Nuggets from the notebook while calculating the odds that the week will pass without some controversy from the governor's office ...
Last week the liberal blog Dirigo Blue published a controversial memo from Gov. Paul LePage's Spokesman Dan Demeritt in which Demeritt wrote that the governor will “put 11,000 bureaucrats to work getting Republicans re-elected.”
By bureaucrats, Demeritt meant 11,000 state workers.
The memo, which Demeritt confirmed as authentic, is dated Dec. 18. It was sent during the administration's transition to power. Demeritt promises to use state agencies and workers to highlight achievements by LePage and Republican lawmakers. The subject line reads “incumbent protection.”
Within hours of the memo's release the Maine Democratic Party pounced, saying Demeritt had essentially pledged the entire state workforce to help LePage and GOP lawmakers get elected, a violation of the law.
“The governor must denounce this plan immediately if he ever wants Maine people to again trust his claims that they are his top priority, and not his own re-election,” said Ben Grant, the Democrats' newly elected party chairman. “Using state resources to influence partisan elections is a clear violation of a statute prohibiting state employees from engaging in partisan political activity in their capacity as state employees. The 11,000 men and women who work in Maine state government are not political pawns.”
Chris Quint, speaking on behalf of the state employees' union, had similar concerns.
Demeritt said the memo was not meant to be taken literally. He said it was “public relations strategy.”
“You know, as we implement our agenda, as we make improvements on how the state operates, let’s take every opportunity we can to share that with people,” he said. “Any organization that’s doing a good job should tell people about it.”
As for his comment about putting 11,000 state workers to work for the GOP, Demeritt said, “I’ve been doing this for too long and I’m too good at it to expect 11,000 people to put Paul LePage bumper stickers on their cars, have signs in the ground and make phone calls for us. It’s not any kind of political activity.”
The outcry from Democrats is predictable, but it appears the memo leak has upset some Republicans, too. MPBN reported last week that Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, the assistant majority leader, said he was taken aback by the memo.
"And I read it again and said, 'You know, Dan, this is enthusiastic, but not appropriate for somebody who's going to be in the governor's office to say,' " Cushing told MPBN.
On Friday, rumors swirled around the State House that some other GOP lawmakers were also disturbed by the leak. Others, meanwhile, were upset that Demeritt put his plans in writing.
Vic Berardelli, a former GOP communications flak who most recently worked on Jason Levesque's congressional bid, wrote, "The idiocy is that this was put in writing, not the content. That's totally inept and potentially politically suicidal. If it must be communicated, it should have been funnelled through third parties to establish plausible deniability. ... Never put in writing what you can communicate with a whisper, never whisper what you can communicate with a wink and a nod."
He added, "I'm seeing a dangerous arrogance coming out of the new GOP regime which isn't going to serve them well in 2012 or 2014."
And that leads to the most intriguing part of the memo leak. According to Gerald Weinand, who runs Dirigo Blue, a Republican gave him the memo.
Maybe it was just a coincidence, but it was hard not to get the feeling that some Senate Democrats were taking their cues from a newspaper columnist when they voted against confirming economic development chief Philip Congdon last week.
Several Democratic senators said they were concerned about Congdon's experience level, which on the surface seems like an appropriate explanation for opposing his confirmation. But where was that concern during Congdon's vetting by appearance before a joint committee made up of Republicans and Democrats, where he received a unanimous endorsement?
One lawmaker, Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, voted against Congdon's confirmation on the Senate floor, but supported him in committee. According to a story in the Portland Press Herald, Jackson said he changed his mind after hearing concerns from constituents.
But one wonders if Democrats were feeling feisty after Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz, in a column published three days earlier, called out the Dems for rolling over on some of the governor's "suspect" cabinet picks.
Nemitz, who singled out Congdon's inexperience, wrote that Democrats' reluctance to put up a fight showed "just how easy it is to take over a branch of Maine's state government these days with a resume somewhere between weak and worrisome."
Sen. Joe Brannigan, D-Portland, told Nemitz that Democrats were being "pansies," so perhaps the party's show of bravado originated there.
'We are the champions'
If it wasn't apparent in the item above, Democrats are still trying to figure out how to operate in the minority after losing control of the State House and the governor's office.
Meanwhile, progressive activists are trying to find a way to help their Democratic allies retake the Legislature. In a blog post on Mainepolitics.net, Ali Vander Zanden, a former member of the Maine People's Alliance, wrote that progressive groups needed to stay confident, "to play defense without being defensive."
She added that progressives needed to be confident in their message, kind of like Tarren Bragdon, the CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
Bragdon's organization played a significant role in helping Republicans get elected in November by providing research that dovetailed with campaign talking points. Democrats have since argued — some with a hint of envy — that the research from the conservative think tank was tilted specifically for political gain.
Vander Zanden hints that Democrats need a similar organization to counter MHPC and suggests that the MPA is best positioned to do that, a topic the Sun Journal addressed in this space in November.
Bragdon, who is still playing a role in LePage transition, took notice of Vander Zanden's piece, responding the next day with a post on MHPC's "Freedom Forum."
Under the title "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Bragdon wrote, "Ali Vander Zanden urges her progressive comrades to imitate MHPC circa 2010, by never lacking 'confidence' and avoiding 'the defensive rabbit hole.' Using these tips, her blog post serves as a call to action for the professional Left to emulate MHPC to lay the foundation for progressive legislative victories in two years."
He later added, "Are the Maine Center for Economic Policy, Engage Maine, Maine Can Do Better, Maine People’s Alliance, and countless other taxpayer-funded special interests still not enough to counter MHPC and its staff of eight? Perhaps not."
Bragdon, who appears to be basking in the glory of vanquishing the armies of the "professional left," includes a hyperlink to a YouTube video of Queen's "We are the Champions."