I met David Flanagan in 1994 when he was conducting his first rescue mission for Central Maine Power. The electric company was in a funk — it was highly unpopular with the Legislature and a substantial portion of its customers, and hence the public.

CMP is practically co-existent with “public utility” in most Mainers’ minds. It really is a big fish in a relatively small pond.

Few other states have such a dominant presence; even comparatively huge utilities elsewhere don’t have anything like CMP’s market share — 75% of Maine’s customers, and an even greater share of revenue.

So Flanagan’s mission was a large one — like trying to turn around General Motors, or, in our day, Google or Amazon. What initially impressed me was his calm, and firmness, as I made my first visit to CMP headquarters on Edison Drive in Augusta.

His company was in real trouble, but there was not a hint of anxiety, or its counterpart, an urgency to please the interviewer.

I can’t remember all the circumstances, but I just showed up, got a visitor badge, and was ushered upstairs. Flanagan apologized for the security, installed after bombings at the new headquarters, and later a downtown operations building, the second possibly orchestrated by Raymond Luc Levasseur.

Levasseur, born in Sanford, was devoted to the cause of Quebec separatism, and launched a series of bombings throughout the Northeast. On the FBI’s most wanted list, he was later sentenced to 45 years in prison, but served only 12 before being paroled; supporters considered him a political prisoner.

Long before Sept. 11, there were security alerts, and CMP was an important target for the resistance — as it has become again, with a referendum to put customers in charge headed toward the ballot in 2022.

What I found back then was a Mainer completely devoted to the cause of public service, one we might consider the opposite of that promoted by bombings.

David Flanagan was born into a close-knit Catholic family in Bangor, the eldest of eight children. He showed immediate promise, graduating from Harvard and earning a master’s degree at King’s College in London before receiving his law degree from Boston College.

He broke into politics on Peter Kyros’s congressional campaigns, and worked for Elmer Violette and Gov. Ken Curtis before becoming legal counsel to Gov. Joe Brennan. His last political involvement, after leaving CMP, was running for governor and finding out ­— as did former Chief Justice Dan Wathen ­— that public eminence and personal integrity don’t necessarily win votes.

At first glance, I must have assumed he was a Republican, like most corporate executives, then and now.

No, he said, he was a Democrat, but a “Grover Cleveland Democrat.” I probably laughed, or at least chuckled at the thought of anyone patterning themselves after a century-past president little remembered today.

It was only when I researched the period that I discovered he was right. Cleveland was a “hard money” man, like virtually all the Republicans of the day, disagreeing strongly with the rising Democratic movement led by William Jennings Bryan, who later lost three presidential elections.

Bryan was for “free coinage of silver” and, in view of hard money men, debasing the currency. After the current surge of federal spending, we could be in for another course correction from “hard money” Democrats.

Flanagan may not have been a successful political campaigner, but he was the best corporate leader Maine has had in some time. Not only was he completely devoted to the task, but he has an ability to inspire others to stop hunkering down, face the public squarely, endure criticism and then chart a new course.

Perhaps he was on his way to executing a second turnaround at CMP. We may never know.

I interviewed him recently, for what may be the last of many conversations. It took place before I knew he was fighting pancreatic cancer — a battle in which there are extremely long odds.

Other than a slight speech impediment, I didn’t suspect what he was going through. He sounded the same, expressing strong, but respectful, disagreement with both referendums that are challenging CMP’s continued existence.

Twenty years ago, Flanagan reminisced to another interviewer about an episode when he was on Portland’s Deering High School debate team, with the formidable Elizabeth Ring as faculty adviser.

“What was particularly valuable about debating was the concept of advancing a proposition, supporting it with facts, and documenting the facts,” he said. “Seems pretty elementary, but until you do it for awhile, it’s not quite so natural as you might think.”

That’s good advice for our time, or any other.

Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, commentator, reporter and author since 1984. His new book is “First Franco: Albert Beliveau in Law, Politics and Love.” He welcomes comment at [email protected]


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