Every year for the past thirty years, the editors of this magazine have honored an individual or group with our Down East Environmental Award. This year we chose to give the prize to someone who is dead.
Why present this 2008 award to the late Senator Edmund S. Muskie, especially when there are so many deserving candidates out there, from the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset to the Maine Conservation School in Bryant Pond? Because this is a presidential election year, for one thing. And like the rest of you, we've been watching the primaries - and the national media's simplistic and sensationalist coverage of them - with a mixture of giddy excitement and outright disgust. In doing so, we've thought a lot about Ed Muskie and the 1972 election.
Muskie was not the first presidential frontrunner to be undone by dirty tricks and gutter journalism. But he was the first Mainer with a real shot at getting to the White House, at least since James G. Blaine. What would 1970s America have looked like if Ed Muskie had been elected our thirty-eighth president? That's one of the questions Senior Editor Jeff Clark asks in his profile on page 55.
But we're not giving Muskie the Down East Environmental Award because we're once again in the middle of a presidential campaign. The real reason we've chosen to honor him is this: as the principal author of both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, Ed Muskie holds claim to having been the most effective environmentalist in the history of the United States Congress. Every man, woman, and child today has benefited from his foresight, persistence, and courage. The more we studied Muskie's life, the more convinced we became that the lack of credit he has received for cleaning up America is something close to a national scandal.
Ed Muskie was the governor of Maine, a four-term senator, the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1968, the Polish-American who held the highest office in U.S. history, and (briefly) United States Secretary of State - and yet not a single statue exists of him. Nor can you find a Muskie biography in your local library. One of the preeminent statesman in American history is on the verge of being forgotten.
That is why the editors of Down East have unapologetically decided to present Edmund Sixtus Muskie with our thirtieth annual Environmental Award. And with it, our deepest (and belated) thanks.