Criticism of LePage Brings Wild Crazy Just Plain Wrong Charges

I’ve suffered the slings and arrows of criticism in nearly all of my jobs over the last 40 years. It comes with the territory when you are active politically, when you are willing to share your opinions in such public ways (including once a week for 24 years in an editorial column in two daily newspapers and for 14 years on a TV talk show), and when – yes – you dare to speak the truth.

But even I was astonished by the false and ridiculous comments and charges posted at the end of my recent outdoor news blog column about Paul LePage’s broken promises to sportsmen. Many of those comments found their way onto Facebook pages. So – against my better judgment, because I know this will only encourage those who made them, I will respond to those comments and charges, mostly because so many of my friends have asked me to do this.

First, let me note that not one single commentator challenged the facts in my column. Not one. And for good reason. Every single thing I wrote is true. I learned long ago when your opponents can’t challenge your facts, they challenge your motives. And that was very evident in this case.

Second, let’s understand that I am not a journalist, nor a news reporter. My blog is full of my opinions.  And no one has to read them. I do appreciate the thousands of people who do read my columns, because I write for them.

Let’s begin by clearing the air for my sister Edie Smith. In response to the column, some charged that I was biased because my sister is running Eliot Cutler’s campaign. Where do these people get their information? Edie is the State Director for United States Senator Angus King, in charge of his offices and staff in Maine. She is most assuredly not running Eliot Cutler’s campaign.

Then there were several who stated that I was not a Republican. I was born a Republican and will die a Republican. I once switched to the Democratic Party to support a specific candidate in a Congressional race (he lost), then immediately switched back, writing a humorous column about my 90 days as a Democrat. I was, most assuredly, not comfortable in Democratic clothing.

SAM

The most hurtful comments came from some people who should know better, criticizing my work for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, stating that I never accomplished anything in my 18 years as SAM’s executive director, reporting that I’d been forced to resign and left the group in terrible shape. Wrong. All of it. So wrong.

I am proud of all SAM accomplished during my tenure, and appreciative of the support and help I received from the Board of Directors and the members. Every year, 95 percent or more of our members reported – in our annual membership survey – that they were very satisfied with SAM’s work. Shame on the former Republican legislator who wrote, on a Facebook page, that I accomplished nothing.

When SAM was floundering in the early 1990s, a group of former staff and board members (including me, as a former President of the organization) got together to right the sinking ship. SAM was nearly bankrupt, suffering internal and external problems, and had lost 75 percent of its members. Eventually the board contracted with me to serve as executive director, temporarily, to turn things around. We did that, and I enjoyed the job so much that I stayed – for 18 years. Certainly, if I had accomplished nothing, I would not have lasted that long.

In 2005, I told SAMs’ Board that I was thinking about stepping down, and would like to do so in three years or so, because I wanted to write full time, and we should begin talking and planning for a future without George. We did that off and on for the next few years, but just when I really wanted to leave, the recession was punishing SAM (as it did many nonprofits), and so I stayed to get us through that difficult period.

And we did that and did it well. When I left, at the end of 2010, we’d rebuilt the membership to nearly 13,000, paid all the bills, had lots of money in two investment accounts, and were paying the bills for our headquarters from rentals of the conference center to the public, other nonprofits, and state agencies for meetings.

I actually resigned as executive director at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2010, but the Board asked me to stay on for six more months, to give them more time to find a new executive director. I really didn’t want to do that, but I did agree to contract with them for 8 specific tasks. My last task was organization of SAM’s annual Sportman’s Congress in January of 2011. But I ended up doing all of the executive director’s tasks anyway, because the Board didn’t hire my replacement until very late in the year. And of course, that replacement turned into a disastrous decision on the Board’s part, and they fired the guy about 6 months later. But I had no part in the hiring or the firing.

King, Michaud, and Cutler

A few of the comments received after I posted the LePage column were true. I do like and support Angus King. So did the SAM Board that unanimously endorsed Angus for Governor in his first race against Susan Collins and Joe Brennen.  I’ve enjoyed a great relationship with Angus ever since. He did a superb job for us as Governor, even bailing out DIF&W one year with public tax money after the agency ended the year $1 million in the hole. Angus wrote the introduction to my new book, A Life Lived Outdoors, published by Islandport Press.

Incidentally, there are no political columns in the book!

I have given free advice (not paid as some charged) to Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler and any other politician who asked (including both Republican and Democratic candidates for the legislature), to members of the news media, to state agency staff, to nonprofit groups of all kinds, and to a lot of other people. I’d give free advice to LePage, if he wanted it. As my wife Linda reminded me today, I give advice to people who don’t even ask for it!

I want these candidates and others to be well informed on the issues I care about and have devoted much of my life to. My life as a paid political consultant and fundraiser are over. But my interest in good government continues. Hence, the column on LePage.

If anyone can dispute the facts in that column, I would like to hear it. Otherwise, please get your facts straight. Contact me if you need help!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.