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August 1, 2007

Maine's Ruling Family

by Colin Woodard

Maine's a relatively small state, so it's probably to be expected that some of our political and business leaders are going to be related to one another. It's not unusual for a small town manager to be a close relative of, say, the local newspaper editor, business kingpin, or some senior law enforcement official, and it's often not a problem, as everyone in town is well aware of the connection and perhaps watchful of conflicts of interest.

What surprises me is how few people are aware of the most powerful, connected and potentially conflicted political clan of all: the Mitchell-Baldacci family.

Yes, you may have heard in passing that Gov. John Baldacci and former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell are "distant cousins." Well, the relationship isn't that distant. Mitchell's mother and Baldacci's grandmother were sisters who emigrated from Bkassine, Lebanon, to Waterville in the early 20th century. They're second cousins in a family close enough that Mitchell would later recall summer youthful visits with the Baldaccis at their lakeside camp.

So what's it matter? Because members of this extended family occupy influential positions in politics, business, and civil administration and not infrequently find themselves partnered or regulating one another.

The most high-profile example is Ocean Properties, the Portsmouth-based real estate development company whose partners include George Mitchell and second cousin Bob Baldacci, the governor's brother. When Portland invited proposals to develop hotels or other commercial structures on the Maine State Pier, Ocean Properties submitted a proposal that many observers felt was inferior to that of its competitor. Apparently Ocean Properties shared this assessment, as city authorities allowed them to completely redesign and resubmit their proposal before giving them the nod. City Councilor Kevin Donoghue called it the process a farce, Olympia officials cried foul, and reasonable observers were left wondering if political influence might be weighing the scales.

Way over on the other side of the state in Perry, members of Baldacci's administration will soon be assessing the environmental impact of Quoddy LNG's proposal to build a liquefied natural gas terminal on the shores of Passamaquoddy Bay, arguably the richest marine ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine. The company was started through the matchmaking efforts of the governor's first cousin, once removed, Jim Mitchell, who is George Mitchell's nephew. Mitchell, the former head of the Maine Democratic Party and current lobbyist for Anthem, TIAA-Creff, a prison building company, Irving Oil, CMP, and the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline (which will carry Quoddy's gas to market), was a founding partner of the company and served as its spokesman. Another partner was William Stuart Price, an Oklahoman oil and gas company owner who is married to Jim Mitchell's first cousin (George's niece and the governor's first cousin, once removed.) There's nothing wrong with any of that, except that the media rarely alerts the public to these potential conflicts of interest.

Guess who was behind the short-lived LNG terminal proposal in Gouldsboro? Readers of the Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News, and the Associated Press knew that Waterville attorneys Mark and John Nale had partnered with Cianbro to try and convince the town's residents that the village of Corea would be a good place for an LNG facility; they never learned that the Nales are the governor's first cousins, Sen. Mitchell's second cousins, and Jim Mitchell's first cousins, once removed. LNG, it seems, runs in the family.

Sen. Mitchell's brother, Paul, has served on Waterville's city council, planning board, and sewer district board, and a past president of the Maine Independent Insurance Agents' Association; in 2004, Gov. Baldacci appointed Paul, his second cousin, to the board of the University of Maine system.

Many of the governor's siblings - Sen. Mitchell's second cousins - have served in a variety of public offices. Gerard was a Bangor city councilor. Peter was commissioner of Penobscot County and once ran for state legislature, as did Rosemary. Another sister, Lisa, worked for her second cousin, George Mitchell, in Washington, as well as former Senator Bill Cohen. Bob Baldacci was a member of the Finance Authority of Maine and, as an official of Pierce Atwood Consulting, once represented Shawn Scott, the owner of Captial Seven, a firm that later sought to build a racino in Bangor. Youngest brother Joseph Baldacci, a Bangor lawyer, represented another would-be racino owner, Kehl Management, and also served on the Bangor city council. Meanwhile their not-so-distant cousin Jim Mitchell lobbied on behalf of tribal racino proposal in Bangor.

One would hope none of these myriad family connections would influence the governor and others who serve under him. But it's up to the rest of us - and the media - to keep their existence in the open, just to be sure.

-- Colin Woodard is the author of The Lobster Coast and The Republic of Pirates. He lives in Portland and maintains a website at www.colinwoodard.com.

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