Thursday, February 24, 2011

Here We Go Again

I came home tonight and went straight to the checkbook and wrote one out to the Maine Women's Lobby, because the Governor has once again demonstrated his vast contempt for the women of Maine. It made me feel a little better, but not much.

First, let me say thank you to my dad and my grandfather and all the other veterans out there for their military service. It's because of them that we have the freedom to rant and rave and call elected officials mysoginistic morons and other choice words that I will not use in public. (Thank God the cat isn't a parrot.) It's probably not what they had in mind while they were traipsing through the jungles of Vietnam or riding a tank through WW-II Europe, but still. I appreciate it. Freedom of speech is an amazing thing, and I don't take it for granted.

So yeah, the Governor. First, he decided he doesn't buy the scientific evidence that the chemical BPH is harmful and was widely quoted in the news as saying, "worst case is some women have little beards". Oh yes, he did. Makin' us all SO very proud, y'know. I'm so thrilled to know that yet another man in a powerful position has utterly no regard for the health and safety of the women he represents. Or, y'know, his own daughter. (That's heavy sarcasm, in case it isn't clear.)

His next task? He FIRED Dr. Dora Mills, who is an extremely well-regarded public health official who served under two previous governors - one an Independent and one a Democrat. Personally I don't care what his spokesperson says, it's impossible to believe it wasn't a result of her past support of banning BPH. I also can't help but look at her resume and think, well, someone was seriously outclassed -- and it wasn't Dr. Mills.

Oh, but the fun continues. In case you haven't noticed, I have two hot buttons -- women's issues and small businesses. I am a fervent believer in supporting small, independent businesses, not the least of which is because they create about 75% of new jobs in this country (a good list of other reasons can be found here and there's plenty of additional research over here). But I also suppport small businesses because I grew up in rural Western Maine at a time before the big box stores took over. We bought shoes at Swett's and clothes at the Block Store and Margo's and sometimes I'd tag along with Dad went he went to Longley's to buy nails or to Pike's to buy work pants. Longley's is still there, but almost every other store is gone now. Why? Honestly, it was a multitude of causes (including the closure of a dowel mill) but one huge factor was that WalMart came to town -- well, the next town over -- and slowly but surely the area's small downtown businesses were decimated and went out of business. [Incidentally, it's been a 10-year effort to rebuild the downtown and there have been some successes along the way, but it's been a tough haul with many really great people losing a lot of sleep, blood, sweat and tears. Visit here to see the fruits of their labor.]

I admit there's some element of nostalgia there for me, but it's also the simple fact that all over the state of Maine, big box stores have put small, often family owned businesses OUT of business. Even up in The County (Aroostook, Northern Maine for you non-Mainers), Canadians still flock across the border to shop -- but at the WalMart in Presque Isle, not the downtowns they drive through to get there. These small business owners are REAL, honest-to-God Maine people we're talking about - good, hardworking business men and women who pay taxes and coach little league and vote and put on church suppers for the families worse off than them. And we put them out of business so we can buy really cheap toothbrushes at big box stores and call it economic development.

The other thing? Have you been to Rockland lately? Rockland's a beautiful town on the coast of Maine, with one of the loveliest downtown districts in the state and a pristine harbor. If you are out in the harbor on a lovely summer day on a sailboat, do you know what you will see? A huge bright orange Home Depot sign, because they built a Home Depot up on the side of a hill that overlooks the harbor. Yep, that's just the way life should be.

So a few years ago a coalition of organizations got together and helped pass the Informed Growth Act, which among other things states that towns must take the economic impact of big box stores into consideration before permitting the project. Well, guess what. The Governor wants to repeal that too, because it's "biased against big box stores".

Well, yeah, that was sort of the point. And why, exactly, is that a bad thing? Why are we worried about protecting out-of-state, multi-billion dollar international companies instead of protecting local businesses???

I know, I know. Marden's, the company the Governor used to work for, is a Maine-owned big box store. That is true. And that did give me pause for a moment, particularly since the Marden's Lady from their ads is from the area I grew up in. (I'm more of a Reny's gal myself, in large part because there are several Reny's stores that anchor downtown districts and do just fine.) There's no doubt in my mind LePage's wish to repeal this law is directly related to his past employer (no special interests, my ass). Regardless, I still believe it's important for towns to assess the impact of any big box store coming to town - whether it's owned by a Maine company or not. In addition to economic impact, the Informed Growth Act allows towns to consider things like traffic implications, air and water quality, and those are important issues for small towns. And, truthfully, if it helps protect Maine's small business owners against the Wal-Marts of the world, I'm ultimately okay with making life a little bit difficult for Marden's. I can live with that trade-off.

I am well aware that it's all too easy for me to sit here in another state and spout off about this stuff from the safety of my little apartment in a renovated textile mill, with a bustling and quaint downtown just a ten minute walk away, and a job I happily potter off to (though I loathe and despise the commute into Boston every day). It's so weird to me that I had to leave Maine to find what I wanted - it was kind of like breaking up with a really great guy that you really love but just isn't working out...and every once and awhile you hear a song or see someone on the street that reminds you of him and you get a little sad, even though you know you did what you had to do. (Or, y'know, you pitch a raging hissy fit because you find out on Facebook that he got married and didn't tell you, not long after giving you a key to his house.) It's a weird analogy, I know, but it's the best one I have. The point is, I'm sad that I'm not in Maine now, that I'm not fighting this from within, because I love it and it's incredibly important to me...but I also know I'm here for awhile, and these rants on my blog are about all I can offer up in solidarity.

Also? It might be time to make some whoopie pies.

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