What would happen if we took Gov. King's 2002 pronouncements seriously?

King: Two Maines Must Part

(See Lincoln for more about one northern Maine town.)

(pages 1 & 7 February 2002)

(WARNING: You may think this is a satire, but if the governor's comments of February 7 were serious, then so is this response.)

As the current legislative session winds to a close, it’s sad to see that nothing was done about the governor’s excellent recommendation regarding the two Maines.  In a surprise announcement Thursday, February 7, Angus King, governor of southern Maine, told an audience at Husson College that communities north and east of Bangor should take control of their economic destiny.  It’s up to the leadership in the area to take charge and not the state government, the visiting governor said, adding: “Don’t tell me that geography determines your fate.”

Several residents of Washington, Aroostook, Piscataquis, and Penobscot Counties, polled immediately after King’s comments, expressed enthusiasm for the unexpected remarks.  Solon Baltier, a potato farmer interviewed at the Irving Mainway in Ashland, described the remarks as “...breathtaking!  This can mean only one thing: that all the legislation created over the years to prevent economic development north of Augusta is going to be reversed!”

Rick Last-name-withheld, an as-yet undeclared legislative candidate from Millinocket, sees a more dramatic turn of events in the King statement: “This pretty much confirms what many analysts have been predicting.  Southern Maine is planning to secede from the ball and chain that is the real Maine.  Those of us who have been awaiting this announcement are very grateful to the governor for this forward-thinking move.  One might be reminded of President Gorbachev when Moscow sensibly relinquished control of much of Asia to the people who lived there.”

Vernetta Caines, an 82-year-old registered Maine Guide and owner of Katagash Kamps just north of Chesuncook Village, hasn’t been south of Newport since 1948.  “But I do read the newspapers that visitors leave behind,” she says.  “It’s funny that Angus King speaks as if the north and east has isolated itself from the south.  It’s really the south that has spun itself off from the true Maine.  Maine has always been a rough wilderness with scattered pockets of rugged, self-reliant individuals.  Within maybe the last 50 years, there has been so much spillover from Massachusetts that southern Maine has become nothing but a colony of Boston.  Kennebec County down to York County and the rest in between have isolated themselves from the rest of us.”

If the south decides to seek statehood for itself, there will be a few complications.  If Millinocket native Rick’s sources are reliable, the populous southern tip of Maine will probably pull away as a separate state, something perhaps the size of Delaware.  Less likely, but worth watching, would be a symbolic re-union with Massachusetts, which presumed to claim the entire territory east of New Hampshire as part of itself prior to Maine statehood in 1820.

To begin with, as a separate state, it will have to choose a name.  This publication would like to propose that the following two be considered.  First, Nomasome.  If each syllable were pronounced, No - ma - so - me, it would have a nice aboriginal sound to it and may even have a cognate somewhere in the Abnaki family of languages.  Actually, though, it’s short for NOrthern MAssachusetts - SOuthern MainE.

The problem, of course, is that few outside of Nomasome would pronounce it correctly.  Perhaps a better choice, then, would be Mame.  It retains, as an element, the abbreviation for Maine, “me,” and precedes it with “Ma,” the abbreviation for the area’s cultural namesake, Massachusetts.  The pronunciation is simple.  And it simplifies the new state’s task of changing highway signs and such: It would be fairly easy for a [wo]man with a can of paint to change IN to M in MAINE.

Another challenge will be to define the boundary of the new state of Mame.  The sentiment expressed by President Bush after September 11 could be paraphrased: “Either you’re with us, or you’re with the flatlanders.”  Each town along an arc running approximately from Camden to Gilead and enclosing Waterville, Skowhegan, and Farmington, would have to choose.  If you’re with the eastern and northern counties taking control of their own economic destiny, which obviously includes regulating their own land use and fisheries, taxes, and commerce, then you’ll declare yourselves part of Maine.  If you’re with the southern counties, mimicking the values of present-day Massachusetts, you’ll join Mame in seceding from Maine.

Mame will certainly be able to retain Augusta as its capital.  That’s already as far as anyone from Cumberland County southward is able to drive to attend the regular exercises in state government, so no one there will be further inconvenienced.  And Mame can continue to keep the constitution and body of laws that have evolved in the old Maine.  The new, slightly smaller, in-charge-of-its-own-destiny Maine may use the original Maine constitution as a framework but will have the perfectly pleasant task of starting anew to craft legislation toward the purpose that the visiting governor proposed.

There will surely be a lot of debate, with towns such as Burlington or T6R12 or Hurricane good-naturedly competing to be the next capital of Maine, but the odds favor a short list of major towns.  Sure contenders are Machias, Millinocket, Houlton, Presque Isle, and Fort Kent.  It would be premature, though, to dismiss such prominent communities as Calais, Lincoln, Caribou, and Madawaska.  Aroostook County, in fact, expects to claim the capital “hands down,” according to retired legislator and “King” of Eagle Lake, John Martin. “I tried for years to make the legislature realize that Aroostook County is bigger than Connecticut and Rhode Island put together,” he said, “and the result is that maps are now printed compressing the northern half of the state to make it look like Fort Kent is no further from Bangor than Augusta is.”  [For more on this, see Maps.]

Bangor city counselor Homus N. Veazie has declared that “Bangor respectfully declines any suggestion that the Penobscot County seat also serve as the state capital.  The representatives of The County [Aroostook] have spent too much time on the road.  Let the rest of us come to them for a change.”

One more idea gaining support is to have twin capitals.  With today’s technology and further developments sure to come, a “virtual” capital could exist anywhere.  Legislative sessions could even be held by video-conference, at least during wintertime when driving is most hazardous in the real Maine.

“Southern Maine has spent years binding everything that isn’t southern Maine in a snarl of regulations.  We in the rest of the state have not done that to southern Maine,” said Mary X., a former Bangor-area representative who left the legislature disillusioned after one term and who now seeks obscurity.  “There’s a temptation now for a contingent from the north to return the favor in some way: Limit foot traffic on Wells Beach to five people at a time instead of 50,000, for instance, or require that all cash registers in the organized towns below Waterville be hand-cranked, not electric, or make every commuter buy a license to commute on Tuesdays, or simply contrive to make random residents from Kittery to Waterville give up their livelihoods.  But, of course, it won’t be our prerogative to do that, because southern Maine will soon be another state in charge of its own destiny and not anyone else’s.”

Mary went on to point out that it will be the earliest responsibility of the re-formed Maine legislature to dismantle all of the ill-thought legislation of the past that gave us LURC and the school funding formula, among other follies.  “It is the heart-felt mission of every true Mainer to enhance the state’s culture and protect its natural environment,” she went on.  “The nth-degree regulation that has been imposed from the south has been an insult to Maine’s people and a shackle on its economy.  At last the state can be taken back from its ‘absentee political landlords’ and returned to its inhabitants.”

Mame will no longer be saddled with legislative leaders from the north  like Charlie Pray, Mike Michaud, and John Martin, either, whose intermittent control over segments of state government has at least somewhat impeded the south’s predilection for hobbling the economy of the north and east.  And Mame will no longer be haunted by the perception that it has been shifting revenue to the north which was collected in the south.

An aide to Governor King, speaking on condition of anonymity, commented that the north “...can sink or swim on its own, economically.  The southern counties are tired of propping it up.”  [S]he cautioned, however, against the assumption that control of the real Maine will be returned to its citizens any time soon.  “The Governor’s remarks were sincere, and yes, it’s safe to characterize them as indicating a policy that will lead to a parting of ways,” [s]he said.  “It has become clear that the more ‘primitive’ mindset of northern Mainers, with their emphasis on ‘traditional’ - I would say ‘quaint’ - Maine pursuits like building private camps and hunting and ‘getting away from it all,’ is at odds with the more practical, urban perspective of the southern counties.”

What has taken place is a split between the Maine that depends on the cultivation of the same natural resources that have always served as an economic base - the Maine that is now widely accused of clinging to a dead past - and the element of the population that has stylized and sanitized a vaguely-remembered Maine that they think no longer exists because they haven’t lived where it is still a reality.  Lumberjacks and lobstermen are celebrated in art and fiction, but God forbid that a tree fall or a lobster boil any longer in real life, or, more to the point, in real Maine.

Expect a quiet beginning.  Don’t look for a referendum, which is to say, a citizen initiative.  That may come, but later.  Remember, too, that a referendum which doesn’t pass the first time, so long as it is resurrected regularly, eventually will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the turnpike-widening experience has shown.  Nor will Governor King, (who, by the way, could return for two more terms as governor of Mame), propose legislation right away.  What we’re more likely to see is a blue ribbon commission comprised of representatives from, perhaps, all the 16 counties involved.

Don’t expect resistance from the part of the current state that will remain as Maine.  But it will be a hard sell in some quarters of Mame, where almost totalitarian control of land they don’t occupy is a presumed right.  “Owners of large tracts are vilified if they make a contribution to the economy by providing Maine-made products with Maine labor.  But a rich person like Roxanne Quincy - oh, it’s Quimby? - can buy up large tracts and take a big deduction for returning it to herself as a public trust and the same crowd shows no indignation,” observes Kovol V., a resident of Penobscot County and a 1977 graduate of the University of Maine’s College of Forest Resources with a B.S. in Wildlife Management and a major in ecology.

Kovol adds:  “It’s a dichotomy between those who have studied the science of ecology and understand the inter-relationships of living things, and those who practice the politics of ecology, where the inter-relationships of living things are secondary to the inter-relationships of political factions.  I fiercely protect the earth and its life forms from degradation by those things that will truly harm them.  But clear thinking is opposed by those who fiercely protect their political agenda in the name of the ‘environment’ and who behave as if a chain saw among trees or a dry fly on a stream is as scary as a fire in a museum, when either one is no worse than scissors in a rose garden.  Maine’s forest products industry has cultivated the forest as a crop and maintained its ecological integrity.  If it had abused the environment as badly as the politically indignant allege, why is Maine still 90% forested?  If it were managed by truly greedy people, why were forest industry wages the envy of the state until Augusta began to regulate the employers out of business?  The shrill and self-righteous cry that harvesting ‘rapes’ the ‘environment.’  Well, I'll give you indignant: I’m sick of tree-huggers around logging operations, munching on smoked salmon, who nevertheless use our inexpensive Maine paper to print their propaganda.  These are the people in [Mame] who will have the hardest time letting go of what isn’t theirs in the first place.”

Harsh words, these, rarely heard against the cacophony of protest against any pursuit that generates a profit in the north, but indicative of the gulf between the two poles of the current population over the future of the north and east.  It’s not the rich who provide jobs in the north and east who are vilified in the area.  It’s the rich who “protect” the land and sea from those regions’ own inhabitants who are deeply resented there.

As Angus King winds down his second and last term as a governor, some will say he has taken a bold and wise step.  Others will say he has only tried to create a new state of which he can return as governor.

Dick Noyes, long-time resident of T1R9, had high praise for one additional element of Governor King’s February 7 comments.  According to the Bangor Daily News, King said the idea that federal or state governments should come in and rescue Washington County or any other area of the state is not the attitude to be taking.  “We have created an expectation in this country that every problem has a government solution and that’s not true,” King said.

Noyes heartily agrees.  “We haven’t even asked for help,” he said.  “All we’ve asked for and needed was to be left alone.  Instead we’ve been regulated out of business and are now assumed to need  handouts from Augusta and Washington.  Give us back our self-determination and we’ll take charge of our economic destiny all right.”

Governor King has stated his challenge.  He is a leader known for innovative thinking and one reputedly unaffected by party politics.  Now, will he do his part and get the spillover from Massachusetts out of the way so the real Maine’s destiny is its own, or will Augusta leave the handcuffs on and mock the north for not grabbing the shovel and getting down to business?

[See related rants, Home to Roost in Augusta and Make Lawyers Irrelevant.]