A last nod to Roatan and its people…
My post last week about my trip to Roatan Island (off the north coast of Honduras) in 1972 struck a nerve with many – like how a pond ripples when a few stones are tossed in. Several people wrote in as relatives of Paul and Serina Ebanks, our hosts for 12 days in their idyllic beachside retreat, shared memories, and reconnected with other family. I’ve scanned many of my Ektachrome slides from the trip and sent them to several Ebanks relatives who’ve lived on the island for 50 years or more, or who have moved to the States. A few have become recent friends. We’ve all been mutually grateful, and if I could have that kind of “ripple response” for 1 out of 10 of my blog posts, I’d be one happy writer. Thanks to all of them – Aaron, Daine, Phillip in Florida, Brenda Lee, Gerald, Gary in Tennessee, Windward. It’s been a sublime experience, but it doesn’t last forever. Like, about a week.
Oh nooo, back into politics?!
Jonathan Fulford and Zak Ringelstein
Several months ago, I said I wouldn’t dip my toes into political waters again, but a few things have changed so that it’s nearly unavoidable. (Conservative Republicans and trolls, you can stop reading here). My wife’s been active on Facebook and elsewhere supporting the candidacies of Sen. Troy Jackson (for another term in Maine’s state District 1, way up north) and Jonathan Fulford (Congressional District 2, who seeks to unseat the quasi-execrable Bruce Poliquin). And just two weeks ago I got a call from Zak Ringelstein, running for Senate as a Democrat to challenge independent Angus King, and we had a great chat. The call came pretty much out of the blue, which is when you can have the most entertaining conversations.
Most of what I write isn’t about politics, but nearly everything I write (if it’s not recipes and questionable cooking tips) has a political resonance, and it veers pretty strongly left. You can, like me, be a Baby Boomer cruising Route 66 and the broad mythology of the American rural landscape, meeting ranchers and hunters and gold miners and rodeo riders, writing rhapsodically about them and their frontier spirit, and still be an ardent Berniecrat. It’s not hard! — and it’s true for me. And true, in 2016, for the 64% of Maine Democratic voters in the caucuses who supported Bernie.
So let’s get to it, left-leaners! We know Maine is a politically divided state – by a whisker here and there – and this year we have the opportunity to tip the scales.
I like Zak. Why? Energy, spine, smarts, Bernie-ish, committed.
Zak Ringelstein (from his Facebook page), with Jonathan Fulford standing rear right.
Portland’s Zak Ringelstein, age 31, progressive Democrat, is a fairly recent arrival to Maine from New Hampshire, an educator and educational software entrepreneur who’s never run for public office before. What does it take for a neophyte* to jump in the race and almost certainly face off with the redoubtable Angus King in November? A guy who won’t take PAC or corporate money for his campaign? A guy who’s certain to become a sacrificial lamb – at least according to political pundits – on the altar of King’s all-but-certain November victory?
*(I say “neophyte,” but Zak has worked with Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Gabby Giffords on educational issues, and co-led a campaign to block the nomination of know-nothing billionaire Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, so he has basic D.C. experience and has seen what a seething snakepit it can all be).
I’ve talked with Zak on the phone twice now, for about an hour and half total, and the answer became obvious. He is totally, viscerally committed to a progressive agenda (single payer health care, climate change, income inequality, dark money in politics, more) and has the grit, the spine, and confidence to see it through. Plus, he’s tapping into Maine’s enormous reservoir of left-over good will for Bernie Sanders. Like Bernie, Zak doesn’t mince words or meanings. He says what he means, and vice versa.
I used to be “pretty okay” with Angus King (I still get emails from him). But I was tweaked by his yea votes for Trump nominees Ryan Zinke (Interior) and Rick Perry (Energy). Zinke, in particular, has shown himself a pawn of energy companies and a threat to public lands, opening them up to drilling and fracking. This should not sit right with King. And I was more than tweaked by his yea vote on extending warrantless surveillance – an ongoing threat to our civil liberties. King serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which “is mandated with overseeing and studying the intelligence programs of the United States Government and to assure that those activities conform to the Constitution and the laws of United States.” It was a very close vote, and King was among a small handful who could’ve gone either way. He chose the wrong path. Among several other issues, King doesn’t support “Medicare for All,” and generally votes too dead-center for my tastes across the spectrum of the Senate. From GovTrack.us —
So I can’t find it in me to support King for another term.
Zak’s only Democratic rival is Ben Pollard, also of Portland. For the life of me I can’t find a website for him, or much in the way of news or anything, except this from Dec. 21. Pollard seems to be pretty centrist (he ran in 2012 for Senate, came in 4th out of 4 Democrats), but I find nothing about him on the issues. Nada. Come the Democratic primary in June, Zak should win handily against someone who is barely there.
Enter the wild card: Ranked Choice Voting
As of this writing, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is in an excellent position to take hold in time for the June primaries, thanks to the down-to-the-wire success of the “People’s Veto” campaign to reinstate the law. Barring excessively zealous petition signature validation by Maine Sec. of State Matt Dunlap (who has opposed RCV), primary ballots throughout the state will appear as RCV ballots. Likewise in the fall, for the general election, where many predict a King-Ringelstein-Brakey contest. (The Republican, Eric Brakey, can come across as pretty strange – a “liberty Republican,” sort of Rand or Ron Paul-ish.) RCV could offer a major boost to Zak, and divide centrist and right-leaning votes for King and Brakey. But without RCV, King would be very tough to beat.
So it comes down to this: I think Zak is far and away the best of the bunch. Even if I’d never talked with him, I’d have the same opinion – he’s the real deal, and with RCV in place come November, he’s got a fair shot. If victorious, he’d be this nation’s youngest senator.
I like Fulford to beat Poliquin in the 2nd Congressional District
Just so we all know: Jonathan Fulford is a Democrat running for Congress in Maine’s 2nd Congressional district, seeking to unseat Republican Bruce Poliquin.
My wife and I had lunch with Jonathan Fulford’s campaign manager, Phil Bailey, and his friend Margie at The Home Kitchen in Rockland last week where we had this fleeting fantasy-agreement that we wouldn’t talk politics. As they say these days, Epic Fail! Phil is nothing if not a full-time political junkie with pretty broad experience, and he’s thrown this considerable political heft behind Fulford. Among his many insights at lunch was one that speaks volumes about Jonathan, a busy and successful builder (and farmer). Phil noted that Jonathan helps many of his construction crew get started on their own as general contractors, giving them the know-how and support to get into the business and potentially compete with him (!)
I talked with Jonathan by phone a few days ago for about 45 minutes. It was 7:30 AM (he’s a morning person), and my second cup of coffee hadn’t fully kicked in. If this had been a formal interview, coffee deprivation could lead to chaos, but fortunately we were just having a “chat,” and when Jonathan warmed up he launched into an array of issues he’s passionate about. My wife and I aren’t crazy about his website – you have to dig a little to see his views on the issues – but after you explore a bit you’ll know who this guy is.
Fulford in his trademarked blue shirt, dark vest, and tan pants, before a candidates’ forum in Belfast Jan. 21. All the signs outside were Fulford signs…
Fulford has the endorsement of Local Berniecrats Maine, a division of Bernie’s “Our Revolution,” and recently got the backing of former Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin. These two endorsements help solidify his base and strengthen his position against his leading competitor, Jared Golden (Craig Olson, Tim Rich, and Lucas St. Clair are also running). Fulford challenged these four fellow Democrats to sign his “Pine Tree Pledge,” limiting campaign contributions to small donors and rejecting corporate and PAC funding. None of them did.
Here again, RCV becomes a big player in the June primaries, with six Democratic candidates jostling for one slot.
Fulford supporter in Belfast: Like Ringelstein, “he’s the real deal”
Jared Golden (from his campaign website)
A bit about Jared Golden. He’s currently a state rep from Lewiston, and Assistant Majority Leader. Golden served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, and does not shy away from references to his military background. This is where I start to get a little squirrelly, knowing plenty of veterans who don’t talk much – if at all – about their military service. Perhaps, in Golden’s case, it’s regarded as an asset in politics and government, and a plus on his resume. I don’t know, but the subject is endlessly debatable and not likely to be productive.
CORRECTION, 1/26: the original version of the paragraph above included the statement “He (Golden) has the support and backing of the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC, or D-TripleC), which recruits and promotes candidates for the U.S. House.” In fact, the DCCC hasn’t formally weighed in with an endorsement in the Democratic primary and isn’t fundraising for any particular candidate in the race.
Apologies for the inaccuracy.
If there’s one unacknowledged theme about these two races – campaigns for the Senate and the House – it is this: most candidates focus largely on what they would do for Maine and its people. That’s fine to a point, but in my own view both Ringelstein and Fulford exhibit a much wider, more global perspective that goes beyond Maine, knowing full well that once they’re in Congress the entire nation, and much of the world, stand ready to benefit from what they do.
There it is. Back to other stuff next time.