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No One Tells Mary Adams to Sit Down, Shut Up
Maine Woman Honored for Activism Efforts Stays Busy Battling for Forest Products Industry in the Northeast
By Rich Jefferson
Date Posted: 9/1/1999
Every state should be fortunate enough to have its own Mary Adams. No one — not the environmentalists, not the education bureaucracy, and certainly not any elected official — tells Mary Adams to sit down and shut up. She’s telling us to stand up and be counted.
Mary was honored earlier this year by the American Pulpwood Association for her volunteer activism on behalf of the forest products industry. The association bestowed on her its 1999 Forestry Activist Award in the individual category.
Her success in grassroots politics is enough to make you believe, as Mary does, that the American Revolution was not a once-and-done event that occurred 220 years ago, but an on-going fight against "tyranny and government intrusion." As Mary puts it, this country started with brave men fighting the heavy hand of the British government, which favored high taxation while taking a dim view of American ideas about private property. "Today we’re battling the same philosophy in our own government," she said.
Mary does not believe the state or the federal government can promote a healthy environment as well as private property owners can. "Tell the entrepreneurs what you need, and they’ll do it, better and cheaper. You can have freedom in a clean environment with the free enterprise system. When we look to government for environmental solutions, we’re looking to the wrong source. The British wore red and ran around on parade horses, but now the enemy’s harder to identify."
Identifying the enemy is something Mary has done very well during her more than 20 rambunctious years as a grassroots activist. She is credited with turning back the 1996 Compact for Maine’s Forests, a controversial ballot initiative sponsored by Maine Gov. Angus King. If the referendum had passed, size limits on clear-cuts would have been reduced from 250 acres to 75 acres. The initiative was defeated, however, by a vote of 53% to 47%.
As Mary told TimberLine, the governor said the only thing that could stop the compact was Mary Adams and $50,000. King was wrong about the initiative and wrong about Mary. She only spent $45,000.
Oddly, the referendum divided some in the forest products industry. More than half the Maine Forest Products Council membership opposed the compact in a poll, but its president and paper companies favored the measure.
Mary is puzzled why paper companies felt the need to ‘make nice’ with environmentalists. "The companies have assets, and the environmentalists have nothing," she noted. But, she added, the environmentalists use a proven propaganda method, repeating the mantra, "we’re stakeholders," until, by force of repetition, the companies believe it. "But they don’t have a stake in these issues," Mary emphasized. "They don’t have assets, and they don’t own property."
When one leading environmentalist who also opposed the compact wanted to appear at a news conference with Mary, she refused. "On this issue, we were like two cars parked at a traffic light. When the light changes, we’re going different directions. I wasn’t going to legitimize his group in any way."
Yet, a strange alliance between Mary’s group, Common Sense for Maine Forests, and some environmentalists overcame supporters of the compact, who spent millions of dollars in a campaign to persuade voters to approve it.
The victory over Gov. King and his misbegotten compact resulted from Mary’s ability to take the pulse of her fellow Maine residents. These folks are "ordinary people who are not part of the political landscape" as far as the politicians are concerned, she said. These ordinary folks "never used to upset the apple cart. But they can be our allies if they are approached in the right way. You have to make them understand they can’t sit down and shut up when some government official says they have to. They have to be radicalized."
Mary and Common Sense for Maine Forests, figured out the right approach. "According to the polling on the ballot initiative, the compact looked good until four or five in the afternoon," she recalled. "And that’s when ordinary people got out of work and voted. The disenfranchised public already feels that they have lost too much, and we focused them on the forest industry. They learned that they could help this major employer with their votes."
Discovering that a campaign against the compact would motivate ordinary voters was not a matter of extensive demographic analysis or nitpicking focus groups. To Mary, the voters of Maine are a known quantity because she is like them. "I use my own self as a litmus test. I’m one of them. If I think it, then many of them are thinking it, too. It seems to work. I was brought up as an ‘every man’ sort of person. I am not new to them. I have been in grassroots efforts for more than two decades."
Mary’s efforts on behalf of the forest products industry have been strictly as a volunteer. "I wanted people to understand that I was doing it because I believed in it," she said, noting the distinction between volunteers and paid activists.
Her forays into politics did not start in natural resources but in an even more incendiary combination of issues: taxes and education. In 1977, Mary toiled to repeal Maine’s statewide property tax. The tax ultimately would have pilfered control of public schools from localities and centralized it in the state capital — a dream come true for education bureaucrats, to be sure, but not what Mary considered to be striking a blow for freedom.
When Mary became the spokesman for the anti-tax, decentralized side of the public debate, not only did opponents of the tax win, but she was launched into conservative political activism. She has remained involved for more than 20 years.
Mary later did stints on her local school board and the Maine State Board of Education, where she encountered political opposition similar to what she faces now from New England environmentalists. She managed to save the job of a principal who had the wisdom to teach phonics to young readers instead of trendier — but less effective — ways to teach reading. The whole language method of teaching reading "was a waste of time and it was damaging the children," Mary said. "This principal was getting more from the children when everyone expected much less from his school." Instead of commending the principal for his achievement, "the reaction was to try to get rid of him," Mary said.
Although Mary does not believe you need to run for office to be effective in public life, she ran in Maine’s 1994 Republican gubernatorial primary. She lost the race but accomplished her goal. "One opponent wanted to resurrect the statewide property tax. Ridding Maine of that tax is my life’s work. It’s not coming back, at least not in my lifetime. I made sure he lost."
Without the 59-year-old grandmother vociferously exercising her First Amendment rights, Maine probably still would have a statewide property tax, and the forest products industry and owners of private woodlands in the state would be faced with increased regulations.
She is not kidding when she says her inspiration comes from the Americans who fought the British. She is currently extolling a book titled, "Samuel Adams: The Father of American Independence," by Dennis Fradin. In Adams, Mary sees a leader who, just as she sees herself, was an ‘every man.’ "I’ve always had a populist streak in me," she said. "Sam Adams hung out with dock workers and ship builders. They were the sons of liberty. It’s a great story, and it never ended. The American Revolution is a continuing thing. And I found I was part of it without realizing."
"This book is so good," she added, "it merits being in every classroom. The type of grassroots politics practiced by Adams and other patriots clearly is as valid today as in theirs."
There are those who do not understand the founding of America and why the United States has been a free country. Environmentalists merely use their pet cause as the ‘tool du jour’ for their grand governmental schemes.
"The environment is an adorable subject," said Mary. "We all want clean air, clean water, and so on." But by appealing to the touchy-feely ideas of how to improve the environment, preservationists risk "pulling the rug out from under the very freedoms that America stands for."
Mary warned of two governmental monsters looming on the horizon: so-called "ecosystem" or "watershed" approaches to land management and also conservation easements.
"What does watershed management mean for local control?" she asked. "What does it mean for liberty? The federal government would change to reflect watershed management, and these boards or commissions would not be elected by the people. They would be appointed, and I don’t see how we can preserve American liberties under that system." In sum, "watershed management will lead to federal zoning regulations or even another federal governmental layer on a regional basis."
As for conservation easements, Mary highly recommends an Internet document written by Gina Brosig about these restrictive covenants. (It is available on the World Wide Web at www.fb.com/issues/analysis/easement.html.) Brosig explains that a landowner who opts for a conservation easement "has set the stage for the government to eventually take full possession of the land." Future property owners will be legally bound by the easement, which eventually will make private ownership of the land too burdensome. Then, only a government entity will want to acquire the land; because of the easement, the government will be allowed to use the property only for parks or open spaces.
Conservation easements are becoming popular in Maine, Mary noted. There is no pending ballot initiative to make Maine voters confront conservation easements, which makes the issue harder to fight.
New England editorial writers have not grasped what is happening, Mary complained. And, until the mainstream media figure it out — if they ever do — Mary has commenced her own modern "sons of liberty" pamphleteering on the Internet. She has a Web site at www.adamsreport.com.
At her site, Mary informs visitors about pending legislation that will increase taxes and take away private property rights. She also provides a way for visitors to send e-mail to elected officials and newspapers in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Mary also corresponds with visitors via e-mail.
After publishing an article titled, "The American Heritage Rivers Scam," about the Clinton Administration’s American Heritage Rivers initiative, Mary received an e-mail message from Vermont state Representative David Deen. "I have been told that if you stop smoking dope, the paranoia goes away in about six months," he wrote snidely.
Her reply, in part: "As I said in my report, the watershed councils are just crazy about the American Heritage Rivers program. You’ve proved my point. I...noticed that you’re a member of the Vermont River Conservancy and the Connecticut River Watershed Council...I predict that Vermont will like the American Heritage River initiative just about as much as they like that state property tax you voted for."
In presenting the American Pulpwood Association’s award earlier this year, chairman Jim Fendig applauded her efforts. "Mary," he said, "you have certainly showed us all the difference a dedicated grassroots push can make in shaping the way our forests our managed. Thanks for leading the way."
"The forest industry is a favorite in American hearts," she told the association audience after accepting the award. "It is a natural for grassroots support. I want to you to know that you do have the little guys with you, if you approach them in the right way."
The award recognizes exemplary activism in support of America’s forest products industry. Candidates for the award are nominated after regional competition.
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