Friday, June 29, 2012

Governor LePage should be ashamed of himself

I started this as a letter to the editor after reading this morning's Lewiston Sun Journal, but (surprise!) it got way too long (250 word maximum? Really? At 250 words, I was just getting warmed up) so I'm posting it here instead. It won't be read by thousands, but just writing it made me feel a little better.
Governor Paul LePage is an embarrassment to the state of Maine.

Since running for election less than two years ago, he has thumbed his nose at President Obama (saying he’d tell him “to go to hell”), at the NAACP (“tell ‘em to kiss my butt”), at state workers (calling them “about as corrupt as can be”), and, repeatedly, at the people of Maine.

He dismissed concerns over the chemical additive BPA in consumer products, joking that “it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. So the worst case is some women may have little beards.” 

He opposed the removal of the Great Works Dam on the Penobscot River, saying, “It’s irresponsible to be taking out hydro dams,” and refused to attend the ceremony marking its demolition. This, despite the fact that conservation, recreation, economic, and energy interests all hailed the agreement that brought about the dam’s historic removal while providing for power-generation upgrades to other existing dams. 

He banned the state fire marshal’s office from testifying at the hearing on lifting the ban on the sale and use of fireworks in Maine. Apparently he didn’t feel that the concerns of State Fire Marshal John Dean, who opposed the bill to legalize fireworks on safety grounds, were relevant to the hearing. 

He initiated cuts to child-care subsidies under both TANF and Head Start, as well as cuts to the home-visiting program under the Fund for a Healthy Maine. These programs specifically target low-income parents who are working or attending school in an effort to attain self-sufficiency for their families (i.e., get off of assistance programs), and families at high risk of child abuse, neglect, and substance abuse.

Now, in a blow that undermines the incredibly hard work of Maine people, LePage has frozen funding for the $400,000 matching grant awarded to the town of Norway under the Communities for Maine’s Future program. This funding (approved by Maine voters in 2010 as part of a $25 million bond initiative) was earmarked for the renovation of six storefronts in Norway’s historic Opera House, a $1.1 million project that was slated to go out to bid in the next couple of weeks.

Is Governor LePage aware that a group of committed citizens in the Norway area have been working for five years to bring about this renovation project? 

Is he aware that the purchase and stabilization of the Opera House—an 1894 structure that is part of the Norway Historic District, and was, until recently, in imminent danger of collapsing onto Main Street—was made possible by a $200,000 private donation from residents Bill and Bea Damon? 

Is he aware of the tireless fundraising and countless volunteer hours that have gone into helping to get this project off the ground—and that in service to the endeavor, those volunteers employed such diverse talents as scrubbing, scouring, trash removal, staple-pulling, jewelry design, and musical composition?   

Is he aware that delaying the CMF grant funding—which, under state law, he will eventually have to release—could jeopardize the matching federal and state tax credits, which are essential to the project and are due to expire next year? 

Is he aware that this project is aimed at providing jobs, encouraging new business, and revitalizing a historic downtown area? Exactly what does the governor think it means to be “open for business,” anyway?

Governor LePage’s inappropriate behavior and off-the-cuff remarks may be merely an embarrassment to our state, but his ignorance, obstinacy, and arbitrary heavy-handedness are a danger to our future. As a friend commented, “One could say that he is a joke, but this is much more serious than that.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

WWW@100: A Dad’s Legacy

Today is June 22, 2012, and it’s a momentous occasion. Who knows why? If you guessed because it’s the 76th birthday of Kris Kristofferson (the man I consider absolutely the best American songwriter ever and, yes, the man on whom I’ve had a serious crush for forty years), you’d be only partly right. Today is also the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of my dad, William Walton Wight.

Dad was an amazing man. He was talented, smart, and capable. He could build anything, fix anything, figure anything out. He loved poetry and liked to quote it, especially Robert Frost, Robert Service, and Holman Day. He was born in Oquossoc and raised in Bethel and he was the quintessential Mainer—practical, resourceful, and outdoorsy—until the day he died, even though he spent the last half of his life living in exile in Connecticut.

He liked people, and they liked him. “Everyone loved your father,” my mother once told me, a touch of bemusement in her voice. (No doubt she felt a bit mystified, a little wistful—the sentiments with which we introverts regard those Others: the ones who light up a room, whose personalities draw people to them and effortlessly hold them enthralled.)

My dad worked hard at his job—he had majored in metallurgical engineering and worked at Pratt & Whitney Small Tool in West Hartford—and, with a partner, he started his own small metals heat-treating business on the side which, remarkably, still exists today, more than 60 years later. (While he was involved with the company, it was very much a shoestring operation—he used to bring metal rods home and get my mother to temper them in her oven.)

But as busy as he was, there was never any question that his first priority was family. He took my four older siblings hiking, camping, and rockhounding. He helped lead my brothers’ Boy Scout troop. They all built a wooden boat together from a kit—it, too, still exists today. They played Scrabble, did jigsaw puzzles, went
to church, got a family dog.
 And he and my mother brought the kids to Maine as often as possible. They learned the names of all the trees in the Maine woods and all the Maine minerals they found. In the mid-1950s they bought a lot on North Pond in Woodstock and then, together, they built our camp.
In a way, it’s remarkable that I know this much about my dad, when you consider that he died in 1958, more than eight months before I was born. But it’s a testament to his legacy, to the far-reaching influence he has had on my siblings and, indirectly but inarguably, on their children and grandchildren as well.

And on me. I remember asking my mother once, when I was quite young, “How old was I when Daddy died?” She looked confused, and explained gently that he had died before I was ever born. Then it was my turn to be confused. “But I remember him,” I insisted. And it seemed to me that I did. His legacy was to remain a vital part of the family he left behind, during my childhood and beyond—even now, more than five decades after his death.

His legacy is in the wooden boat and the family camp—with his musty suede camp jacket and plaid wool shirts still hanging in the closets. It’s in the fact that by the time we went to kindergarten we could all identify feldspar, mica, quartz, beryl, tourmaline, and—our favorite because we loved the way it rolled off our tongues—lavender lepidolite. It’s in the way, over the years, we’ve all been drawn to the state of Maine—three of us to stay—and the way, I think, we all consider Maine our true spiritual home. It’s in the way we all love the woods, the water, our kids. It’s in every part of our lives.