Bringing humor to the humorless

If you thought you felt the earth tremble last week, you weren’t imagining it. The quake epicenter was in Blue Hill, and it came on the heels of fire chief extraordinaire Denny Robertson announcing that he would step down. He said in a news interview, “An all-night fire now stretches me right out.”

Robertson is serious about all the right things – family, firefighting and community – but a joyful hell raiser about everything else. He is an epic storyteller, able to lay down a line of Maine-speak that leaves everyone within earshot weak-kneed and likely to bust out laughing two weeks later at the thought of it.

The value of humor, judiciously applied, is underrated. Whether it is a sly poke at a figure in need of deflating or a self-directed jab when warranted, it is a way to remind us that our foibles can be fodder for laughter, and in doing so, we are both revealed and forgiven.

If you are from away and you want a few lessons in how to live in Maine, follow a man like Robertson around. He knows everyone. He knows when to weigh in and when to zip it. He knows who needs what and how to get it to them without them feeling beholden. He knows which buttons to push, and he knows when not to push them.

His lesser-known interests include a little drawing, a little carving and a lot of writing. He was a columnist for The Weekly Packet and a poet who wrote tributes to friends on their passing and to life events that affected him. As a firefighter, one of those was 9/11.

In what could be his signature statement, he once claimed, “We didn’t invent mischief, but we were carriers.” Indeed. Keep spreading that around, Denny. May you continue to infect us all.

In our current political times, humor has left the building. Gov. Paul LePage, who actually does have a Maine sense of fun, keeps it under wraps. He would do well to unleash it.

Is he feeling empowered by the success of you-know-who? LePage is being grimly contrarian these days, digging his heels in on Real ID, a Riverview adjunct mental health facility, the marijuana moratorium and the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program.

He teetered on the brink of deep-sixing a legislative agreement on a moratorium on the marijuana referendum passed by the citizens in November. A complex policy initiative, the voters treated it as an up or down vote on the recreational use of weed, but it was actually much more than that. Among other things, it inadvertently repealed the restriction on possession and use of marijuana by those under 21.

Having supported a moratorium for corrective action, the governor then demanded that the legislation move enforcement from the Agriculture Department, as specified by the referendum, to the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, and that an appropriation for funding the effort be included.

The Legislature supported both of these provisions but planned to accomplish them in the normal course of things rather than through an emergency bill. In the end, the governor relented and signed the bill.

He laid Rep. Chellie Pingree out in lavender for not attending the presidential inauguration, and likewise, House Speaker Sarah Gideon, for her failure to include his favored provisions in the emergency marijuana moratorium. Though he has skirted the edge of personal confrontations, he has so far stuck with his pledge this term not to levy personal attacks on individual elected officials.

At least the Legislature has retained its sense of humor. They hauled personnel from Maine PowerOptions before them last week to grill them about their management of power-purchasing pools. Reports indicate that something like $500 million of public money has been spent without legislative oversight. For 16 years.

Fear not. The Legislature is on it. It took some digging by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting to pique the Legislature’s interest, but now they are determined to get to the bottom of this, passing it along to OPEGA, the Office of Program Evaluation and Accountability, for investigation.

Similarly, the Legislature is slowly waking up to the sweetheart deal of operating gambling casinos in Maine. The few casinos that have been approved have written their own rules and then done their best to pull up the ladder. Five subsequent casino proposals have been rejected.

Promises that casino revenue would help to support state fairs, harness racing and education have not yielded significant returns. In particular, harness racing is a sport declining in enthusiasts, and when one thinks about the most urgent issues facing our state, is harness racing one of them? Neigh.

The sensibilities of a Denny Robertson may still work well at the local level, but they no longer translate to state politics. Once upon a time, a charismatic figure with the Maine gift of gab could exert significant influence in Augusta, but the fun has largely gone out of it, and Maine is the poorer for it.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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