After my 2006 race for governor, I took off west and lived in Portland, Ore., for a few months with some friends. It gave me a chance to do some writing and play with their baby — all good, cathartic fun.
One day, longtime Maine TV newsman Don Carrigan called. He didn’t know I was away and wanted a comment on some story he was doing. At the end of our pleasant conversation he asked me if I had regrets from 2006. I said, “Only one. I regret that I wasn’t married to Barbara Merrill!”
You may recall that Barbara had written her hubby, veteran politico Phil Merrill, a paycheck in excess of $100,000 during that campaign. While not illegal per se, it raised a few eyebrows because Barbara Merrill had run as a clean candidate. This meant that taxpayers financed her campaign instead of influence-wielding private contributors; and folks were stymied that she had routed about 10 percent of those tax dollars to her own household.
Don and I chuckled after my smart aleck retort. I guess he thought I was kidding. But my mom always said, “Many a truth is said in jest.” And I think, all kidding aside, I pretty much meant it. You see, after running a squeaky-clean campaign, it was infuriating to run amid the ugliness the not-so-clean clean candidates dragged us through.
In 2006, four of us qualified to run clean: Peter Mills — arguably one of the smartest if not the driest men in the state — Chandler Woodcock, who defeated Peter Mills in the Republican primary, Merrill and I.
I can’t tell you enough about my admiration for Chandler Woodcock. In my opinion, he has true personal integrity. But his campaign was far from clean. Sadly, it was sullied by a disreputable political party organization that couldn’t care less about Maine’s clean election process. Woodcock and his Maine supporters played fair. They gathered the signatures, collected and verified the qualifying contributions and spent the taxpayers’ money as prescribed not only by law but by the bounds of ethical behavior.
But the Republican Governor’s Association saw fit to bring huge sums — and I mean millions — of out-of-state money into Maine to support their boy in the fight for the Blaine House, regardless of the million-plus taxpayer dollars Woodcock received to run clean.
Well, as the only “clean” candidate left in the race — Merrill had already been fined $10,000 for playing fast and loose with the qualifying contribution collections — the LaMarche campaign filed an appeal against this dirty campaign spending, which eventually led to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Needless to say, with the way Supreme courts defer to big money campaigning, we shouldn’t have been surprised when Maine’s highest court said the untraceable, out-of-state funds were OK.
What would have happened in 2006 if all the candidates were clean and hadn’t cheated while running clean? Well, even with all that pussyfooting around and sideswiping the rules, more voters were engaged and cast a ballot than ever before in a governor’s race with an incumbent. Consequently, the incumbent only scored 37 percent of the vote. All this public funding threatened the status quo. And that’s why the Legislature passed laws making it nearly impossible to run clean. Especially now, in 2010, when it is so abundantly clear that neither major party gives a rat’s backside what the voters want.
This anecdotal history tells us that the only way to guarantee no clean candidate is to guarantee no Green candidate. For the first time since clean elections passed there won’t be a clean Green in the governor’s race. This week Lynne Williams, the attorney who fought for us in 2006 in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court — who fought tirelessly to keep the big out-of-state money out of our clean elections process — withdrew her bid to run clean herself.
Tsk, tsk, you dirty politicians: passing cowardly laws denying voters viable options instead of proving yourselves worthy of our vote. You’re afraid of a decent three- or four- or five-way race because you’ve proved yourselves unqualified, and soon the only way you’ll be able to win will be to run unopposed.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.