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Last weekend’s Portland Press Herald editorial, calling the National Governors Association annual conference an unnecessary inconvenience for the state’s largest city, was one of the most Maine things ever. It voiced an all-too-common refrain in Maine: Locals complaining about how people “from away” ruined things.
The opinion editors at the Press Herald didn’t like how the NGA ran its event last week. The paper’s editorial board mocked the governors for both spending too much time in hotel conference rooms and for tying up restaurants, streets, wharfs and a popular waterfront park in Cape Elizabeth.
The governors – only 19 of them – and the 500 or so people who came to Portland for the conference were dismissed as the wrong kind of people doing the wrong things in and around the city.
Sure, street closures were a pain for commuters and tourists, but have you tried to get down Commercial Street on a summer afternoon?
In this case, the specific economic benefits of the three-day event are hard to quantify. But the long-term benefits of having national leaders and hundreds of others from across the country spend three glorious days in Maine – and tell lots of others about it – are immeasurable. Some governors pledged to visit again soon. Some stayed beyond the conference.
“We’ve had eight or nine meals, and with that eight or nine lobsters,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey told the Bangor Daily News. “We’re gonna be back again soon, hopefully.”
Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Pierluisi kayaked on Casco Bay during his visit, seeing a bald eagle for the first time.
“I find it so beautiful,” Pierluisi told the Bangor Daily News. “And the people are so warm.”
This is the kind of advertising that would cost state tourism officials untold sums.
And, frankly, this is the kind of event many towns in the state would have lined up to host. Hundreds of visitors would likely be welcomed in Bangor, Presque Isle, Lewiston and other communities. If folks in Portland don’t want the minor disruption of events like this, organizers and participants should consider coming up to Bangor for a more ” genuine” Maine experience.
Or maybe, they could just go with the flow like most people in the Portland area did. Tourist Rebecca Calkin, who was visiting Maine from Washington, D.C., summed up the situation well. She and Wes Calkin hoped to visit Fort Williams Park last Thursday afternoon, but it was closed as the governors had a lobster bake. The closure of the park, home to Portland Head Light, should have been better communicated in advance, but it would have been hard to inform all potential visitors of the closure.
“We’re not angry. It was just a small hiccup for us,” she told the Press Herald.
That’s a sentiment that should be more widespread.
In recent years, NIMBYs across the state have killed or stalled projects – housing, economic development, energy, mental health treatment – because they are too big, too small, too noisy, too different..
Rather than complaining about visitors, and new projects and new ideas, Maine, which relies on newcomers for population growth and has a shortage of workers and affordable housing, should learn to tolerate some temporary hiccups and new ways of doing things. Even if it is inconvenient.