By Pem Schaeffer
Maine Wire columnist
On Sunday, October 7, The Maine Wire published my column, “Maine’s colorful political chameleons: Angus King and Alan Caron,” in which I applied the idea of chameleons while discussing Alan Caron, Angus King and the conceit of political independence. I used the metaphor “highly specialized political animals” and observed: “The thing about chameleons, though, is that they don’t change on the inside; they simply change their outer appearance to optimize their circumstances of the moment.”
As I wrote the column, I didn’t recognize just how well varying one’s colors would describe Caron’s conduct in today’s changing political landscape. I made the following observation, but it barely hinted at reality:
“In his first column, Caron appeared in the magic Technicolor Dreamcoat of ‘independence,’ which positions him fluidly on the spectrum of political life styles: liberal, GOP, bi-political and trans-political (LGBT).”
Subsequent study shows that Caron has fully embraced the chameleon’s legerdemain in his published political posturing.
Each column Caron has printed in the Sussman-Pingree media contains tag lines to characterize him. Over the weeks, Caron has been labeled as:
Column 1: writing “from an independent perspective;” a “disgruntled” Democrat; a member of the LePage “transition team” [not accurate]; a supporter of Angus King; President of Envision Maine, a nonpartisan think tank.
Column 2: a disgruntled Democrat; an author of Reinventing Maine Government; a member of the LePage “transition team” [not accurate]; a supporter of Angus King.
Column 3: Same as column 2.
Column 4: Same as column 2, except no mention of participation in the LePage transition.
Column 5: an independent Democrat; an author of Reinventing Maine Government; a supporter of Angus King.
(Is “independent Democrat” intended to distinguish him from dependent Democrats, of which there are reportedly many? Does it demonstrate the unique chameleon-like ability cited in the prior column: may show both colors at the same time, neatly separated left from right by the spine?)
Column 6: a disgruntled independent Democrat; an author of Reinventing Maine Government; a member of the LePage “transition team” [not accurate]; a supporter of Angus King.
Column 7: same as column 6; plus president of Envision Maine, a non-partisan organization working to promote Maine’s next economy.
Column 8: a pro-growth Democrat; an author of Reinventing Maine Government; a supporter of Angus King; President of Envision Maine, a non-partisan organization working to promote Maine’s next economy.
The foregoing can be summarized as follows:
1. Caron misspeaks when he says he was a member of the LePage “transition team.” He was, instead, a member of the LePage Transition Advisory Team, as was this writer. There is a significant difference between the two. But if you’re given to self-promotion with claims of independence and non-partisanship, this slip of the tongue is an artful touch.
2. Caron drifts back and forth from citing his role as an author of Reinventing Maine Government to citing his presidency of Envision Maine. “Non-partisanship” and “independent views” are claims attending each, not to mention non-profit status.
3. The only constant from week to week is Caron’s unwavering support for Angus King, no matter how he revises his own descriptor.
4. Caron’s arc on the political spectrum ranges from a disgruntled Democrat with an independent perspective to an independent Democrat and from a disgruntled independent Democrat to a pro-growth Democrat.
One variation he didn’t claim is a “Democrat Independent.” We can’t be sure how he secretly categorizes Angus, but we’re sure the word Democrat is required.
We mustn’t ignore Caron’s mentions of participation in the LePage transition (inaccurate as they are) as part of his story arc; they’re clearly there to burnish his non-partisan flamboyance. So it looks like he has the range from far left to independent to moderate to far right covered. Like a chameleon from where we sit—or, if you prefer, the greens, browns, reds, yellows and oranges of the autumn leaves.
One wonders, of course, whether the recent change to the “pro-growth Democrat” tag line doesn’t reflect advice from either Angus hisself, or his good friends Sussman-Pingree, or both, to make the King endorsement a stronger anti-Dill stance and a demonstration of how King attracts classic Democrats.
Now let’s examine Caron’s claims of non-partisanship and non-profit organizational status.
If you visit the Envision Maine web site, you’ll find this under “who we are”—note as you do so that it calls itself “The Independent Think Tank for Maine,” whatever independent means in this context, other than supporting Angus King for senate.
“Envision Maine is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank that was created in the fall of 2009 by Alan Caron, the founder and past-president of GrowSmart Maine, who was responsible for enlisting the Brookings Institution to come to Maine and to produce their landmark report Charting Maine’s Future, in 2006.” (www.envisionmaine.org)
Non-profit? Let’s examine that. If you go to guidestar.com, the web-based resource on such matters, you’ll find this under the Envision Maine listing: Category: E99 (Health – General and Rehabilitative N.E.C.)
E99 is from the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) and is a four-digit code used to classify an exempt IRC 501(c)(3) organization (the selection by NTEE code is based upon the first three digits).
Wow, we have no idea how to deal with this non sequitur. Is it due to an inadvertent error in required filings, or does Caron have a purpose in mind that has yet to be revealed? Or has Envision Maine not officially been certified as a non-profit; in which case, what is the consequence of claiming to be one?
While not an expert in such matters, I believe that qualifying for non-profit status requires having a Board of Directors, along with filing all the usual paperwork. I can’t seem to find them identified on the web site, but perhaps this is an oversight. Which begs the question: is it legal to call yourself a non-profit if you haven’t met all the requirements?
Frankly, my guess is that Envision Maine and Alan Caron are one and the same: there is no one else, there is no board, there is no staff and the “office” is Caron’s waterfront residence. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, right?
Another requirement for 501(c)(3) non-profits is abstaining from overt political activity; that is, maintaining a “non-partisan” posture. Non-partisan? After eight columns, in each of which he is identified as a supporter of a specific candidate, Angus King, and with several of his columns advocating at length for King, claiming “non-partisan” status is, as they say in the military, Bravo Sierra.
Caron’s most recent column, in particular, ought to be enough to disabuse anyone of his self-described “non-partisan” and “independent viewpoint” bona fides. It should be enough, as well, to revoke his non-profit status, if it even applies. At what point has Caron made himself vulnerable to challenges to his organizational status? How far is he willing to push the envelope? Judging from his past, the answer is very far.
I’ll leave official organizational certification to the experts. As for me, I’m thinking Caron is “envisioning” a cushy political patronage job on King’s staff, complete with above-market salary, above-market benefits and immunity to job-security risks in the private sector. If that doesn’t work out, he’s done yeoman duty for the Sussman-Pingree power twins in support of their man King, for which he no doubt is (or will be) duly rewarded.
Pem Schaeffer is a lifelong gruntled conservative; a lifelong resident; does not support Angus King; has authored numerous apolitical and apartisan blog posts and other essays; and is not President of Other Side of Town, a profitless blog that pursues a better future by exposing the absurdity of the past and present. He has received little recognition and no honors for his efforts, but he did serve on the LePage Transition Advisory Team, during which he worked briefly with Alan Caron and several others. He accepts contributions anywhere, anytime, and for whatever purpose. These contributions are not tax-deductible—unless you are a Democrat; disgruntled, independent, pro-growth, or otherwise.
The foregoing is another possible chapter in a possible field guide for surviving threats from a progressive, centrally planned worldview. It may or may not eventually be published by Pem Schaeffer, a retired systems engineer and business development leader. He blogs at http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/ and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the interested student, here are a few more details:
Reinventing Maine Government looks at what Maine can do, over the next 10 years, to replace its overlapping and sometimes inefficient government with new, more modern and more streamlined structures and operations, and to free up resources for critical investments in tomorrow’s prosperity. (www.envisionmaine.org)
Alan Caron, President, Envision Maine
David Osborne, Bestselling author: Reinventing Government and five other books on government operations
Joshua Weinstein, Longtime Maine Journalist
Phil Trostel, a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Maine
Advisors (affiliations are for identification only)
Angus King, former Governor
David Flanagan, former President, CMP
Mike Dubyak, Chairman and CEO, Wright Express
Jill Goldthwait, Former Independent State Senator; Director of Government Relations, The Jackson Laboratory
John Porter, former editorial page editor, Portland Newspapers, President, Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce
Timothy Hussey, CEO, Hussey Seating
Phil Trostel, Margaret Chase Smith Center and UMaine, economist, public policy analyst
Chuck Lawton, Senior Economist, Planning Decisions
Bonita Pothier, Key Bank, Biddeford, Chair, GrowSmart Maine
Tony Payne, Executive Director, Alliance for Maine’s Future
Dana Connors, President, Maine State Chamber of Commerce
Angus King III, Vice President, First Wind
Fred Heimann, CFO of SenSysnet, V. Chairman, Maine Angels
Hussey Seating Company
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield
J.S. McCarthy Printers
Joe and Carol Wishcamper
Kennebunk Savings Bank
Little Diamond Island Enterprises
Bancroft & Company
Allen Agency Insurance
Central Maine Healthcare
Sanford Institution for Savings
All contributions were made to GrowSmart Maine, which commissioned the report through a contract with Envision Maine to produce the report.