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Some kind of salvation

Politics and other mistakes  
By AL DIAMON  |  June 17, 2009

In 2008, Sean Faircloth, then a state representative from Bangor, lost his bid to become Maine's attorney general, mostly because lots of legislators questioned his credibility.

When your credibility is so shaky that even politicians notice, you have a serious problem. It's sort of like if atheists complained about your ungodliness.

Faircloth was the Democratic whip in the Maine House, a position that should have given him an edge in the AG race, which is effectively decided by the majority party in the Legislature. But he never adequately dealt with news stories revealing that he'd let his license to practice law slip into inactive status, or explained why he seemingly overstated his roles in passing important legislation and in serving on an influential commission.

By the time his candidacy for AG collapsed, Faircloth's political career — he'd already lost bids for the US Senate in 1996 and for Congress in 2002 — appeared to be over.

Not quite. On June 4, the Secular Coalition for America, a Washington-based group that — according to its Web site — represents the interests of "nontheistic Americans," announced it had hired Faircloth as its new executive director. In a news release, the coalition said, "Faircloth has been a vocal champion for the separation of church and state throughout his decade of service as an elected official in the Maine Legislature."

He has?

I could have sworn Faircloth wrote a 1992 op-ed for the Bangor Daily News in which he said, "Many Democrats assert that politics is no place for religion — that politicians should not be guided, analyzed or condemned based on religious views. The religious right believes politics is exactly the place for theology — and I agree."

In 2005, somebody with the same name as the Secular Coalition's new executive director penned a piece for the Portland Press Herald, quoting the Bible, discussing God's view of Maine politics and proclaiming, "I prefer the Christianity of our Founding Fathers."

That same year, this Bizarro-World Faircloth also performed a task usually handled by members of the clergy. He gave the opening prayer for a legislative session.

To whom do nontheists pray? Non-God?

This month, Faircloth, or possibly some atheistic extremist who's stolen his identity, wrote a letter to members of the coalition in which he urged them to join him in opposing "the persistent intrusion of religion into government policy" and to "stop the forces trying to entangle our government with religion."

Well, I'll be damned.

Survival strategies for a modern world

GrowSmart Maine isn't growing smart. It's also not growing stupid. In fact, it's not growing at all.

What the Yarmouth-based non-profit organization, which focuses on combating suburban sprawl and reforming state government, has been doing is shrinking.

Half the 12-member staff has been laid off. Those who survived the cutback are only being paid to work three days a week. And president Alan Caron had given up his salary for the summer, but now says he's resigning. Even those savings may not be enough. According to Caron, if GrowSmart doesn't collect at least $60,000 in donations in the next month, it will likely be shut down. And if it does achieve its fund-raising goal, it probably won't be advocating for as broad an agenda as it once did.

"We got spread too thin," Caron said. "We're trying to figure out what the organization is going to be in a way that can sustain itself."

GrowSmart got too sprawling? There's irony for you.

GrowSmart began as an effort to convince officials in the rapidly growing suburbs around Portland to create walkable downtowns and discourage strip malls and big-box stores. But Caron had larger ambitions. In 2006, GrowSmart commissioned the Brookings Institution's comprehensive report "Charting Maine's Future," which called for a wide range of governmental reforms and created lots of political buzz. The book became a sort of progressive's bible (hey, does Sean Faircloth know about that?), and GrowSmart was supposed to issue an update this year.

Then, the economic downturn hit, and $105,000 in pledges made by businesses to GrowSmart got cancelled. While the organization is still in line to receive a half-million dollars in foundation grants this fall, it currently doesn't have enough cash to make it that far. And if a plea for donations — which has so far produced about $30,000 — doesn't bridge the financial gap, GrowSmart will have to shut down or limit its agenda, a prospect that doesn't please Caron.

"There's a tug of war among our members: sprawl or sustainable prosperity," he said. "If this organization is just going to deal with sprawl, well, I have other things to do."

More irony: Recessions tend to solve the sprawl problem by eliminating development. And, perhaps, a lot of development's critics.

Comments, both sprawling and succinct, can be e-mailed to

  Topics: Talking Politics , Alan Caron, Atheism and Agnosticism, Bangor,  More more >
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