BIW Contracts, Obama in Maine and More
Bath Iron Works is one of the largest private employers in the state and has long been a mainstay of Maine politics. Senators Margaret Chase Smith, Ed Muskie, George Mitchell, Bill Cohen, and now Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have all touted their ability to secure naval shipbuilding contracts for BIW as a sign of their clout in Washington. In 1981, Maine voters even passed a state-wide referendum to fund a new dry-dock for the shipbuilder using public funds.
Way back in 1997, the Bangor Daily news ran a prescient article titled "Collins vs. Allen a future contest for Senate?" and mentioned support for BIW as a possible issue.
Exactly no one was surprised when, two weeks ago, BIW became an issue in this year's US Senate race between Republican incumbent Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Congressman Tom Allen with the announcement that the Navy will be canceling orders for Zumwalt class destroyers (DDG-1000) that BIW was scheduled to build and will likely instead be ordering more Arleigh Burke destroyers (DDG-51) from the shipyard.
Senator Collins faulted Congressman Allen for the decision, and the uncertainty it created. She pointed out that while the Senate Armed Services Committee on which she sits had recommended funding for the ships, the same committee in the House, which Allen left in 2003, had eliminated funding for the program.
Allen countered by claiming the decision was good for the state. He highlighted his support from the iron workers union, who believe that the return to production of DDG-51s will mean steadier employment.
At the time, most media in Maine was content to report their disagreement, note the complexity of the issue, and move on.
This week, however, new testimony from Naval officials before the House Armed Services Committee may point towards the real cause for the change in priorities. Vice Admiral Barry McCullough testified that the DDG-1000 "cannot perform area air defense; specifically, it cannot successfully employ the Standard Missile-2 (SM-2), SM-3 or SM-6, and is incapable of conducting Ballistic Missile Defense." In short, he says that the ship doesn't do what it was supposed to, couldn't defend itself from a missile attack from Iran or North Korea, and doesn't meet the needs of the modern navy.
There's a bit of disagreement surrounding these facts, and some naval experts say that "spiral development" could eventually add these capabilities, but what seems clear is that the decision to scrap the Zumwalt is due to military strategy rather than congressional politics.
The sinking of the Zumwalt program doesn't mean that Collins has lost her clout or that Allen has the wrong priorities. Not everything is about Maine politics.
In other Maine political news…
Jack Cashman, Governor Baldacci's nominee for the Public Utilities Commission, receives a legislative endorsement, despite questions about his candidacy.
Obama opens an office in Portland.
The state GOP asks one of their own legislative candidates to quit his race.
Tom Allen votes for a congressional recess, Susan Collins votes to stay.
The political connections of the group of investors attempting to buy three Maine newspapers may cause some conflicts of interest.
State Senator Lois Snowe-Mello has a puppy problem.
US News and World Report takes a hard look at Millinocket's future.
Community activists say the Holtrachem cleanup isn't going fast enough.
A recent ruling on signature gathering in Maine may hurt corporate-backed ballot initiatives.
A thunderstorm kept Tom Allen stuck in an airport, missing an AFL-CIO reception.
Absentee ballots can now be requested for the November election.
Maine newspaper columnist Jim Brunelle hangs up his pen after 40 years of commentary.