill, the late actor once married to film star Bette Davis. In 1968, Merrill, who’d been a Democrat most of his life, decided to run for the 1st District congressional seat as a Republican. Keep in mind that the Maine GOP had a much lower weirdo factor at that time than it does today. As far as the elephant party was concerned, the idea of boys kissing boys hadn’t even been invented yet.

Merrill, who was running based on his opposition to the Vietnam war, campaigned in a skirt. He said it was cooler and more comfortable. Which is probably true. He got 16 percent of the vote and finished third in the GOP primary, so maybe there were more freaky Republicans around back then than anyone suspected.

Ralph Coffman made the hall of fame in his first year of eligibility, based on a single incident. In 1993, Coffman was an obscure Democratic state representative from Old Town. As the House was rushing toward adjournment one hot June afternoon, Coffman brought the process to a halt by refusing to vote on a new state budget. His reasons were vague – something about ants in Capitol Park, he later told reporters – but his impact was huge, because the chamber’s rules require all legislators who are present to make their positions known, yea or nay. After several hours delay, during which a mental-health expert and law enforcement officials interviewed Coffman, he eventually apologized. Sort of. He also proposed a bill to have all legislators tested for drugs. I don’t think he meant the performance-enhancing kind.

Coffman ran for governor in 1994 and 1998 under the banner of his own Independent Party, but failed on both occasions to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. Since then, he’s made the news by being cited for loud parties (he called them campaign rallies) and pot possession.

Carol Palesky of Topsham has the kind of resume that gets noticed in politics. Although, it’s usually New Jersey politics. Palesky was convicted of embezzlement in 1987, aggravated forgery in 1998, and in 2007, she was permanently barred by a federal judge from practicing her profession of preparing tax returns, because she had inflated deductions to provide her clients with bigger refunds. That decision was handed down while she was serving a 16-month sentence in state prison for stealing money from a customer. She was also once found not guilty of bank robbery by reason of insanity.

Throughout her legal misfortunes, Palesky headed the Maine Taxpayers Action Network, an organization dedicated to capping local property taxes at 1 percent of assessed value. In 2004, voters rejected her initiative by close to a 2-to-1 margin. It probably wasn’t because they were overly fond of their tax bills.

In 1990, independent gubernatorial candidate Andrew Adam held a news conference to which some supporters brought a goat. Why a goat? The handler of the animal (the goat, not the candidate) explained that like Adam, “Goats are independent.”

Adam resembled a goat in another way: He was stubborn. In spite of a distinct lack of evidence, he insisted Augusta City Hall was a spider web of conspiracies to defraud taxpayers. He claimed newspapers and TV stations were secretly manipulating the election process to keep him from winning.

Adam also had a goat-like grasp of logic. He promised a big expansion of state services, but a huge cut in the state budget. He opposed state spending on economic development, but wanted to use public money to help employees buy Maine businesses. He also vowed to spend at least two weeks at each of the state’s mental-health institutions. I don’t think he was being ironic.

Adam got a surprising 9 percent of the vote, much of it from people who said they were actually casting ballots for “None of the Above.”

Too bad ol’ None isn’t running this year.

Next week: more kooks and flukes. In the meantime, send your rebukes to aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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