Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman discuss last week’s political topics and antics.

Ethan: Political topics and antics came in bunches this week. Seems like we should use our popular Smart or Not Smart format, so we don’t miss out on your “above-average” and my “exceeding-expectations” analysis on all these stories.

Phil: Not Smart. You run the risk of exposing that I’m the one with superior insight.

Ethan: I run that risk every week. So far, I’m not feeling vulnerable… Let’s start.


Sen. Mike Willette, R-Presque Isle, formally apologized for posting offensive comments about Muslims, immigrants and President Barack Obama on his Facebook page, but Senate Republicans will not agree to a formal rebuke nor will Willette resign. Smart or Not Smart?

Ethan: Smart that he apologized. Not Smart that Republicans won’t condemn his actions. Smart that he won’t resign. Although the apology was perhaps not reflective enough, I did feel it was heartfelt. That said, I am amazed at how hard it seems to be for Republicans to condemn racism among their own. Do they not understand how saying “Muslims should be rounded up and air-dropped” is bigoted and racist? Do they have Facebook posts of their own that they are now scared may leak? Either way, they should have the courage to take your lead and publicly condemn his statements, as you did on WCSH/WLBZ. As for resigning, that is a decision for his conscience and his constituents.

Phil: What was he thinking? Not Smart that Willette didn’t realize that his social media postings would be akin to driving around his district with a loudspeaker mounted on the roof of his car.

Ethan: I don’t think you mean to say that the problem is where he made these statements. The problem is what he said.

Phil: Yes, for sure. That is why it was Smart that he publicly apologized in the Senate chamber on the record for all to read. It was also Smart that the Senate president decided to not take further action. Can you imagine the precedent that would set for every time a senator wrote or spoke ignorantly? The Senate would turn into a Judge Judy court.


Ten days after protesting to the Department of Health and Human Services that Portland was doing nothing wrong in how it billed General Assistance, the city agreed to implement a new system that declared the state was 100 percent correct. Smart or Not Smart?

Ethan: Smart, but 10 days too late. Did we really have to go through all that, just to realize that Portland is going to do exactly what the state requests? It sounds like city staff understood that this would be the outcome, but the politicians had to turn it into an opportunity for headlines.

Phil: Not Smart that Mayor Michael Brennan played the I’m-a-political-victim card in his response to the audit. Not Smart that the mayor pulled the admired leader of the Preble Street shelter, Mark Swann, into the fray, suggesting somehow he was part of the problem. He isn’t. Mark is just providing a warm, safe place for people who need it. Smart that Portland saw the light and implemented a solution that was right in front of it.


When a Democrat won the House seat in Rockland, Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett proclaimed this was a rebuke of the governor, while Republican Chairman Rick Bennett released a statement ignoring the winning candidate and taking a potshot at the legislator who vacated the seat. Smart or Not Smart?

Phil: Smart for Republicans if Bartlett thinks the election of a Democrat in a heavily Democratic district is an indictment of LePage’s policies. Isn’t that the same strategy your team used try to to unseat our incumbent governor last fall? How’d that work out?

Ethan: We Democrats appear to still be partying like it’s 2014. As much as I love Phil (Bartlett, that is, although I love you too, big guy), the election in Rockland was not a reflection on LePage, his budget or his tax reform plan. It was simply a reflection of the district wanting to vote for the Democrat (which it has done for 10 straight years). As for Bennett, c’mon Rick! A simple “Congrats to the new representative” would not have been hard. Not Smart on either of their parts.

Phil: I say, Smart that Bennett used the occasion to point out that it a Democrat caused this mess by resigning a month into her term, but I agree it was Not Smart that he didn’t offer a congratulatory olive branch.


Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills both declared victory after the court ruled that Mills could deny representing the governor, but couldn’t control the purse strings should he use a private law firm. Smart or Not Smart?

Phil: Smart that this controversy highlights the fact that the attorney general is a political office first and a law firm second. Smart that the Maine Supreme Court affirmed that the governor, with concurrence of the AG, can use outside counsel the governor then controls.

Ethan: Smart that the Supremes affirmed the separation of powers between these two constitutional offices — more reasoning that we should not bring the AG under the thumb of the governor. But I do hope that the Gov. will end his battle with Mills and finally focus on the work at hand, as it would be Not Smart for him to carry this grudge further.


Hillary Clinton created a home-based email system when she was Secretary of State, but didn’t turn over the server and all emails when she left the position. Smart or Not Smart?

Ethan: OK, I will agree that it was Not Smart for Hillary to keep the server, but I also will concur with her paranoia. After all, her husband got impeached for an extramarital affair that was discovered when a prosecutor had lost the scent on his original investigation and simply went on a witch hunt.

Phil: It was Smart on her part to control the data bank so she could insulate herself from questions she doesn’t want to answer. Not Smart if she wants to run for president. Even your side must be scratching your heads wondering how could she have put the party on the side of secrecy.

Ethan: I suspect we both scratch our heads at a lot of what politicians do.

Phil: Especially last week.

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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