State of Maine: Tired rhetoric and gimmicks

The primary elections are edging closer, and one of the livelier races is the Republican primary for the U.S Senate seat currently held by Angus King. King, a former Maine governor, is right up there in the pantheon of Muskie-Cohen-Mitchell-Snowe-Collins as one of the most respected politicians in living memory.

He has opposition all over the place, Democratic, Republican and independent, but it will be an uphill battle to unseat him. Nothing has worked to reduce his popularity in previous elections, and in his six years in the Senate, he has distinguished himself as thoughtful, decent and plain-spoken.

To the extent Republicans hope to unseat him, they are not well-served by the circus that has erupted around their primary. The contestants are state Sen. Eric Brakey (Auburn) and Max Linn, usually tagged as a “financial planner from Bar Harbor,” but whose filing form shows a post office box in Ellsworth as his address.

The candidates engaged in a battle to knock each other out of the primary, before the primary. Both obtained the required number of signatures for ballot access, and both had their signatures certified by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. Then the fun began.

The two campaigns challenged each other’s signatures. Linn’s, said Brakey, contained signatures from dead people. Brakey’s, said Linn, contained signatures obtained by a convicted felon.

The question of the felonious signature-gatherer for Brakey was dropped before a hearing on the matter, but the question of signatures from the deceased as well as other alleged fraudulent signings for Linn was pursued. There were candidates, lawyers and witnesses at a hearing that Linn said lasted seven hours.

Prior to the hearing, Linn said it was “time to shine the bright light of debate on cowardly Eric Brakey,” incorporating the epithet into Brakey’s official title, as in “Senator Cowardly Eric Brakey.” Brandishing an enlarged mock-up of a $25,000 check, he urged “cowardly Eric Brakey” to “stand up, be a man and debate the issues.” If Brakey would agree to hold 16 debates with Linn prior to June 1 (one in each county), Linn would donate $25,000 to the National Rifle Association.

Linn’s parting shot was this: “We look forward to Eric accepting our challenge unless he’s the coward I think he is.” But parting it was. Journalists tried to ask what evidence Linn had for his claim that it was Brakey behind the zombie signatures on his petitions, but Linn declined to respond, saying only, “We’re going to end the press conference,” at which point he walked off.

After review, some signatures were stricken, but 2,018 of them remained valid, qualifying him for the ballot. Perhaps the most significant statement on the whole uproar came from Mark Foley of Brewer, whose name appeared on a Linn petition though he said under oath he had never signed it.

“I have never even heard of Mr. Brakey or Mr. Linn until Tuesday.” So much for Brakey having jumped into the U.S. Senate race a year ago (April 7, 2017). With much of the Maine public, he is still a complete unknown.

Because candidates are utterly consumed with their elections and think and talk of little else, they think everyone around them is focused on that, too. Not so. Most of us are going about our usual routines, paying bills or going to school, snowmobiling or going to the movies, minding the kids or watching TV. Some of us read the interviews with candidates published in the newspapers. Fewer of us turn out for candidate debates or forums to see the candidates in person.

Then, close to Election Day, we turn to a trusted friend or neighbor and say, “Who should I vote for?” Who indeed? A good start would be to cross off your list any candidate who indulges in excruciatingly tired rhetoric, stupid nicknames and gimmicks like the check to the NRA.

Linn was an active and longtime campaigner for term limits in Florida. He endorsed George H.W. Bush (R) and Lamar Alexander (R) for president in 1992 and 1996 respectively, and both Barack Obama (D) and Ron Paul (Libertarian) for president in 2008.

He lost a gubernatorial bid in Florida in 2006, running in the Reform Party and winning just 2 percent of the vote. He ran for Florida’s state Senate in 1990 as a Republican (he lost) and entered (and lost) a congressional race in Florida in 2008 as a Democrat. (Brakey’s campaign is funding a website called “The Real Max Linn.”)

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Brakey will mount a legitimate, if doomed, challenge to King, but we’ll be looking at Linn in the rear view mirror when the primary is over.

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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