By D. Allan Kerr
Raised by optimists as I was, I like to think most people enter politics to make the world around them a better place. They may not agree on what that world looks like, but in theory both sides have noble intentions.
And then there are the politics of stupidity – which at times appear to be the rule of law in Maine these days. Consider what is happening right now in Kittery, the state’s oldest town and the place I call home.
We have a small parcel of land here called John Paul Jones Memorial Park, so named because it is located near the site where Revolutionary War ships were built for the great Navy hero.
As parks go, it isn’t much bigger than a postage stamp. However, it happens to be one of the first points of interest motorists, pedestrians and cyclists see when they cross Memorial Bridge from downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, into the southernmost tip of Maine.
The park is sorely in need of upkeep. The pole bearing the American flag is peeling and rusted, the benches are pretty ragged-looking and the imposing World War I memorial that greets passersby needs a good cleaning.
Kittery has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in recent years, so this isn’t quite the first impression we want to give visitors – or residents.
The problem is, the park is currently owned by the State of Maine. As a result, the town is limited in what it can do with this parcel.
Kittery would like to be able to shape its own destiny rather than leaving it under the control of the state government, and I should think that’s consistent with the “Maine way.” I would also think that would be the preference of a state administration opposed to “big government.”
Two years ago, officials implemented a process paving a path for such a transfer to take place. It went like this:
- In March 2015, local lawmakers Dawn Hill, Deane Rykerson and Bobbi Beavers sponsored a resolution in the Maine Legislature to convey the park to the Town of Kittery.
- On May 13, the Legislature approved the resolution.
- On June 8, Paul LePage – the current occupant of the Maine governor’s seat – vetoed the bill.
- On June 9, the Legislature overrode that veto by a vote of 137 to 2 in the state House of Representatives – with 12 absent – and a vote of 35 to 0 in the state Senate.
- On October 1, the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry submitted a financial order for this conveyance to the budget office.
- On October 23, LePage rejected that order.
And so for almost a year-and-a-half now, this process has been stalled on the governor’s desk. Kittery had previously looked after the park under a maintenance agreement, but now this agreement has expired.
Last month, Kittery Town Manager Kendra Amaral informed our town council she had contacted the governor’s office about the status of the conveyance and was simply told, “No.”
“There was no additional information that was provided to that ‘No,’ as much as I probed and questioned,” she explained. “It was just a simple, ‘It will not happen – the governor will not sign the conveyance.’”
Being a nosy sort, I also contacted the governor’s office to try to learn the reason behind the holdup. After a quite cordial but rather vague dance of e-mails with LePage’s senior policy advisor, Lance Libby, I received the following response:
“As you may know the legislation did not require him to convey the property but gave him the ability to do so if he wished to. He has decided not to sign the conveyance at this time.”
I was then told I could write a letter to LePage questioning his rationale for this non-action. I did so and Libby kindly passed that on. But I’ve received no response.
Deane Rykerson, Kittery’s representative in the House, has also contacted the governor’s office about the park but as of this writing he’s received no response.
Kittery’s town council has sought an answer from LePage, but to the best of my knowledge has received none.
The closest I can find to some sort of explanation is a rambling quote from May 2015 when LePage said, in part, “the governor of Maine is going to make sure that every bill that comes down from the House and the Senate with a Democrat sponsor will be required to have a two-thirds vote, because I’m going to veto every one.”
Now, I understand there may be more relevant issues concerning Maine than a tiny park in a small town, but the point here is there’s no valid reason not to sign this conveyance – other than petty politics. All necessary steps have been taken, other than the five seconds it would take LePage to sign his name.
“The Town of Kittery, the Maine State Legislature, the Bureau of Parks and Lands, all cooperated to transfer John Paul Jones Park to the Town of Kittery,” Rykerson noted this week. “Governor LePage doesn’t believe that government works and, once again, he is out to prove it.”
As you might have heard, the man now occupying the governor’s office has a penchant for saying really, really stupid things. Things that help create the impression of Maine as a backwater of ignorance and dumb hicks.
But you know, being a constant source of embarrassment for the people you were elected to govern is bad enough – using them as pawns in a playground power struggle is simply inexcusable.
Then again, I’m just one of those guys who went into Maine to impregnate one of their white girls, so what do I know?
(March 18, 2017)