The 2017 Conifer Awards

Traditions are wonderful, which is why I am proud to give you my bold predictions each year. That’s why in 2014 I also started handing out the Conifer Awards —- political superlatives for the year that was.

And so, as we sit here taking stock of the previous 12 months — both nationally and here at home in Maine — I present the Conifer Awards for 2017.

Best use of the soap box

Our award winner in this category goes to none other than Sen. Susan Collins.

Speculation raged all year, in a torrent of “will she or won’t she” punditry, wondering as to the future intentions of Maine’s senior senator. Collins was famously toying with the idea that she may want to run for governor, which would obviously have major implications for that race, her U.S. Senate seat, and the state of politics in both Maine and the country.

No small stakes.

Masterfully, Collins drew out that speculation and declared that she would make her announcement at a speech delivered at the Samoset Resort on Oct. 13. State and national media descended upon the LeBron James-style “decision” event, like rabid vultures who had not been fed in weeks.

Using that interest, Collins spoke. And spoke. And spoke. And spoke. She spoke about the federal debate on healthcare. She spoke about bipartisanship. She spoke about her agonizing over the decision to run or not to run. She had a spotlight on her, and she used it to its fullest extent, only telling us her intentions at the very end.

She had her soapbox, and she used it.

Most obnoxious phrase

“The will of the people.”

This oft-repeated phrase is the siren song of the disaffected special interest referendum campaign. When a referendum passes, it represents “the will of the people” and the resulting law — no matter how unwise or flawed — cannot be questioned.

At least that’s what those special interest groups say.

Those who worship at the Holy Church of Direct Democracy seem to think that there is something special and different about the opinion expressed by a majority of people, as though achieving such a majority in a referendum vote makes an idea moral, just, prudent or wise.

Any thinking person knows differently. There was a time in this country that slavery was supported by “the will of the people.” Majority votes do not necessarily make good ideas, particularly when those ideas are fought in the public square on uneven terms with millions of dollars poured in from outside the state on behalf of special interests, with no real organized or funded opposition.

But that won’t stop this phrase from continuing to be used.

Biggest success

This has to be the federal revision of the tax code. This has long been the dream of many in the Republican Party. Not just a tax cut, but a wholesale recalibration of the entire tax code, including a major corporate tax cut that will make the United States more competitive internationally.

This is one of those bills that you only see every 30 years or so, and it was achieved. Easily the biggest success of the year.

Biggest failure

This isn’t even close — the failure of the United States Senate to pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Biggest fake news story

The media was so overzealous in their hatred of the new president, that they lived up to that president’s accusations of “fake news” repeatedly throughout the year.

Taking the cake in that category has to be ABC News for their “Special Report” citing a source that claimed that a close associate of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was prepared to testify that Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians” during the course of the 2016 presidential race.

The world erupted. Articles of Impeachment were being prepared. The stock market tumbled. Social media exploded.

Only one problem: the story was garbage. Trump had told Michael Flynn to contact the Russians during the presidential transition after his election, seeking to build a working relationship to tackle the problem of ISIS.

ABC News was forced to issue a correction, and howls of fake news commenced around the country.

Most rage-inducing rule in football

Finally, on the lighter side, the award for the most confusing, and rage inducing rule in football.

Can anyone tell me what a catch is? I’m a fairly educated man, but I’m afraid I can’t quite figure it out. And, frankly, neither can the referees. Or the league.

Might be time to take a look at that and revise.

On to the 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.