Looking back at 12 Maine newsmakers in 2012

Gov. Paul LePage
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Gov. Paul LePage
Posted Dec. 26, 2012, at 12:11 p.m.
Nancy Torresen
Nancy Torresen
Paul Ferguson
Paul Ferguson
Mary Mayhew
Joe Phelan | AP
Mary Mayhew
Michael Brennan
Joel Page | AP
Michael Brennan
Steve Abbott
Steve Abbott
Bari Newport
Bari Newport
Paul Doiron
Paul Doiron
Chandler Woodcock
Chandler Woodcock
Roxanne Quimby
Roxanne Quimby
Joseph Edwards
Joseph Edwards
Rock Anthony
Rock Anthony

A year ago, the Bangor Daily News identified a dozen Maine newsmakers who would bear watching in 2012. They are an eclectic mix of people representing government, education, the arts, health care and sports. As the year winds down, here’s a look at how they shaped the course of events during the past 12 months:

Gov. Paul LePage

Gov. LePage wasn’t on the ballot this year, but it might have seemed like he was. The state’s Democratic Party relentlessly criticized the Republican governor and his allies throughout the summer and fall campaign months in an effort to make the 2012 legislative elections a referendum on the governor’s leadership. Regardless of whether that’s the strategy that worked, LePage’s opposition won back control of both the House and Senate. Now, all eyes are on LePage and the Legislature’s new Democratic leaders to see if they can get along. Before the new legislative session even gets under way, LePage and Democrats will have to find some common ground in order to keep this year’s budget in balance in the face of a $35.5 million dip in revenues and a $100 million shortfall in the state’s Medicaid program. To boot, LePage is due to unveil his proposal for the state’s next two-year budget at the start of January, and revenue forecasts have already been revised downward more than $125 million over the two-year period. (Matt Stone, BDN)

Nancy Torresen, U.S. District judge

The first woman in Maine to become a U.S. District judge began her tenure on the bench in October 2011 with the high-profile Occupy Augusta case, in which she allowed protesters to gather in Capitol Park but forbade them from camping overnight. Nearly a year later, the former federal prosecutor ruled that Dennis Bailey’s controversial “Cutler Files” website, which anonymously criticized then-gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler in the weeks leading into the 2010 election, was not a journalism website and upheld a Maine Ethics Commission fine for the site. Her judicial style throughout the past year has been relaxed and respectful, coupled with a gentle firmness. (Judy Harrison, BDN)

Paul Ferguson, University of Maine president

In his first year at the helm of the University of Maine System’s flagship campus in Orono, Ferguson rolled out a “Blue Sky Plan,” which won the support of the system trustees. Crafted by a 26-member leadership team using the input of hundreds of university employees and staff, the plan lays out five broad initiatives for the next five years. The plan’s “pathways” to the future includes partnerships with businesses and industries, finding new ways to attract revenue and students, boosting marketing efforts, revamping academic programs and improving infrastructure while beautifying campus. There’s a lot of work ahead to accomplish these goals, and time will reveal how they affect the university. (Nick McCrea, BDN)

Mary Mayhew, Department of Health and Human Services commissioner

No one thought 2012 would be easy for Mayhew, but unrelenting shortfalls in the MaineCare program, currently totaling $100 million, made for a formidable year. What some describe as the toughest job in Maine state government also brought a restructuring of Mayhew’s department, an embarrassing computer error that led to mistaken MaineCare benefits for thousands of recipients, and overpayments of food stamp benefits to 53,000 households. The computer error sparked an investigation of DHHS by the state’s watchdog agency, which found lax oversight of a contractor but no evidence to back an accusation by some Democratic lawmakers that Mayhew withheld information about the problem. Mayhew and Gov. Paul LePage greet 2013 still at odds with the Obama administration over many changes imposed on states by the federal health reform law. (Jackie Farwell, BDN)

Michael Brennan, mayor of Portland

In November 2011, former state Sen. Michael Brennan won a 15-candidate race to become the first popularly elected mayor in Maine’s largest city since 1923. But less than a month after inauguration, he was diagnosed with cancer, and treatments for the disease slowed the new mayor’s ability to settle in at city hall. Still, after fully recovering, Brennan ramped up to an ambitious first year in office, spearheading initiatives to increase the amount of local food used in city schools, streamline the long-maligned city permitting processes, create a unified political front among the mayors of Maine’s largest communities, and gather representatives of Portland’s higher education and research institutions to begin forming a “Research Triangle.” Along the way, Brennan remained outspoken on issues close to the longtime Democrat’s heart, such as state budget cuts to health care programs and, more recently, gun control. (Seth Koenig, BDN)

Steve Abbott, University of Maine director of athletics

Abbott enters the final six months of his two-year contract at UMaine with some key issues unresolved. The Orono native leads a department that continues to deal with budget constraints and a recent lack of success among most of its teams. The high-profile men’s ice hockey team is mired in its worst start (2-11-2) since 1982-83 and has combined with the other three basketball and hockey programs on a 8-42-3 record this season. The struggles of men’s hockey could create external pressure on Abbott to contemplate a coaching change. Abbott also must help determine how to spend the estimated $16 million that has been raised for renovations to UMaine’s field house and Memorial Gym, even though the money won’t cover all the upgrades first proposed. (Pete Warner, BDN)

Bari Newport, incoming artistic director for Penobscot Theatre Company

Newport settled into her new job as artistic director for the Penobscot Theatre Company with relative ease — at least, from an outside perspective. A great deal of restructuring within the organization has led to a streamlined staff and a much more publicly visible face for the theater, between social media and new community partnerships. She has managed to strike a balance between intriguing new plays ( “Becky’s New Car), challenging contemporary works (“Wit,” set for March 2013) and family-friendly blockbusters ( “Annie”). (Emily Burnham, BDN)

Paul Doiron, author

Doiron describes his 2012 as “a year of surprises.” His third novel in the Mike Bowditch series, “Bad Little Falls,” was released in August. In the fall, the Kindle edition of his debut, “The Poacher’s Son,” was released in the United Kingdom and reached No. 4 on the best-seller list of all Kindle books in November. “I even beat the ‘50 Shades of Grey’ juggernaut,” he proudly wrote in an email. Doiron also signed a new two-book deal. On Dec. 19, he finished work on his fourth novel, “Massacre Pond,” which he thinks might be his best. That book will be published in July 2013. And perhaps the biggest surprise: “I learned that the Pete Kilpatrick Band had been inspired by my novel to write a song titled ‘Trespasser,’ for its album ‘Heavy Fire,” Doiron wrote. (John Holyoke, BDN)

Chandler Woodcock, DIF&W commissioner

Woodcock unveiled the state’s ambitious “Game Plan for Deer” before the first of the year, and the recovery of the deer herd remains a key talking point for the state’s hunters. Indications are that the herd has made a bit of a recovery, but crediting Woodcock for that would seem premature: Two straight mild winters have played the key role, most agree. Woodcock also has waded into a pair of controversial initiatives: One calls for the elimination of the use of live fish as bait on a number of the state’s popular brook trout lakes; another seeks to curtail the practice of feeding deer during the winter. (John Holyoke, BDN)

Roxanne Quimby

It wasn’t such a great year for the former queen of Burt’s Bees. Her son, Lucas St. Clair, announced in December the shelving of her proposed 70,000-acre national park after it was pilloried by almost all political, forest products and recreation industry leaders north of Portland. The Sierra Club, town of Medway, Katahdin region businesses and southern Mainers such as U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, had been the lonely voices supporting a park or a federal study of a park ’s feasibility, and Medway’s leaders withdrew their support in February over disagreements with Quimby regarding the direction of the park campaign. St. Clair is re-examining how use of Quimby’s lands could embody her ideals and still be a gift the region would actually want. The noted Maine-centric philanthropist continues what made her controversial in the first place ― buying large tracts of land and thumbing her nose at Maine’s oxymoronic “traditional rights access” creed — and everybody else is wondering what’s next. (Nick Sambides Jr., BDN)

Joseph Edwards, president of Maine Wellness Association

Slow and steady growth has marked the year and a half since Edwards and Martin’s Point Health Care launched a first-in-Maine employer health insurance option. Called MaineSense, the program allows employers to join forces to offer health coverage through a “captive,” a member-owned insurance company that doesn’t offer policies to the public. MaineSense now counts 45 businesses as members and covers 5,600 people. A promising start, but many are waiting to see whether MaineSense truly makes sense for Maine. (Jackie Farwell, BDN)

Rock Anthony, actor

In 2012, Presque Isle native Rock Anthony, 26, appeared in five episodes of the hit TV series “Glee” as the character Rick “The Stick” Nelson, the bullying captain of the high school hockey team. In April, the cast of “Glee” presented Anthony with his own set chair, with his name on the back. And on May 15, Fox aired his biggest scene yet in the episode “Props,” in which Anthony’s character fights with star character Puck. Also in 2012, Anthony appeared as the lead role in the independent feature film “Wal-bob’s.” And in November, he announced on his website — rockanthony.wordpress.com — that he has been cast in a role in the movie “Feels So Good” by Josh Stolberg, screenplay writer of “Good Luck Chuck” (2007) and “Sorority Row” (2009). Anthony spent the end of the year on the film set. (Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN)

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