Don’t let Diane Russell fool you

When accusations of using her PAC as a slush fund first arose in March, I wondered how Diane Russell would respond.

After all, Russell- the current State Rep. for District 39 and candidate for the open State Senate seat for District 27- is known for her self-trumpeting style on social media, so I figured she would surely take to the Facebook and Twitter waves and vehemently defend herself against the potentially career ending findings.

State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. Troy R. Bennett, BDN

State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. Troy R. Bennett, BDN

Clearly, based on her own PAC filings, she’s acting- at best- irresponsibly with the money that progressives from across the country have given her in good faith to spend on helping other Democrats get elected to office.

Still, even though the people of Portland wanted an explanation, and even though she’s been one of the most outspoken elected officials that the state has seen in recent years, she was silent.

Then came the public outcry when Portland City Manager Jon Jennings proposed closing the India Street health clinic– a move that has been delayed, but not stopped, by the city council.

When the original proposal was still on the table, a press conference was held in front of City Hall that was meant to be a show of solidarity in support of keeping the clinic open. Russell took the opportunity to be in front of the news cameras and turned the press conference into little more than a photo-op peppered with self-aggrandizing one liners for the media.

After nearly hip checking her opponents for the senate seat- current District 40 State Rep. Ben Chipman and Chuck Radis, a doctor from Peaks Island- out of the way so she could hog the cameras, she got up to the podium and acted more like a cheerleader concerned about her popularity than an elected official concerned about public health and well-being.

Photo- Seth Koenig, BDN

Photo- Seth Koenig, BDN

“Let’s not close the India Street clinic,” Russell shouted as she pumped her fist. “Let’s have a conversation about expanding it!”

A comment like that makes for a great soundbite, and all the naive activists in attendance cheered loudly for it, but it boils down to pointless rhetoric that does little more than ensure a quote in the newspaper and a few seconds on the evening news.

That brings me to the state Democratic Convention in Portland on May 7, in which Russell introduced an amendment to stop the influence of superdelegates at the national level.

The amendment was adopted, effectively giving the average Maine Democratic primary voter a stronger voice in the overall party nominating process, but doesn’t really change anything when it comes to Bernie Sanders’ chances of beating Hillary Clinton out for the nomination for President this year.

Thing is, the reason the amendment passed so overwhelmingly should be almost solely credited to the fervor of the Sanders’ campaign and the youthful involvement he has inspired across the country- not to Russell.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Sanders supporter and it bums me out that Clinton has the nomination all but locked up. Plus, I like the idea of weakening the power of superdelegates, but the passage of the amendment is not going to save the party, and it isn’t going to solve the growing infighting and resentment between factions within the party.

Still, Russell took full advantage of the moment, and referred to herself to the media as “the hero of the convention.”

State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. Troy R. Bennett, BDN

State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. Troy R. Bennett, BDN

Speaking of Sanders, Russell has been very open of her support for the Vermont senator’s run for President, but it doesn’t appear as if Sanders supports Russell in her own campaign.

Two weeks ago, Sanders gave endorsements to eight state legislative candidates across the country, but not to Russell. This wouldn’t be worth mentioning if it weren’t for Russell’s constant attempts to align her image with that of Sanders- even referring to herself and Sanders as “two peas in a pod” in this Facebook post in May:

So with all the Bernie love coming from Russell, why didn’t Sanders include her in his endorsements?

It could be for any number of reasons, but the logical conclusion is that Sanders doesn’t support a candidate who would treat a PAC as her own personal piggy bank, or one who would raise nearly $90,000 for a state primary race- particularly in a state that has Clean Elections, as Maine does- with the majority of the funds coming from out of state donors, as Russell has done.

Russell called the absurd level of contributions to her campaign “a humbling display of grassroots support,” but discerning Portland voters are seeing it more as a slap in the face to our Clean Election laws, and a glaring red flag for possible future political impropriety.

Still, after all that, I was going to just stay out of it and let the chips fall as they may. My thinking was that, even though I’m turned off by Russell’s style and personality, I do support and agree with most of her political positions, and all I really had to say up to that point was based more or less on my own personal judgements of her character- so I figured I’d just watch from the sidelines as the primary race unfolded.

In the past several days though, she’s crossed the line into outright deception, and I feel that the lies and negative misconceptions she’s been spreading about the above mentioned opponent for the state senate seat, Ben Chipman- and to a lesser extent, Chuck Radis- warrant full condemnation.

Through emails and mailers, Russell’s campaign has desperately tried to turn the spotlight on Chipman’s record as an elected official and activist in an attempt to mislead voters into thinking he’s untrustworthy.

The thing is, for just about everything that Russell’s campaign is saying about Chipman- when you actually look at the facts of the awful misdeeds they’re accusing him of- it’s easy to see that he is head and shoulders above Russell when it comes to character, integrity, and doing what’s best for both his constituents and the people of Maine in general.

Here’s one of the mailers her campaign has sent out in recent days: Chipman1 For a great breakdown explaining the falsities of this mailer alone, check out fellow BDN blogger Rob Korobkin’s piece from Thursday.

All these tactics are doing for Russell though- at least when it comes to voters who actually care about facts over nonsense- is causing her to come off as a dishonest, power-hungry, mean-spirited person willing to do anything to advance herself in the corrupt game of career politicians who profit from the blind gullibility of constituents.

It’s no secret that the Dems have the seat locked up for whichever candidate they vote onto the ticket, so the winner of this Tuesday’s primary will effectively become one of the most powerful Democrats in the state, and possibly the most powerful politician in Portland.

So with an all-but-guaranteed win for the party in the bag, Democratic Senate District 27 voters should ask themselves if they want the statewide face of Portland to become a shamelessly self-promoting, patently dishonest person representing them, their city, and their party?

Photo- Jen Lynds/Bangor Daily News

Photo- Jen Lynds/Bangor Daily News

Or do they want someone with the guts to stand up to big money interests and the corruption of Gov. LePage, and the class to ignore the deceitful sucker punches being thrown at him by Russell?

Rep. Ben Chipman, D-Portland. Troy R. Bennett, BDN

Rep. Ben Chipman, D-Portland. Troy R. Bennett, BDN

Don’t be fooled, vote Chipman.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a sixth generation Portlander who loves all things Maine. He has worked with mentally ill and marginalized adults at a Portland non-profit, on a lobster boat in Casco Bay, at several high-end Portland restaurants, and at a local meat packing plant. He also ran for Portland City Council in 2013, wrote a weekly column in the now defunct Portland Daily Sun, and currently writes a weekly column in The Portland Phoenix.