Wednesday, June 25, 2008

He ain't heavy — well, maybe a little bit

Published in the Portland Phoenix

In the legend of Robin Hood, when Robin meets Friar Tuck, he gets Tuck to carry him across a stream. In the middle, for reasons that vary with the source of the story, Tuck drops Robin in the water, which provokes a swordfight that ends in a stalemate, after which Robin invites Tuck to join Robin's band of Merry Men.

That story, modified by artistic idealism and hope, is one of the inspirations for Armen Moradians's "100 Carry Project," in which he plans to carry 100 people — one by one, piggy-back style — along a two-mile route through downtown Portland.

His hope is that his project will be a nonviolent way to bring strangers together, by putting themselves through a physical and mental ordeal that will lead to an increased feeling of mutual understanding — without dropping anyone in water or any sort of swordfight.

Moradians, a dancer and performer who lives near Deering Oaks Park, has carried 12 people since late November — this past Sunday, I was the 12th. We met on Friday at a coffee shop, partly to talk over what we were going to do, and partly for him to size me up and determine whether he could, in fact, carry me. (I am, so far, the heaviest person he has carried; at 185 pounds, I outweigh Moradians himself by 40 pounds.)

His first point was that being carried is anything but a passive role: I would have to hang on to him with all my strength if we were to succeed. My task was to use my energy to keep us together, while most of his energy moved us from the George Cleeves memorial on the Eastern Prom to Monument Square and back. And, as he predicted, I was nearly as exhausted as he was at the end, though we were both also elated and relieved to have finished.

It is exactly the type of symbiotic relationship Moradians had in mind when he dreamed up the project — a voluntary undertaking to suffer in the search for some sort of greater learning. (What the people he has carried have learned is described, in part, in their post-carry entries on his blog. What he learns will be collected in a project-culminating performance when he's done.)

His second point, there at the coffee shop, was that he didn't know what would happen during the carry. In addition to never having hefted my weight before, the route itself bore unforeseen, and unpredictable, physical perils — weather, sidewalks, traffic, other pedestrians, that kind of thing.

But the third point was that most of the challenge was actually mental, and that it was in the psychological sphere where he was most unsure of what would transpire. Physical discomfort was a given, but how we dealt with that — in our own heads and talking to each other — would be what made the carry possible.

There was actually a lot of temptation to give up. Motorized transportation options, in particular, called to us. At the outset, a city bus drove past; later, another bus's driver waited at the stop for us to approach, and when Moradians didn't step into the bus, she shouted out a warning about back injuries. At the halfway point, in the middle of Monument Square, two gleaming white stretch limousines waited, though not for us. We persevered through the 80-minute trip — I figured that if he was crazy enough to keep carrying me, I was crazy enough to keep hanging on. And by the end, both exhausted and in pain, I cheered from his shoulder as he fast-walked toward the Cleeves obelisk marking our journey's end.

The guy has 88 more carries to go. Who's next?

On the Web
Armen Moradians's "100 Carry Project":

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The 100 Carry Project: 12

Published on The 100 Carry Project website

Let's start with the numbers. Armen's five years younger than me (which is maybe five years crazier) and a good 40 pounds lighter than me. Look, I'm just 185, but it's really something to think about a guy smaller than me schlepping me around like that.

Other things: When I'm done with exercise or a bike ride or mowing the lawn or something, I'm usually bathed in sweat, which I am now, too. It's not all mine, though, and there's something about that - not anything gross, because we came by it honestly - but in terms of comingling of selves.

I had thought, when I first heard of this project, that being carried might be a sort of passive thing - that I might be as a sack of rice or a barrel of flour or an animal carcass being carried home from a market somewhere. But it's not - which I cottoned on to after reading a few of the earlier posts here. So I knew it would be an active endeavor, but even so I didn't know how active it would be for me.

I'm pretty exhausted, and still breathing hard now 30 minutes after the carry ended. The discomfort and exertion never really went away in the 80 or so minutes I clung to Armen as we labored up the hill, down the hill, through the flat, back up the hill, and back down it.

Then there were the other options, always just beside us.

As the carry started, a bus pulled up to a bus stop as we were walking by. Even then my body was tempted - my mind said I should give this effort a real try, though, so I did. Next we passed a U-Haul van being loaded up, and I realized there was space in there for us, too. I think another bus went by before we got to city hall, and then when we were in Monument Square there were two huge stretch limos in the middle of the square. One drove out past us as we began the return leg. Coming back past city hall again, a bus stopped to let some people off, and the driver waited for us to walk up even with the entrance door - maybe she thought we'd climb aboard. She called out to us something about getting a back injury, but we kept going.

By then - actually rather well before then - the world had shrunk down to my body, Armen's body, and the 10 or so feet immediately in front of us.

My job was really just to hang on as tightly as I could - basically keeping the connection between us, so Armen could put his energy into moving us forward.

A few people commented as we went past, looking upon our effort as amusement or fun or exercise - and yet we were struggling, working, in pain. I'm mostly still not sure how Armen did it - I am not sure I could carry him that distance. On the other hand, that's some of what this project is about - to suggest to me that indeed I could, if I put my mind to it, even though good sense, logic, even sanity might suggest otherwise.

One thing that helped me - and Armen said it helped him too - was that early on in the carry, I'm not really sure where exactly, I remembered a strategy I had used to keep myself moving on a high-altitude trek in Nepal several years back. With every step, no matter how small a step nor how long after the next, I would recite another syllable of the Buddhist chant carved into rocks all along the trail: Om Mani Padme Hum. I told Armen about it, and when things got really rough on the way back, I chanted aloud to him - and with him, sometimes, when he wasn't needing every ounce of oxygen for his back and legs - and that did help us keep moving, and it helped me find a rhythm to hanging onto him.

We were able to do it - we set out to do it, and we did it. Now we will see what we learned. I wonder, you 11 others who have been carried before, what do you think about the carry now - days, weeks, maybe months from when it happened? I guess I'll see in a while. For now, I'm tired, sore, and curious.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Shifting sands: The real lesson of the Desert of Maine

Published in the Portland Phoenix

If you want to know what the future holds, take a ride up to the Desert of Maine in Freeport. It’s simultaneously an example of how badly we humans have been wrecking the Earth over the past few centuries, and a sign of hope that maybe the planet will recover after all.
The desert, a Freeport “tourist destination” which has been featured in the New York Times and on the Discovery and Travel channels, can teach a few lessons about nature, but it is not quite the “natural” geological marvel that the marketing materials might suggest.
Fortunately, the video on the Web site gives us a couple hints: back in the 1700s, desert owner Gary Currens cheerfully explains, “it was actually productive farmland for several years, and then” — this is where the hints come — “between the clear-cutting, bringing sheep in, not rotating the crops proper [sic], sand all of a sudden started appearing.”
In the middle of explaining how all this sand, deposited by glaciers, began “appearing,” Gary, in the video (and a tour guide at the place itself), admits what you have started to suspect: “the topsoil was eroding.”
Yes, the “Desert of Maine,” the 50-acre swath of sand that would otherwise be forest, was “uncovered” by irresponsibly exploitative land-management practices that resulted in the erosion of thousands of years’ accumulation of topsoil in roughly a century, leaving behind a barren landscape that is, nevertheless, slowly being reclaimed by the forest around it.
The booklets, posters, and Web site call the sand — which once covered nearly 300 acres of former-farmland, and which may in places be as much as a mile deep — a “natural phenomenon,” but what’s most “natural” about this barren expanse in the middle of the Maine woods is that it’s Nature’s warning to any of us who might seek to exploit the land and its bounty. Without care, the blowing sands show us, we’ll lose everything and have to leave.

Wrecking the land
The story goes like this: a big huge glacier moved through Maine about 20,000 years ago, crushing stones beneath itself, leaving behind a sand-like silt with finer grains that you would encounter on an average Maine beach. Between the time the glacier retreated, leaving the sand on the surface, and the late 18th century, the land got relatively little use and was colonized by mosses and lichens, small plants, bushes, and eventually trees, as Maine’s forest expanded to cover most of the state. Roughly eight inches to a foot of fertile topsoil gradually accumulated in this area of the forest.

In 1797, the Tuttle family moved to the 300-acre parcel and raised potatoes, vegetables, hay, apples, and cattle. The family cut trees from the property to create fields and to sell as building lumber and firewood. As the trees departed, so did their root structures, which had played a major role in anchoring the top soil. The Tuttles next brought in sheep to raise for their wool. The sheep grazed very close to the ground, as sheep do, and pulled much of the grass out by the roots. To make matters worse, their hooves cut into the topsoil, loosening it up.
That is when the sand “started appearing,” and when things began to go wrong for the Tuttles. As one of the tour guides told it on a recent afternoon, the family cut down some of the last big trees on the property to use the branches to cover the sandy spots, in a vain effort to halt the erosion. You’ve spotted the rub, though: while they might have slowed erosion where they put the limbs, those last few trees were anchoring other topsoil, which soon sloughed away in spring thaws and summer rains. The sand took over completely.
After the Tuttles gave up and abandoned the place, a few opportunistic entrepreneurs got interested in this much-abused land. One bought it in hopes of selling the sand to brickmakers, but the silt was too fine and the bricks wouldn’t hold together. He, in turn, sold it to a man who wanted to make it a tourist attraction back in 1925, and so it has been ever since.

Preserving the sand
The sand, geologists now know, lies under the topsoil throughout much of Maine, New Hampshire, and even most of the northeastern United States — if it was covered by a glacier during the last ice age, there’s likely sand down there somewhere. (How deep the sand is, and how much topsoil has accumulated on top of it, varies widely.)

As a tourist attraction, the value of the desert is in the exposed sand, so the property has remained largely unchanged by humans for about 80 years. In that time, nature has begun to do what it did after the glacier receded: the mosses and lichens are coming back, the remaining trees are dropping leaves and needles that decompose, seeds are blowing in from nearby plants, and the forest is retaking the sand.
One guide grew up nearby and first worked at the desert in 1961 at the age of 13; after an adult life doing other things, he returned to the desert a couple years back. He recalls the sand covering much more area back then, and marveled at the forest’s return, and that the wind had uncovered some farming equipment buried by sand after the Tuttles abandoned the property. (The sand has also drifted to cover a small shelter built near a spring in the 1930s, where visitors could sit in the shade and have a cool drink of fresh water. But that part of the tour is pretty anti-climatic, as you get to look at a large pile of sand and try to imagine a building underneath it.)
What’s more interesting — and what could one day become the real focus of their efforts — is this recovery, which simultaneously shows both how vulnerable our ecosystem is if we mistreat it, and how resilient it can be if we just leave it the hell alone.

Desert Of Maine | 95 Desert Rd, Freeport | daily 8:30 am-5:30 pm; tours on the half hour 9 am-4 pm | $8.75, ages 13-16 $6.25, ages 5-12 $5.25 | 207.865.6962 |

A night in Guantánamo: Staying in a replica cell, with no waterboarding included

Published in the Portland Phoenix (with an excerpt in the Boston Phoenix); reprinted in the Orlando Weekly
First thing in the morning, a man stopped at my door, leaned in, looked me square in the eye, called me “a piece of shit,” and spat on my floor. I tried not to take it personally.
I was in a prison cell and wearing a day-glo-orange inmate’s jumpsuit, sitting on a thin mat, where I had sat and slept intermittently — and uncomfortably — through the preceding seven hours.
Amnesty International brought the cell to Portland’s Monument Square and arranged several days of events about the offshore prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, last week to draw attention to the 270 or so inmates still held there, and to highlight the support of some of Maine’s congressional delegation for suspending the legal rights of inmates there, most of whom have never been charged with any crime.
I’d volunteered to spend the night in the replica cell (which is modeled on the ones at Gitmo, which are very like the standard isolation units used in US “supermax” prisons) because we’ve all heard stories about unlivable conditions at Gitmo but can’t come close to imagining what it must be like to live for as long as seven years in a small box with little contact with the outside world, and even less hope of release. I hoped my few hours of simulated incarceration — even without the alleged abuse visited on Gitmo “detainees” by US service personnel — would help me appreciate the nightmare those prisoners endure.
When I first entered the cell, I sized things up. I could take three normal-size steps from side to side, four from the door to the bed; a “lap” around it involved 12 reasonably normal-sized steps. With my arms outstretched to the sides, I could touch the walls; reaching up, I could touch the ceiling with my stocking feet flat on the floor. Lying on the raised platform that served as my bed, my head touched one wall and my feet pressed against the other. The walls and ceiling were white; the toilet/sink fixture by the door was stainless steel; the floor was gray. There was one small window — easily covered by my forearm — by the bed and another in the door.
I was already in the jumpsuit, so I sat on the thin sleeping mat, got out my iPod, put in the earbuds, selected the “Gitmo” playlist, and turned the volume up. (The guards play a wide selection of American music — though mostly dark heavy stuff like Drowning Pool and Marilyn Manson — at high volume, at all hours, as a form of psychological torture for the prisoners.)
I read from the Koran, opening it at random and finding the 36th sûrah (chapter), entitled “Yâ Sîn,” or “O Man.” According to the annotation in my copy, that chapter is often recited by Muslims at times of adversity, to sustain their faith. At one point in the text, a group of believers approaches a city of non-believers to try to convert them: “(The people of the city) said: we augur ill of you. If ye desist not, we shall surely stone you, and grievous torture will befall you at our hands.” But, Allah explains through the prophet Mohammed, whatever suffering his followers must endure will be relieved if they stick to their faith, while those who did the torturing will be condemned to burn in hell. After a few readings, I found my hope rising and my discomfort decreasing, even though I am not a Muslim.
I also read — for the first of three times that night — a book of poems written by Guantánamo inmates, seeking a sense of what they feel and think. Despite great discomfort, hardship, and fear, some inmates are able to transcend themselves and their situation and find hope, and dreams, and a sort of freedom.

It’s really far worse
My night was only a tiny taste of what the detainees held at Guantánamo experience. The most obvious difference, of course, was that I spent just over seven hours in a replica of a cell sitting in downtown Portland. Many of the inmates have spent more like seven years in real cells in a remote base in Cuba. By comparison, my imprisonment was soft time.

A Portland police officer sat in his patrol car outside, mostly to protect the cell itself and its accompanying gear (a generator, electronic equipment, parts of a disassembled information booth), but I took comfort in his presence, knowing that if any harm befell me, aid would be nearby. The Gitmo detainees have their own uniformed, armed guards, but they are as likely to be their tormentors as their rescuers.
It was mostly dark in my cell, though a few streetlights shined in. Some detainees’ lawyers claim their clients are suffering permanent psychological damage because the lights in their cells have been kept on 24 hours a day for years.
I was warm and not hungry, equipped with a sleeping bag and fortified with a good meal at home before going into the cell; the inmates get blankets if they’re lucky and regularly complain about both the quantity and the quality of food served at Gitmo.
I could control the volume on my iPod (and I confess to skipping a couple songs); the detainees can neither control the volume nor prevent a guard from playing one song over and over for hours on end, as happened on at least one occasion with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” from their 1991 eponymous album.
But the biggest difference, the one that really made it possible for me (a somewhat sane person who functions fairly well in this weird world) to handle my time inside, was this: I knew when I would eventually leave. The men held in Guantánamo don’t. Even those who have been declared not dangerous, not worth holding, whose arrests and incarceration are acknowledged mistakes, are held for months before being finally released. One man, Maher Rafat al-Quwari, has been cleared for release since February 2007, but as a Palestinian with no passport or other national paperwork, he has nowhere to go, so he stays in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement.

Without a futureI thought about what it would take to close the prison. Calls for just that have come from such high Bush administration officials as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and even the president himself, as well as both major-party presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama. And yet it remains open, stalled at best by the practical difficulties of moving terrorism suspects into other prisons, or, at worst, held up by people who may not mean what they say.

Maine’s DC delegation is split on the issue: Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democratic representative Mike Michaud voted for the Military Commissions Act of 2006. [Please see clarification, below.] It recreated a kangaroo-court show-trial system for “trying” detainees in front of military judges (after a nearly identical arrangement created by the Pentagon was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2006), and granted the US government the power to indefinitely imprison anyone — even US citizens — without charging them with a crime, and without ever bringing them before an independent civilian judge. Democratic representative Tom Allen opposed it; Republican senator Olympia Snowe didn’t vote, but later voted to overturn some of its harsher provisions.
And then there was that passerby who spit into my cell. I wondered if his attitude, amplified by the isolation of being stationed at a remote military base, and inflated by being allowed to carry large automatic weapons, might turn him into a rage-filled guard who just might do some of the things prisoners have described.
I wanted to judge him, to accuse him of insensitivity, of sympathizing with those who abuse and torture inmates. But I know as little about that man as we Americans do about the people held at Guantánamo Bay. I don’t know his name, and can tell you only the very basic outline of what he did. Without talking to him, without finding out why he did it, or where inside him that feeling came from, I cannot honestly “convict” him of anything more serious than common rudeness.
He walks free, though, so I’m less worried about him. The men in Guantánamo do not. Whatever they may be suspected of, why they were arrested, has never been made public, nor have the results of any subsequent investigations. Little wonder, then, that they have not been convicted of anything either. Justice has been slow in coming, and for some, may never arrive — at least four of them have committed suicide since the camp opened, and at least 40 of them have attempted it, often repeatedly.
Five others, among the most high-profile ones, appear to be seeking death another way. The morning I left the cell, they went in front of a military judge, in a proceeding that was widely criticized by lawyers and other observers for its departure from common legal standards (such as preventing co-defendants from talking to each other). After they were told what charges were being laid against them for their alleged involvement in the attacks of September 11, 2001, some of them said they wanted to be “martyred,” apparently asking for the death penalty. But like their fellow inmates, they wait.
I did, too. As people walked by throughout the night, some looked in, a few asked me what I was doing; others didn’t seem to notice the cell was even there, much less occupied. It was impossible to know what they thought.
I thought of the young men, some as young as 14, kidnapped from the streets of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, and sold to US troops as alleged terrorists for thousands of dollars in reward money, who now sit, as I did, in small cells awaiting the next dawn. And when I became cold, tired, and cramped, I reminded myself that they are enduring worse and suffering more. Their fortitude was a thin, cold comfort, but it gave me strength.
Visions from inside
Inmates’ smuggled words show pain, frustration
I discovered during my time in the cell that it is possible to look for so long at one spot — on the floor, the wall, the ceiling — that the spot actually disappears from view. With enough uninterrupted time — or enough detachment from the brutality of the “real world” — it must be possible to make everything you can see just disappear.

What appears in its place? We know some answers, courtesy of the men held at Guantánamo. They have, with the help of their lawyers, published fragments of poetry shedding light on their thoughts, dreams, and visions.
Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, published last year by the University of Iowa Press, includes 22 poems that made it past the US military’s censors. The one that struck me most deeply, in the middle of the night as I read the poems aloud to myself, was “O Prison Darkness,” by an author identified only by his first name, Abdulaziz. It ends with these lines.
Even though the bands tighten and seem unbreakable,
They will shatter.
Those who persist will attain their goal;
Those who keep knocking shall gain entry.
O crisis, intensify!
The morning is about to break forth.

These were some of the songs I listened to while in the cell. My selections were based on reporting by Spin, Mother Jones, the BBC, the New York Times, Time, Transcultural Music Review, and FBI documents, all of which listed songs or bands played by soldiers at Guantánamo, usually at very high volumes, as a way to break down detainees’ psychological defenses.

“Soldier Like Me (Return of the Soulja),” 2Pac & Eminem, Loyal to the Game, 2004
“Don’t Get Mad, Get Even,” Aerosmith, Pump, 1989
“Dirrty,” Christina Aguilera featuring Redman, Stripped, 2002
“One Eight Seven,” Dr. Dre, Chronicles — Death Row Classics, 2006
“Step Up,” Drowning Pool, Desensitized, 2004
“Bodies,” Drowning Pool, Sinner, 2001
“If I Had,” Eminem, The Slim Shady LP, 1999
“Take a Look Around,” Limp Bizkit, Greatest Hits, 2005
“This Is the New S**t,” Marilyn Manson, Lest We Forget — The Best of Marilyn Manson, 2004
“The Burn,” Matchbox Twenty, Mad Season, 2000
“For Crying Out Loud,” Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell, 1977
“Whiplash (Live),” Metallica, Kill ‘Em All, 2008
“Meow Mix” radio commercial
“Killing in the Name,” Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine, 1992
“Naked in the Rain,” Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 2006
“Sometimes,” Britney Spears, . . . Baby One More Time, 1999
“How Mountain Girls Can Love,” Stanley Brothers, 16 Greatest Hits, 2004
“Walking Man,” James Taylor, Greatest Hits, 1974
“The Star Spangled Banner,” United We Stand, Songs for America, 2001

Clarification: The original version of this story did not fully explain the positions Maine Democratic US Representative Mike Michaud took on the Military Commissions Act of 2006. He voted in favor of the bill as it was introduced in the US House of Representatives, but in a subsequent vote changed his mind and opposed it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Press Releases: TV on the radio

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Starting this past Sunday, regular listeners to WGAN (560 AM) radio heard some new voices giving some news and weather updates. No longer are the folks from WCSH Channel 6 (Portland’s Gannett-owned NBC affiliate) on the talk-radio station. Instead it’s the folks from WGME Channel 13 (the Sinclair-owned CBS affiliate in town) who will be doing both live and recorded segments for WGAN.

The arrangement expands a previous arrangement with WPOR (101.9 FM), which is owned by the Portland Radio Group, to sister stations WGAN, WZAN (970 AM), and The Bay (1400 and 1490 AM).

WGME is overall the second-ranked television-news station in the market (behind WCSH, and ahead of WMTW Channel 8, the Hearst-Argyle-owned ABC affiliate), but it has been climbing. In last May’s ratings standings, News 13 was the top broadcast in both the 10 pm and 11 pm time slots.

Pushing hard to expand its audience, the station has made some traditional deals, such as the one with the Portland Radio Group, and another new arrangement to provide weather forecasts to six Courier Publications weekly newspapers in the midcoast; a similar arrangement with the Lewiston Sun Journal has been going for a couple years now. This type of media collaboration is increasingly common, but may serve to limit the free exchange of ideas; allying with businesses and government agencies risks making providers of news and information less independent.

Some of WGME's efforts to grow have brought the station close to non-media companies, and even to government agencies. In a WGME promo spot running before every movie at the three local Cinemagic theaters, WGME staff tout the cinemas’ technology, and anchorwoman Kim Block calls it “the region’s premier family-entertainment cinema.” But when a projector broke in July 2007, during a midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, WGME aired nothing; WCSH and the Portland Press Herald broke the news.

In a recurring segment called “Fugitive Files,” WGME reporters profile criminals wanted by the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and urge viewers to call in with tips. And News 13 cameras have gone with police to videotape many of the 22 arrests that have so far resulted from the program. Other news-police collaborations, such as the Dateline NBC series “To Catch a Predator,” have been accused of operating too cozily with law-enforcement officials.

Even more recently, the station has cuddled right up to the government — at the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at the Portland Jetport, the security rules are explained in a video by WGME’s own Kim Block, who utters phrases like “TSA security officers are here to help you.” (The same video also is played at the Bangor airport.)

WGME news director Robb Atkinson defends all of those efforts, saying they are ways the station can attract prospective viewers. Of the TSA video, which the station made for free as a “public-service announcement,” he says it is part of service to the community required by the Federal Communications Commission of all owners of broadcast licenses.

He adds that TSA officials have told him the video has “helped people go through the lines” with fewer delays, and that it has been more successful than the TSA’s own stock video, which features an androgynous animated character.

All of these — and some others he says are in the works but not yet ready to be made public — are “ways to extend our reach,” Atkinson says. As for whether the TSA video is too close to the feds for comfort, he replies, “We’re all Americans, aren’t we?”

A county primary

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Last week, we told you about the federal primaries most Mainers will get to vote in on June 10, as well as the state-primary choices Portland Democrats will face (see “Top 10 Questions for Maine Voters,” by Deirdre Fulton, May 30). Also, see our endorsements in those races on page 10 of this issue. Now it's time for the super-local stuff.

Four Portland Democrats are competing to represent Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, and Long and Chebeague islands on the three-person Cumberland County Commission.

The commission oversees the administrative structure behind several departments, which are largely run by other elected officials: the district attorney, the sheriff (including the jail and the emergency-communications center), the register of probate, and the register of deeds. There are a couple other departments, including community-development and emergency management, but much of that involves being a middle-man — or middle-woman — between larger government agencies (like the state and the feds) and smaller ones (like cities and towns). Overall, the county has an annual budget of about $31 million, funded by property taxes paid to cities and towns and passed on to the county.

No Republican or independent candidate has filed paperwork with state election officials to contest the race in November, meaning anyone wanting to contest the race would have to wage a write-in campaign.

Seeking to be the Democratic nominee are:
Jim Cloutier of Portland, a former Portland city councilor (and former mayor);
Diane Gurney of Portland, now serving as the county treasurer (an elected position);
Stephen Hirshon of Portland, a Bayside Neighborhood Association organizer who spends a lot of time in Portland City Hall (as a citizen and on various boards) and is a talk-show host on WMPG; and
John Simpson of Cumberland Foreside, who lost in a 2006 bid to unseat Republican state senator Karl Turner.

Also, bonds
All state voters — including those not enrolled in any party — will vote on a $30 million state bond for “natural resources, agricultural and transportation infrastructure,” including $10 million in highway and bridge repairs and nearly the same amount in railroad improvements. It would attract roughly $30 million in federal and private matching funds.

And Portland voters will have to decide whether to spend $20 million to replace Baxter Elementary School — all but $60,000 of which will be reimbursed by the state.