In the genteel quarters of the Woodfords Club in Portland, where scenes of a quaint fishing village adorn the wallpaper, a grass-roots effort to impeach President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney was picking up steam.
"The real work begins today, and it has to hit absolute high gear in the next 40 days," Gary Higgenbottom told nearly 200 people Saturday.
Higgenbottom is a founding member of maineimpeach.org, a five-month-old statewide organization also known as Maine Campaign to Impeach. Led by anti-war activists and the Maine Lawyers for Democracy, the group has been holding town hall-style meetings and circulating a petition calling on the state's legislators and congressmen to act on impeachment.
With the state legislative session expected to wind to a close in the next month, the group plans to present the petition's 11,000-plus signatures to State House leaders on May 29. They urged people at Saturday's meeting to contact their legislators in anticipation of that event, and to turn out by the hundreds.
"I guess we recognize that this is probably going to go nowhere in this state if we don't make it happen in the Legislature soon," said Dud Hendrick, another founding member of maineimpeach.org. "I'm fearful and recognize that with every passing day, they are going to be less likely to do anything."
Pessimism mingles freely with idealism in Maine's impeachment movement. Activists acknowledge that others may find their efforts quixotic, what with 20 months left in the Bush administration and the fact that U.S. House leaders have said impeachment is off the table.
Neither of Maine's U.S. representatives, Democrats Tom Allen and Mike Michaud, has spoken in favor of impeachment, and state legislators say it is a federal matter.
Unlike Vermont, where the state Senate and dozens of towns have voted in favor of impeachment, just one town in Maine -- Deer Isle -- has taken up the issue, to Hendrick's knowledge. The measure failed, 359-336, he said.
Hendrick and other activists say say the White House's offenses -- warrantless wiretapping, manipulating information to lead the country into war, allowing torture of prisoners and detaining them for years without formal charges -- are too egregious to ignore.
"It's a moral issue, and I can't keep quiet," Ursula Slavick, a 69-year-old retired teacher from Portland, said Saturday.
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The activists' goal is to oust Bush and Cheney, but if forced to pick one, they'd rather see the vice president go. That's why they are backing the articles of impeachment filed against Cheney by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat running for president.
Kucinich spoke Saturday, galvanizing the crowd by holding up a copy of the Constitution. "This is about reasserting the primacy of public control of governance," he said.
By last week, however, just three co-sponsors had signed on to Kucinich's bill. Allen said impeachment proceedings would distract from changing Bush's policy in Iraq and restoring congressional oversight of the White House, a role he said was destroyed when the GOP controlled Congress. He disagreed with activists' claims that the war would end only if Bush were out of office.
"By the fall, there will be many Republicans who today are opposed to a deadline for our combat role in Iraq who will become converts," Allen said.
There are signs that impeachment efforts are having a ripple effect. Last week, the Detroit City Council passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney, identical to one passed in San Francisco.
David Swanson of impeachment group AfterDowning Street.org, said nearly 65 cities and towns nationwide have passed impeachment resolutions, and bills have been introduced in 10 state legislatures.
Such a resolution from the Maine Legislature is unlikely, said House Speaker Glenn Cummings, because it would strain relations between Democrats and Republicans. Cummings, who attended Saturday's gathering, said he will be meeting today in Concord, N.H., with the Democratic House speakers from Vermont and New Hampshire to discuss how they as individuals can express their disapproval of Bush.
Peter Herrick, who at 36 was among the younger people in an overwhelmingly middle-aged crowd Saturday, said he hoped the numbers of people calling for Bush's ouster will reach a critical mass.
"Whether this can happen realistically or not, it can drive discourse," he said.
Staff Writer Josie Huang can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:
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