SeacoastOnline, Opinion, Nov.5, 2009
Like Mayor Bloomberg in New York, who only narrowly held onto his seat Election Day despite spending more than $100 million of his own money on his election campaign, it’s hard not to wonder whether many Wells voters who rejected the proposed water ordinance were just fed up with the slick campaign Poland Spring led this fall.
Earlier this year plans for an ordinance that would have banned Poland Spring and its parent company, Nestlé, from taking water from Wells for bottling purposes, was soundly rejected during a special general referendum.
Then, just a short while later, incumbent Joan Mooney, the most outspoken anti-Nestlé member of the Board of Selectmen at the time, was ousted in the local election. It didn’t seem like the Nestlé supporters had much to worry about.
But what voters didn’t know then was that Poland Spring was just beginning to flex its well-financed public relations muscle. There can’t be a resident of southern Maine today who hasn’t at least caught a glimpse of a Poland Spring advertising spot on television, in the local newspapers or on news Web sites in recent months.
While many of us were holding onto our spare change and waiting for signs of economic recovery, Poland Spring launched an all-out, full-color, full-volume attack on the small community of Wells and the surrounding towns. From the ads to the mailers to the calls placed by telemarketers, there was little respite even for those who tend to ignore local issues.
So, on Tuesday, the voters rose and carried themselves to the Wells High School, and there they delivered what many hope will be a crushing blow to the hopes of multinational giant Nestlé.
Those of us steeped in the tradition of newsroom skepticism aren’t so sure Nestlé or Poland Spring will be deterred so easily, which is why we just last week argued in favor of the Wells water extraction ordinance — it seems to us that even basic protections are better than none.
But whatever comes next, maybe Poland Spring will learn a few lessons, as Bloomberg has, about the danger of voter fatigue and the power of grass-roots organizing.
While the Nestlé folks were rolling out their glossy campaign, local organizers from across the region spent countless hours wearing through shoe leather, knocking on doors and reaching out to voters.
It worked, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the effort will pay off in the long run.
— The Coast Star