Deep State: In the North Woods Power-Line Fight, Who Will Triumph? Insiders or Outsiders?

Deep State: In the North Woods Power-Line Fight, Who Will Triumph? Insiders or Outsiders?

Thursday, April 25, 2019 6:52 AM

Whether CMP’s unpopular transmission line should be built through the Maine North Woods—a policy question—is being debated widely. But less has been discussed about the politics of the battle. Who’s fighting whom was the subject of Part One of this two-part series. Now we ask: Who is likely to win, and why?

PART TWO:

Insiders Often Beat Outsiders, But ...


He often sits with a group of working-class, middle-aged women and men wearing white “No CMP Corridor” T-shirts. Duane Hanson — thin, longish blond hair, 65, wearing a green-and-black-checked wool shirt — is a fixture at legislative hearings on bills dealing with Central Maine Power Co.’s planned 145-mile transmission-line corridor through the state.

The line would take 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Canada to Massachusetts, cutting across 53 miles of mostly uninhabited North Woods. Theoretically, it would contribute to the Bay State’s turn to renewable energy to help curb global warming. But critics say it’s “dirty hydro” because huge forests were destroyed to provide reservoirs for the Canadian dams. Intact forests absorb from the atmosphere the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. ...


Gov. Mills, too, happens to be from an insider family, a “moderate” Republican one. Her father was United States attorney for Maine. Her brother Peter Mills, a former legislator, is Maine Turnpike Authority director. He also was one of the founding board members of Western Mountains & Rivers.
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Who Are the Insiders?

Political insiders are officeholders, political-party leaders, top bureaucrats, and the people who influence them such as lobbyists for powerful interests. Insiders are privy to knowledge that outsiders aren’t. Outsiders and their usually ad hoc groups are in varying degrees the opposite: the unconnected and unconsulted.

There’s constant exchange among insider groups — ex-legislators become lobbyists, lobbyists become bureaucrats, and so on. Taken together, they’re what the Russians under communism called the Apparat, the Apparatus — interconnected people who decide things.

(Sound like “deep state” territory? Discerning readers have noted that by calling my column Deep State I’m having fun with that right-wing conspiracy theory. The Maine Apparat has a resemblance in form to the paranoid fantasy of the deep state, such as in its back-room dealings, but in content it’s largely corporate in orientation — not left-wing. It’s also variegated and not all-powerful. For me, my column’s title signifies my intention to dig deep into Maine issues.)

The Apparatus tends to be corporate because — to stick to local explanations — corporate lobbyists swarm the State House and the rest of state government. There are 249 lobbyists currently registered with the state. There are only 186 legislators. A few years ago, I calculated that, roughly, two-thirds of the lobbyists represented corporations.

CMP has seven that I could find listed with the state Ethics Commission. In the case of the corridor, there are lobbyists for other companies promoting it. And a fair number of lobbyists are working against it.
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Jonathan Carter, a past Green Party candidate for governor, decries “rich armchair environmentalists” touting “eco-balancing” in the face of the enormity of climate change. ...

 

Who Will Win?

If the state DEP, the Land Use Planning Commission, or an approving agency on the federal level or in Massachusetts said no, that would probably be the end for the corridor, although appeals are possible.

Jerry Reid, DEP commissioner, decides for his department. Environmental groups supported him at his confirmation, but in practice decisions in state-government departments often go along with the wishes of the ultimate executive authority. Gov. Mills is in favor of the corridor. A decision is expected in the fall.
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Political scientist Jim Melcher, of the University of Maine at Farmington, called Mills the “most conservative” candidate in the 2018 Democratic primary. To her peril, the Democratic Party is continually moving toward the corporate-critical left — toward where issue polls have for years shown the American people to be. As Bernie Sanders showed in the 2016 presidential race, there’s a large population of disgruntled outsiders susceptible to lefty arguments.

With Mills’ corridor position and her no-new-taxes pledge — firming up Republican former Gov. Paul LePage’s tax cuts for the rich — she keeps risking holding on to the Democrats’ core. With the corridor she also may alienate independents and will further alienate Republicans, since the poll showed they’re even more opposed to the corridor than Democrats.

On the Maine Public show “Maine’s Political Pulse,” reporter Steve Mistler called Mills’ endorsement of the corridor “a real political trap.” He is correct.

Maybe she sincerely believes the CMP corridor is best for Maine despite what Maine people believe. Maybe she can be convinced otherwise. But just looking at the politics, the logical strategy for her is to find a way to get out of the trap. Perhaps the DEP or LD 640’s study will provide her with that.

But she’s the ultimate insider now and has been an insider for a long time — as attorney general, state representative, and maybe even from birth. It might be hard for her to break out. Insiders tend to consult other insiders.

Regardless, on this issue the outsiders have a very good chance.

 

 

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