Tribe complains of Baldacci betrayal

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PLEASANT POINT (AP) – While many in Maine celebrated last week’s inauguration of John Baldacci to a second term as governor, members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe were expressing bitterness and anger toward the leader whom they felt had betrayed them.

“He’s a backstabber,” said Thomas Lewey, the tribe’s usually soft-spoken lieutenant governor. “If I was invited to his inauguration, I would not have gone.”

In 2002, Baldacci garnered nearly 90 percent of the vote on the Passamaquoddy reservations at Pleasant Point and Indian Township; his share last November fell below 6 percent as he finished fourth, 15 votes ahead of Philip Morris Napier, a convicted felon.

Tribal members were upset at Baldacci’s opposition to a casino they wanted to build in southern Maine, a proposal shot down in a statewide referendum. The relationship worsened in 2005 when the governor vetoed legislation that would have allowed the tribe to operate a harness racing track with slot machines in Washington County.

Baldacci said that despite his opposition to the gambling initiatives, he has supported less splashy proposals for economic development that would, in the long run, prove more beneficial to both the tribe and the state’s poorest county.

Denying that his administration is neglecting Washington County, Baldacci said he is working with Maine’s tribal governors, all of whom attended his inauguration and were individually recognized in his speech. Relationships have improved since the racino vote, he said, and will continue to get better.

“It definitely is going to change, in terms of the perception,” he said. “We are committed.”

In his first gubernatorial campaighn, Baldacci visited tribal leaders and left them hopeful that they would get economic help from his administration. Critics say that help never came, and Baldacci blocked efforts by the tribe itself to improve its economic condition.

“Everything we try to do gets shot down,” said Alan Lola, a 39-year-old construction worker.

Hilda Lewis, owner of Lewis’ Flower and Gift Shop in Eastport and a member of the tribal council at Pleasant Point, said the benefits of the slot machine proposal would have extended beyond the tribe.

“I feel that Baldacci has let Washington County down,” Lewis said. “Vetoing the racino was really shameful. The racino would have provided jobs not just for the reservation but the whole of Washington County. I can’t believe he did that.”

The election results show how Baldacci’s standing in the county has dropped. One of his strongest bastions in 2002, with 60 percent of the vote, the county gave him only 29 percent this time, the least of any county.

“The racino issue was a seminal issue for a lot of people in Washington County,” said state Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry.

The tribe still hopes to move forward with a racino and has submitted petitions to place the project on the November ballot. The tribe also is working to build a liquefied natural gas terminal at Pleasant Point and is exploring the potential for a wind farm.

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Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

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