Prodigal son

Politics and Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  October 3, 2014

I guess Maine should feel flattered.

I mean, it’s not as if this politically insignificant state is an important battleground in deciding the nation’s future. What happens here is about as likely to affect the course of federal policy as it is to impact the incidence of solar flares.

On the other hand, I care a lot more about solar flares knocking out my Internet service than I do about most federal policies.

Nevertheless, billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer has decided Maine is important enough to share in the $50 million he’s promised to spend in seven states to influence the outcome of the November elections. Steyer has started a chapter of his NextGen Climate political action committee here with the goal of defeating candidates who don’t support efforts to curb global warming. He plans to contact over 90,000 voters to convince them that combating climate change calls for defeating Republican Governor Paul LePage and electing Democratic challenger Mike Michaud.

Steyer is something of a recent convert to the green cause, having made his money overseeing hedge funds, some of which were heavily invested in mining and burning coal, a major source of the gases that cause planetary warming. Environmentalists whose commitment to clean energy stretches back further than 2012—when Steyer had his epiphany—are a bit leery about chumming around with someone so recently dirty.

But billionaires rarely have to worry about a lack of friends. They can always buy some.

In this case, Steyer has hired Chris Lehane to fill the role of chief strategist for his campaign. Although Lehane was born in Massachusetts, he grew up in Kennebunk and launched his political career helping Democrats in Maine. But he’s best known for the six years he spent managing crises in the Clinton White House, a job that earned him a reputation for being tough, effective, and nasty.

“The question is, How are you going to get people’s attention?” Steyer told the New York Times Magazine in a February profile of Lehane. “A lot of people feel it’s possible to change the status quo politely. That is probably not true.”

In the same story, Lehane concurred: “Everyone has a game plan until you punch them in the mouth. So let’s punch them in the mouth.”

Since leaving Maine, Lehane has graduated from Harvard Law School and represented lots of clients with image problems, ranging from the aforementioned Clintons (he authored the lengthy memo Hillary claimed proved her critics were part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy”) to disgraced, doping bicyclist Lance Armstrong to subprime mortgage manipulators Goldman Sachs to recalled California Governor Gray Davis.

He did, however, refuse to represent Enron. So it’s not as if he has no standards at all.

He and his business partner once authored a book on their activities titled “Masters of Disaster.” In it, Lehane laid out his strategy of always being prepared to strike first in order to spin coverage in the most favorable light for his clients. He often had responses ready for reporters before they were even aware there was anything to respond to. This approach nearly made Al Gore president (Lehane is quick to remind his critics that Gore won the popular vote) and briefly made General Wesley Clark a serious contender for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination (Lehane had earlier quit John Kerry’s campaign because Kerry refused to be more aggressive in dealing with criticism, a flaw that eventually cost him the election).

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 See all articles by: AL DIAMON