The 2018 Conifer Awards

I don’t think there is anything better than Christmas traditions. Christmas mass. Gift giving. Music. Family. Dinner. Taking six hours to put together over-engineered and insanely designed larger items for the kids, forcing you to go to bed at 3:30 in the morning. The usual.

Along with my yearly predictions, I have also traditionally given out holiday superlatives and recognitions that I call the Conifer Awards. (Maine is the pine tree state. Pine trees are conifers. Get it?)

And so, this year being no different, I give to you the 2018 Conifer Awards:

Biggest Success: Janet Mills

Janet Mills was never the trendy pick to become Maine’s next governor. Yet Mills not only won, but won handily and enters her first two years as governor with a powerful majority at her back. She was doubted all along the way, and managed to over perform. Hard not to tip your cap to that and acknowledge that she was the big winner this year.

Democrat Janet Mills celebrates her victory in Maine’s governor’s race on Nov. 6. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone: Paul LePage

Even those who never liked Gov. Paul LePage have to admit that the guy has a certain charm to him. Pugnacious, colorful and passionate, he was the center of political gravity in this state for eight years.

When he is gone — if he truly leaves — your memory of the bad will fade and all that will be left will be the excellent economy, the stable, disciplined fiscal management, and the bevy of popular policies he enacted, like welfare reform. Yes, you’ll miss him.

Biggest Failure: Legislative Republicans

It is no one’s fault, necessarily, but it is without question that House and Senate Republicans were smoked in 2018. More than they should have been, even in a Democratic year. People who had no business losing lost. Reliable seats fell. Potential legislative protections from a Mills governorship were eviscerated.

Biggest Hypocrisy

Every Democrat in Maine who complains about “big money in politics” and then enjoys the fruits of the avalanche of big money that pours into their campaigns and their interest groups, dwarfing anything done by Republicans by several exponents.

Best Political Ad: Jared Golden

There were a lot to pick from this year, but Golden deserved several nominations. I could’ve given it to him for several of his ads, but I think it was the memory of a t-shirt wearing, tattooed Golden firing a rifle that was the most effective audition for office this year.

Yes, it was laying it on thick. Yes, it was obvious and borderline manipulative. Yes, it left a completely misleading impression, given his political agenda and philosophy. But it was a damn good ad.

Most Politically Courageous: Susan Collins

Political courage is defined, for me, rather simply. It is doing the thing you believe to be right, despite the knowledge that in so doing you will face consequences, be they in popularity, electoral prospects, or otherwise.

Sen. Collins had every reason to do the easy, politically safe, and popular thing by voting against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Failing to do so would mean threats, intimidation, the loss of support by Democrats, and a future opponent funded by $3.7 million in failed extortion money.

She did it anyway.

Lamest Attempt to Cash In: Sara Gideon

And as Collins demonstrated courageous leadership, House Speaker Sara Gideon smelled the $3.7 million in campaign cash, and immediately started rather pathetically auditioning for the job.

Guy Running in the Wrong Year: Shawn Moody

Moody, in any other year, would probably be your next governor. He ran a good campaign, and was about as personally appealing and universally liked as a candidate for political office can be. He was all of the good that came from LePage with none of the bad. 2018 was just the worst possible year he could have run.

Worst Use of a DNA Test: Elizabeth Warren

Warren took a DNA test to “prove” her Native American heritage, but in so doing she became even more widely mocked for claiming ancestry based on results showing her with perhaps 1/1024th Native blood. The Cherokee Nation accused her of “dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens,” and the stunt may have torpedoed her own nascent presidential campaign. Oops.

Saddest Celebrity Death

President George H.W. Bush was a man from a different era, and his passing is a reminder of the best of American values, namely sacrifice, service, and honor. A shame he and those like him are leaving this world with increased frequency.

So there you have it, the 2018 Conifer Awards. I hope you and your family have a wonderful New Year.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.