On Wednesday Speaker of the House John Richardson held an impromptu news conference. Press accounts of the event have left me wondering exactly what the Democrats are thinking. While the Speaker may have appeared tan and well-rested, what took place in his office might suggest that he could use a little more R&R this summer. I’m guessing that he’s been dodging bullets for so long trying to defend the economic mess the state is in that he’s getting tired.
I should begin by telling you that in addition to being a personal friend of Senator Woodcock, I also serve as co-Chair of his campaign team. But that relationship doesn’t color my impression of Wednesday’s news conference.
Speaker Richardson called the conference to express his outrage at comments he claimed were made by Senator and gubernatorial candidate Chandler Woodcock. Apparently he went on at length describing how it was a dishonest flip-flop for Chandler to suggest that the surplus claimed by the Governor should be returned to the taxpayers of Maine when the Senator was among those in the Legislature calling for the "rainy day fund" to be built back up during the 122nd Session.
The Speaker said he expected more from a lay minister than flip-flopping (he used the term three times) when he could have, at any time during the 122nd, offered amendments to the $36 million, bi-partisan agreement hashed out last Spring. Speaker Richardson called into question Chandler’s trustworthiness and criticized his position on social issues. He said candidate Woodcock has failed to define himself and accused him of hiding from the press. He said he was "hopping mad" when a College Republican handed out Woodcock’s response to the Governor’s claim of a surplus during his news conference the previous afternoon. I guess that while the Governor thinks he can hold his press conferences in the Cabinet Room so that he can hide, the CR’s think differently. Meanwhile, Speaker Richardson sounded more like an opponent of Woodcock than Speaker of the House.
The Speaker went on to blame President Bush, which seems to have become a sort of Tourette’s Syndrome among Democrats. He apparently vented for a good while until he felt he had exhausted his criticisms of Chandler Woodcock’s criticisms of the Governor.
The trouble is Chandler never said what Speaker Richardson claimed he said. Unfortunately for the Speaker there were several members of the press in the room who quickly corrected his error. The first question from the press was, "When did Chandler Woodcock say anything about returning the surplus to the people of Maine?" The Speaker said he read it in one of news stories written by another member of the press who was in the room. This individual asked quizzically, "Where in my story did I say that? Did I miss something?"
This hastily scheduled news conference should give us all a greater respect for the reporters who were present. They obviously take good notes and were quick to point out that any reference to returning the surplus to the taxpayers was made by Republican leadership, including myself, and not the Republican candidate for governor. The Speaker seemed contrite after being made aware of that fact, but that did not prevent him from accusing Chandler of flip-flopping one more time.
It is true that we have suspicions about the Governor’s claim of a surplus. It is a surplus at the expense of paying down our enormous debt. It is a surplus that comes at the cost of increased fees and taxes on everything in sight. It a surplus designed to hide the reality that Maine is last in many national indexes that we would rather be first in, and first in those that we ought to be striving to be last in. I’ve said it before, and it’s worth repeating: only two states in the nation had slowing economies last year, Louisiana and Maine. We all know Louisiana was hit by Hurricane Katrina. You can guess for yourself what it was that hit Maine.
Regardless, it is unfortunate to see the Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives resorting to inaccurate accusations of a candidate for office that he himself is not even campaigning for, let alone slinging personal attacks against the character of an honorable man like Chandler Woodcock. I would hope we hear an apology from the Speaker. I would also hope that he apologizes to the right person.