Town of Freedom becomes setting for dueling politics

Posted Sept. 17, 2012, at 5:28 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 01, 2012, at 1:30 p.m.

FREEDOM, Maine — A bus tour of Maine by the conservative Americans for Prosperity group began in this western Waldo County town Monday morning, but more than a dozen protesters were on hand to offer a contrary message.

The group’s “Obama’s Failing Agenda” tour focuses on what state coordinator and Freedom resident Carol Weston said is President Barack Obama’s failure to embrace free-market, limited government policies. Weston is Americans for Prosperity’s Maine state director.

A sign on the side of the bus highlighted the group’s key issues: the $16 trillion national debt, the administration’s $1 trillion annual budget deficits, 43 straight months of 8 percent and higher unemployment rates, and what it calls the “health care takeover,” which the group claims “will cost Americans at least $1.7 trillion and strip $700 billion from Medicare to help pay the bill.”

Speaking at the Freedom event was Dan Remain, an anti-wind power activist, who told the 15 people gathered in the shade of the bus that tax credits benefiting wind power development was “a scam.”

Remain said that while hydropower, coal and nuclear power respectively got 64 cents, 84 cents and $3 of tax credit for each megawatt produced, solar power gets $24 per megawatt and wind power gets $56 per megawatt.

“Maine is not a good wind area,” he said, citing the low capacity output of turbines in Mars Hill, which he said puts out just 25 percent of capacity, and Stetson and Stetson II, which produce 15 percent and 17 percent respectively, and Kibby Mountain which operates at 20 percent of capacity.

Remain also said the University of Maine at Presque Isle built a wind power facility at a cost of $3.5 million and it now requires $59,000 in annual maintenance work.

As Remain spoke near the local grange hall on the side of Route 137, a group of about 15 protesters stood nearby holding placards. Among them was Freedom resident Heide Brugger, who expressed anger at the setting Americans for Prosperity used.

“We’re actually very angry that this group is exploiting our town’s name for its political purposes,” she said. “Americans for Prosperity’s corporate agenda is to promote business and corporate profits on the back of the shrinking middle class.”

Americans for Prosperity’s agenda is to roll back regulations, Brugger said, to provide “easy wealth for the 1 percent.”

James Olson of the Hancock County town of Penobscot, who described himself as a traditional leftist, said he read about the group’s bus tour launch and decided to travel to Freedom “to stick it in their eye,” with his protest. Olson held a placard that called for congressional representation of the “99 percent.”

John Bednarik of Montville held a sign that read, “Hate and Fear is what this organization peddles.”

“The Republicans said it all two years ago,” Bednarik said. “Their No. 1 priority was to make Obama fail.”

Martha Foisy of Freedom held a sign that read, “Americans for Prosperity is a right wing group funded by oil billionaires. Stop using our town’s name to promote fear and lies.”

Weston, a former Republican legislator who served in the state House of Representatives and Senate, said she thought it appropriate to start the bus tour in Freedom.

The opposition to wind power expressed at the event was a good example of Americans for Prosperity’s values, which advocate free-market approaches. And a three-turbine wind power project, ultimately approved by the town’s planning board, divided residents deeply several years ago.

“We are opposed to subsidies for all energies,” she said. “When government picks winners and losers, it’s the consumer who loses.”

The bus tour “is all about education,” Weston said, and noted that anti-property tax activist Mary Adams launched her group Freedom Fighters in the town in the early 1970s.

Americans for Prosperity describes itself as “a nationwide organization of citizen-leaders committed to advancing every individual’s right to economic freedom and opportunity. Americans for Prosperity believes reducing the size and intrusiveness of government is the best way to promote individual productivity and prosperity for all Americans.”

Adam Nicholson, Americans for Prosperity’s Maine communications manager, said the group is funded by private donors whose names are not disclosed.

CORRECTION:

An early version of this story incorrectly stated Carol Weston's residence. Weston lives in Montville, not Freedom.

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