"This year was full of many deserving award recipients."
Gov. Janet Mills celebrates on stage after declaring victory on Nov. 8, 2022, in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Another year has come and gone. Was 2022 better than 2021? I would say so, without much hesitation. But as we look back, we should take time to reflect on the best (and the worst) of the past year. That is why each year I hand out the Conifer Awards, my end-of-year superlatives. This year was full of many deserving award recipients. Such as:

The Winning Bigly Award for Excellence

Last year this award was given to Sen. Joe Manchin, for his ability to more-or-less dictate what Washington did and did not do. This year there are many possible honorees, but I’ve decided to stay here in Maine to give the award to Gov. Janet Mills.

In what most observers expected to be a closely contested race, she blew out former Gov. Paul LePage by 13 points, powered by an incredibly strong performance in southern Maine, coupled with a lot of durability in more rural and suburban communities statewide. Such a win may leave Mills with the feeling that she has a mandate and a lot of political capital that she can spend. Others have thought the same in the past, only to find out otherwise. Still, she is in the driver’s seat and will undoubtedly push forward with her agenda, free from any significant political worries this year.

The Most Defining Political Moment of the Year Award

Without question this goes to the Supreme Court and its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, flipping the table over on a half-century of abortion law in the United States.

I think the political impact of the decision has been blown somewhat out of proportion, but even if it has been, there is no denying that it was a monumental decision that did indeed reshape the politics of 2022.

The ‘Do You Think They Will Make That?’ Award

Years ago, former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan wanted to wear a suit on the sidelines for gameday. The NFL eventually allowed him to, so long as the suit was made by Reebok, given the league’s apparel deal. This prompted the entire world to collectively ask, “Wait, Reebok makes suits?”

This year, with John Fetterman winning a hotly contested election to become the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania while wearing a collection of hoodies and sweatshirts made by Carhartt, one has to wonder whether Fetterman might strike up a similar deal with his favorite clothing manufacturer.

The ‘Fire Everyone and Start Over’ Award for Dysfunctional Leadership

Last year this award went to Vice President Kamala Harris, and her chaotic office. This year the “honor” goes to incoming House Speaker (we think) Kevin McCarthy. Since “winning” the midterm elections, he has stumbled around, and still lacks the votes to actually get the gavel. McCarthy, political observers may remember, has already imploded once in his career, and looks close to perhaps doing so a second time.

The Biggest Maine Success Award

It may be tempting to give this award to Mills, but in reality, the biggest electoral success of the cycle belongs to U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, who survived being one of the most targeted Democrats of 2022 while sitting in a conservative district in a supposedly Republican-friendly year, facing a well-funded opponent who used to represent the district.

To not only survive that, but win convincingly is the most impressive political feat of the year in Maine.

The Sneakiest Success That Doesn’t Look Like a Success Award

It doesn’t look like a success. It doesn’t feel like a success. Yet, the performance by legislative Republicans in Maine this year was actually very strong.

In past years when a top-of-the-ticket Democrat has cruised, the Democrats have ended up with about 90 to 95 seats in the Legislature. For Mills to win by 13 points, Golden to win big and the Republicans to pick up a seat in the House and hold firm in the Senate is more than a little remarkable.

Most Important Accomplishment of the Year Award

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely despise the $1.7 trillion spending bill that just passed both houses of Congress, but due to the work of the congressional delegation, particularly senior U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Maine’s lobster industry has received a reprieve after the federal government’s heavy handed regulations threatened to kill the industry. Now there will be a six-year pause to allow for common sense to prevail, and regulations to hopefully change.

With that, I want to wish you and your family a joyous New Year!

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...