You might think that it’s impossible to have something called a “hearing” in which nobody plans to listen, but government officials did just that in Maine on Wednesday — not once but twice.

In East Millinocket, the U.S House Committee on Natural Resources held a “hearing” on a proposed North Woods national monument on 87,500 acres of land just east of Baxter State Park.

At the same time, the Maine Legislature’s joint Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife held its own “hearing” to consider allegations of misconduct by game wardens during undercover sting operations.

Both hearings were shams. Only handpicked witnesses were called to testify, and they presented only one side of the story – national park opponents in East Millinocket and state officials in Augusta.

Neither hearing allowed public comment. Neither featured adversarial questioning. Both led to preordained conclusions.

State Rep. Jeff Evangelos, a Friendship independent, could have been speaking about both sessions when he said; of the IF&W Committee hearing: “All that was missing were the pompoms and cheerleaders.”

What a waste of time.

The National Resources Committee hearing was 2nd District Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s answer to a pair of public meetings with National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis that were organized last month by Sen. Angus King.

In the Jarvis meetings, King made sure that the director heard all points of view. But at Poliquin’s hearing, only park opponents were invited to speak. Park supporters could attend a later meeting and voice their opinions there, but by then it was clear that the purpose of this exercise was not fact-finding.

DIDN’T COME TO LISTEN

The chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Rep. Bob Bishop, R-Utah, didn’t come to Maine to listen. He came to assail the federal Antiquities Act, which gives the president the authority to create national monuments. Bishop is an outspoken opponent of federal land ownership and proposes a huge giveaway out West, which would provide a windfall for mining and ranching interests at the public’s expense. He had no problem listening as long as the witness is Gov. LePage railing about the president’s heavy-handed use of executive power, as LePage did leading off the hearing Wednesday.

Meanwhile in Augusta, a legislative committee spent a few hours giving a government agency a chance to hide from public scrutiny.

Starting with a story and sidebars in this newspaper by reporter Colin Woodard, questions have been raised about undercover sting operations conducted by the Maine Warden Service. Targets complain that an undercover agent encouraged them to break hunting laws by, among other things, offering them alcohol, drinking with them and even illegally killing a deer. After the initial story, others convicted of poaching have come forward to say that they had also been subject to the same tactics.

The warden service refused to be interviewed by Woodard, and fought the release of public documents that he requested under the state’s freedom of access law. After stonewalling for six months, the warden service slammed the story for being one-sided and put out a self-serving manifesto that raised more questions than it answered.

Among them were, what are your safeguards to avoid entrapment in undercover sting operations? How much do these operations cost? Are they justified by the results?

ATTACKING THE MEDIA

But those legitimate questions, which any police agency should be able to answer as a matter of routine, were not on the minds of legislators or the warden service Wednesday. Instead, they were more interested attacking the media for raising the issues. When asked if he would investigate the conduct of officers in these operations, Col. Joel Wilkinson of the warden service gave; a flat no. “I’m not going to put my officer under investigation because someone misprints false allegations,” Wilkinson huffed.

The lawmakers let the matter drop without asking, “How could you know that the allegations were false if you didn’t investigate them?”

Committee co-chairman Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, said that the panel had no plans to look into any other allegations.

Government officials got what they wanted out of both “hearings” Wednesday. They can claim that they went looking for facts with open minds, when they were really just looking to bolster their preconceived notions.

The no-listening hearings delivered as planned.


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