RISE, DECLINE AND RENEWAL: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IN MAINE

When author Douglas Rooks was writing his excellent political biography of George Mitchell, “Statesman,” in 2016, his research triggered an interest in the fractious, up-and-down history of the Maine Democratic Party. And this book is the fascinating result.

“Rise, Decline and Renewal” focuses on Maine’s Democratic Party history from 1954 to 2018, but it is much more than just another stuffy political treatise. Rooks wisely reveals the complex personalities of politicians, advisors and confidants, as well as the backroom strategies for finding candidates, creating platforms, securing political alliances, campaigning and tactics for capturing voter confidence.

As a former newspaper editor, Rooks uses journalistic skills to bring insight and acuity, as well as refreshing clarity to this story.

Humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935) once said, “I’m not a member of any organized party; I am a Democrat,” accurately describing Maine’s Democratic Party over the years, its victories and defeats, heroes and duds. Rooks tells how Ed Muskie began the party’s resurgence with a stunning, surprise gubernatorial election victory, through Gov. Ken Curtis’ reign in the early 1970s, and John Martin’s remarkable control as the Maine House Speaker for 19 years. He also smartly discusses the party’s past failures in leadership and focus, as well as its parochial bickering and voter apathy, which created near-terminal weakness.

Learn about “lunch-bucket” issues and “Mason’s Rules,” the formalized set of legislative rules that govern the legislative process.  Readers may not remember 1992’s “Ballotgate” scandal, when Democrats were caught in a Three Stooges effort to commit election fraud by tampering with ballots locked in the state office building. Several people went to jail for that crime.

Rooks’ history is an informative primer on Maine state politics and politicians, and explains why the public thinks politics is a high form of free entertainment.

 

STEAMED OPEN: A MAINE CLAMBAKE MYSTERY

Every year in Maine, conflicts flare up between property owners and locals over beach access to oceanfront property, but so far nobody has been killed over it. That is, not until Barbara Ross’ new mystery takes a real-life contentious issue and turns it into murder.

“Steamed Open” is Boothbay Harbor author Ross’ seventh volume in her “Maine Clambake Mystery” series, featuring businesswoman Julia Snowden and her nose for trouble. Ross’ clambake mysteries have been nominated for several awards, including the Agatha Award and the Maine Literary Award for crime fiction.

Busman’s Harbor is a coastal fishing and tourist town on the midcoast. Folks get along with each other, and even tolerate the tourists, but a new waterfront property owner upends a peaceful, prosperous summer. Outsider Bartholomew Frick inherits the beautiful and valuable waterfront estate of Heloise Herrickson, a charming and generous old lady who always allowed clammers and beachgoers access to the shore across her property. However, Frick immediately fences off the access, closing the beach to everyone. People are outraged, especially Julia and the clammers who depend on beach access for their livelihood.

When Frick is found murdered, stabbed in the neck with a clam rake (ouch!), Julia decides to investigate Frick, the estate’s other heirs and the murder. What she discovers is a complex will with surprising conditions of inheritance, revealing numerous motives and suspects. Old Heloise was pretty clever and had some secrets of her own.

Add some suspicious fishermen, a housekeeper with a dark past, an elderly neighbor who isn’t as sweet as she seems, several well-disguised heirs and a pair of nutty lighthouse fanatics, and Julia is closer to the killer than she realizes.

Was the murder really about beach access, or was it about something else?

 

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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