Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman hand out 2014 Political Awards for Excellence.

Phil: With 2014 fading quickly, how about we give a few Best of the Year awards for the past political season?

Ethan: Excellent idea. We can call them the 2014 Political Awards for Excellence otherwise known as the PAEs, which also stands for the “Phil And Ethan” awards.

Phil: Perfect. No doubt, in years to come, these will be coveted by all within the political class.

Ethan: Ladies and gentleman, as determined by a blue-and-red-ribbon panel, consisting exclusively of the two of us, we present to you the top 10 awards for political excellence in 2014.*

Campaign ad of the year

Winner: “November 4” The Republican Governor’s Association wins for its closing ad for Paul LePage featuring Barbara Bush. This ad, targeted to seniors, softened his blustery side by having the former first lady exclaim, “Paul is blunt. Direct. Like me.”

Runner-up: “Lead the way” Sen. Susan Collins’ team receives second place for its ad positioning Collins as a leader in brokering the agreement that re-opened the federal government

Comeback player of the year

Winner: Bruce “I’m not dead yet” Poliquin: After losing handily in two consecutive primaries, Poliquin came back to win a primary in which he started out 20 points down to Kevin Raye, and then the general, in which he started down by 5 points to Emily Cain.

Runner-up: John “I’m also not dead yet” Martin: The Eagle Lake Democrat won his 24th term to the Maine Legislature despite having been ousted two years ago, stripped of his speakership 20 years ago, and against whom the term limits law was passed.

Campaign director of the year

Winner: Brent Littlefield wins hands down, as he was the chief consultant to two winning races: Poliquin and LePage.

Runner-up: Matt McTighe receives second place for running a near flawless race for Mike Michaud, but simply coming up short in the final week.

Upset of the year

Winner: Terry Hayes: The former Democrat turned independent, Hayes defeated Democratic Incumbent Neria Douglas in the race for treasurer even though Democrats held the majority.

Runner-up: Erik Brakey: Newcomer Republican Brakey defeated Democratic Incumbent Sen. John Cleveland by more than 1,100 votes in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.

Best new idea of the year

Winner: “State Should Buy Verso:” When the Bucksport mill announced it was closing, Eliot Cutler proposed that the state buy the energy plant from Verso to provide low-cost power to local businesses. Love it or hate it, it was the most creative and different idea to come out of the campaign season.

Runner-up: “Sophomore Year Free:” In his “Maine Made Plan,” Michaud proposed making second year of college free to all Maine students. Affordable or not, this idea addressed the problem of college students dropping out in a way not previously discussed.

Best debate line

Winner: “Even a Frenchman can be taught to cool down.” LePage, in the first debate, closed with this line, which helped soften the liability his temperament had become, while assuring the electorate that he was aware of the problem.

Runner-up: “Taking care of veterans is more than having ice cream socials at the Blaine House.” Michaud said this line to LePage in the final debate, creating a clear contrast between his deep record assisting veterans and what he saw as the LePage’s thin record. It clearly got under LePage’s skin as then he tried to deflect the conversation to make it about his wife and not his record on veterans.

Worst debate moment

Winner: “You ought to listen to this Mike, you might learn something.” In the first televised debate, Cutler said this to Michaud. It was an unfortunate comment that fed Cutler’s image as being arrogant, so much so that he went on WCSH the next night and apologized on live TV.

Runner-up: “Fire Gov. LePage.” In the same televised debate, Michaud responded with this line to a question asking about his top job-creating priority. Besides not making sense (if Michaud were governor, LePage would already be fired), it was a thin answer to an important question.

Honorable mention: Cutler high-fiving LePage in the first debate. While appearing innocent enough in the moment, it fed fears that Cutler was in cahoots with the governor.

Agitator of the year

Winner: Mike Tipping: Tipping, a no-holds barred progressive working for the Maine People’s Alliance, exposed LePage’s meetings with militia groups, uncovered Rep. Larry Lockman’s past comments about rape and the IRS, and was generally a thorn in the side of conservatives.

Runner-up: Steve Robinson: a no-holds barred conservative working for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, Robinson didn’t uncover anything dramatic (although he tried with a now infamous secret recording), but he was a thorn in the side of Democrats with merciless, constant and biting attacks.

Bonehead play of the year

Winner: Cutler’s news conference announcing he was pulling out, but not really. This mistake didn’t have much impact on the race this year, but it definitely hurt Cutler’s reputation going forward. Ironically, had he simply pulled out, Cutler would have cemented his reputation as someone who sacrificed his own ambitions.

Runner-up: John Tuttle covering $17,000 of personal expenses with funds from a PAC he set up to assist other Democrats. The expenditures, while not illegal, cost him his re-election.

Honorable mention: Angus King endorsing Cutler in August, when it had already become apparent Cutler couldn’t win, and then reversing course and endorsing Michaud in the final week.

Courageous act of the year

Winner: Michaud for giving up a safe seat to run for governor and for publicly disclosing his being a gay man. Regardless of whether you like his politics, these decisions were significant sacrifices politically and personally that had deep repercussions.

Runner-up: Hampden Councilors Tom Brann and William Shakespeare, two U.S. veterans, who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of council meetings because they felt it was being trivialized. Agree with them or not, they stood up, or sat down, for what they believed.

*While we both agree with every awardee above, that does not mean we necessarily agree with the content or veracity. For instance, while we both believe that Michaud’s idea making sophomore year free was the top new idea, Phil almost spit out his coffee when he first read it in Mike’s “Maine Made Plan.” Likewise for Ethan in having to admit that Brent Littlefield, a man he lost to in a UMaine election, was the campaign director of the year.

Phil Harriman is a former Republican state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling is a former Democratic state senator from Portland. They can be contacted on Facebook at Agree to Disagree or Twitter: @senpeh and @ethan6_2.

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