Archive for September 13th, 2004

All Politics Are Local

4

But Some Are More Local Than OthersWe
recently returned from a visit to the Great State of Maine, an idiosyncratic
bastion of individualism and self-reliance wedged onto the
northeastern-most corner of the United States like a vestigial green
thumb.

While there, we had the pleasure of attending a micro-political event
hosted by the Dowbrigade’s Mom, with whom we were staying. It was an
organizer/fundraiser for Dennis
Damon
(and there’s a name straight from
the Great American Novel), an incumbent candidate for the Maine State
Senate.

About a dozen supporters were expected to the comfortable arrangement
of rectangular solids our stepfather the architect (who designed and
lives in it with our Mom) calls the "Amtrack House" due to it’s resemblance
to a train wreck, when seen from the street. Outside the remnants of
Hurricane Charlie were whipping the tops of the tall white pines around
the house across the sky, like rain-soaked brushes in the hand of a spastic
impressionist.

The district Damon currently represents contains about 36,000 adult
Mainers, about half of whom usually vote. We call this micro-politics
because it is an election in which a thousand votes one way or the other
will probably decide the outcome. A race in which the candidates could
conceivable identify those thousand voters and personally talk to every
one.

Of course, the last Presidential election was ultimately decided by
less than a thousand votes, and now the entire world is facing the consequences.
Local politics can have global repercussions.

The table in Mom’s dining room was awash in hors d’overs,
the identifying spoor of cultural cliques across America. In
this case, Norwegian wheat crackers with cream cheese and smoked salmon,
clever
little pastry
triangles with some scrumptious pureed spinach filling, mini Quiche
Lorraine the size of peanut butter cups. Also on the table were four
or five bottles
of red and white, including the bottle of Australian Long Flat Red we
had picked up the day before at the Wine and Cheese Cask on our way out of town.

The crowd was well-heeled and sophisticated, typical of the successful
professionals "from away", who at some point in their lives fall in love
with Maine and move there, as the Dowbrigade’s Mom had done, about 18
years ago. Of course, Mainers are famously insular and a twenty-year
resident is barely distinguishable in their eyes from the outsiders who
flood up the coast for a few weeks of vacation time every summer.

While lifelong Downeastern Mainers are still in the majority, and account
for the preponderantly Republican landscape of local and state politics,
folks from away are a sizable enough minority that they are a factor
to be reckoned with in elections, and are partly responsible for a small
number of Democrats to arrive in the state house in Agusta. Like tonight’s
guest of honor, Dennis Damon.

Damon is not even remotely from away.  From his story and his accent,
it sounds like he has never set foot outside of the state. At 55 he talks
proudly of having had four professions, but first and foremost
he strikes
us
as
a Maine
fisherman. As he explained, his father was a fisherman, as was
his father, and his father before him.

Dennis comes from a very different background than the people he was
talking to, who were also 10 or 20  his senior. Yet he looks comfortable,
and settles into a relaxed rhythm as he speaks. Of course, he is a politician
talking to constituents about himself, a subject we can assume he knows
well.

After graduating from high school he continued working as a fisherman,
together with his father and brothers, until his father let drop that
he had always
hoped
one of his children would go on to college. So he did, and became a teacher
and coach. Like many teachers his entree to politics was through the
teacher’s union.

After an additional career as a businessman, he was approached by the
decidedly underdog Democratic establishment and asked if he was interested
in running for Commissioner of Handcock County. He was, and much to the
surprise of all concerned, he won.

After two terms he decided to run for the State Senate, and he won again.  He
seems to win because he exudes an earnest sincerity and because he works
hard (one of only 6 legislators with 100% voting records). He seemed
to be honestly interested in the concerns of the guests at tonight’s
meeting: property taxes, Maine’s implementation of No Child Left Behind,
road conditions,
term limitations.

This time, however, Damon has some serious competition, as Republicans
have given the nod to a wealthy local businessman, used car mart
owner John Linnehan, who has a slick
web site
touting his business acumen
and "Biblical world view".

After his brief remarks and some questions and concerns from the audience,
Damon literally passed the hat, and a discussion ensued on how and where
to place advertisements for the candidate. Damon mentioned that state
law prohibited the placement of ANY political advertising within 300
feet of the middle of any public street or road until 6 weeks before
election day, which this year would be September 27, and asked his supporters
not to do so.

Several people pointed out that the Linnehan folks had numerous signs
up all over town, including one 30-foot banner on centric Route 3 (see
pic above). Unfortunately, according to Damon, the statute in question
sets a $100 fine for violations, and the fines are set per candidate
and NOT per sign, so Linnehan has no problem paying to play.

We buttonholed the Senator after most of the guests had left, and asked
him what he knew about blogging. "I gather it has something to do with
writing," he answered honestly. He was quite understanding and supportive
when we tried to describe them as an alternative to the centralization
of the major media outlets. Everybody seems to dislike the media, left
and right alike, but almost everybody relies on the media for the information
they use to navigate the world. Unfortunately, John Linnehan looks more
likely to utilize a blog in his campaign than Dennis Damon.

But we liked him, and we hope he wins. All over America mini-dramas
like this a playing out.  Back before a million channels of drivel
and the limitless spaces of Cyberspace were available to divert our attention,
local politics was the main hobby or amusement activity of a significant
portion of the American public.  Quite frankly, there wasn’t that
much else to do. In fact, if Monday Night Football and Wednesday
Karaoke had existed in 18th century Boston, we doubt they would have
been able to pull off the American Revolution.

Today, it is much harder
to get people to spend their precious leisure hours
on political organizing, but there is still a hardcore who either have
politics in their blood or consider it a civic duty.

But
the beauty of the system is that it exists and functions silently over
these now hundreds of years, waiting to be used, available to any
interest group, mass movement, charismatic candidate or civic crusade
that wants
to use
it,
and is capable of waking up or pissing off enough voters to have an impact.

And
these teachers and retirees and small business owners gathered in living
rooms across America do participate in the actual political process of
selecting the leaders of the "free
world". The
meeting we attended in Downeast Maine was not that different than the
dozens
of pancake
breakfasts and coffee klatches we attended in small suburban kitchens
and dens in New Hampshire in December and January, featuring local politicians
named Dean and Kerry and Clark.

We will be sure to check back on November 2 and see how the Damon-Linnehan
race is turning out. Find out about your local races. Trust your instincts
to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Vote for the good ones.

Drug Testing Could Be a Problem

2

We feel there is serious potential here for an additional Olympic
event, and am drafting a memo to the IOC to that effect. Elephant Polo
is a natural extension of the Preppy mindset combined with four more
years
of a Republican
administration….

An elephant polo
team made up of transvestites has competed in a prestigious tournament
in
Thailand. The Screwless Tuskers put up a brave show before going down
2-0 to the DBS Bank Ladies. They played on the final day of the 14-team
round-robin tournament in the annual event.

Elephant polo – a slower, heavier game than the equine version – is
a serious business in Thailand.

"It is almost like horse polo but in a very slow motion. But I can
tell you it is much more difficult," said Raj Kalaan, a member of
the Chivas Regal elephant polo team.

Some 55 players, including three former All Blacks rugby players, gathered
in the Thai beach resort town of Hua Hin for the tournament

from Ananova