2018 has felt like it lasted years. Earth’s latest revolution around the sun was filled with WTF moments, many carrying implications into the new year. Will 2019’s news cycle be equally nauseating? Will seemingly everything revolve, once again, around the orange one?
Here at the Phoenix, we’re taking a three-week publishing break after this issue — and by extension a brief respite from the chaotic media and political landscape. That means we'll have additional time to ponder the questions below. They’re unavoidable!
Will Bruce Poliquin finally go away?
Former House Rep. Bruce Poliquin had the chance to bow out of politics semi-gracefully after he lost to Democrat Jared Golden in the November midterm elections, but he didn’t. Instead he stayed on brand for Republicans and challenged the results of the election by demanding a recount and/or a new election, suggesting that Mainers in District 2 didn’t know what they were doing when they voted under the new (and fairer) ranked-choice voting system. Poliquin also sued the Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and repeatedly made baseless claims that ranked-choice voting is “confusing and chaotic.” Well, last week, three judges on the First Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order denying Poliquin's appeal, effectively confirming that nothing will stop Golden from being seated and certified in the U.S. House come January. What, if anything will come from Poliquin's stubborn antics in 2019? More importantly, will the outcome of these legal challenges impact the impressions of ranked-choice voting nationally?
(Ed: Hours after this issue was published, Poliquin officially conceded the 2nd District race.)
How will Janet Mills's first few months as governor go?
Janet Mills has invited the public to her inauguration as Maine’s next governor on January 2 at the Augusta Civic Center, promising that the day will mark the start of a journey leading Maine in a “new, better direction.” (You can reserve tickets to that event here, by the way.) Assuredly an improvement over the goblin who sat in the Blaine House these past eight years, we’re anxious to see whether Mills will act on her campaign promises, specifically implementing the long-delayed Medicaid expansion "on day one" (a figure of speech of course, but we hope it's soon nonetheless), responding to the opiate crisis as a public health emergency, and resisting the Trump administration’s regressive federal policies around the environment and immigration.
Will Skowhegan ditch their racist mascot?
A long-running local dispute between the Skowhegan school board and members of Maine’s indigenous community will likely come to a head in 2019. Two schools in Skowhegan are some of the only ones left in Maine which still use Native American imagery, including the word “Indians” in their slogans and sport team mascots (a few others use the slightly more nebulous "Warriors"). But it’s not just leaders of Maine’s Wabanaki Confederacy that find these practices racist, tokenizing and offensive. The local branches of the NAACP, and the Maine ACLU, along with several non-indigenous Mainers including Governor-elect Janet Mills have all called for the mascots to retire. The Skowhegan School Board will host a final meeting on this controversy in mid-January and are soliciting comments from the general public before making a final decision. Will they do the right thing?
When can we buy cannabis legally?
We’ve been rolling this question around inside our heads a little over two years now. Lawmakers on Maine’s Joint Select Committee on Marijuana will resume work in the new year on a regulatory framework for the state’s recreational market that jibes with Maine’s municipalities and the already established medical market. This committee hired an unknown outside consultant to help draft these new rules and they have a deadline of April 2019 to come up with them. Does this mean we’ll see the first recreational pot shops pop up in Portland by the summer? We will know soon.
Will the city’s 180-day moratorium on waterfront development actually lead to anything good?
We will be monitoring what happens during the six-month ban on non-marine development along the Portland Waterfront which takes effect on Jan 1. A special city task force is planning to hear from several stakeholders before drafting strategies to ease congestion and ameliorate the myriad issues concerning fisherman and pier owners working there. Whose voices will matter more in these crucial meetings? Those of the working-class lobstermen, or the investors and non-marine developers?
Where will the new homeless shelter be built?
This is one of the biggest questions City Council will have to grapple with in the New Year. Now that they’ve scrapped the initial plan of a 150-bed shelter out by the Barron Center on Brighton Ave., will the Council approve of a location (or locations) that’s closer to the downtown area where the bulk of homeless services are already concentrated?
What’s going to happen with the Mercy Hospital site?
One of six development proposals for the Mercy Hospital building will be officially chosen in January, and we’re anxious to see who gets picked and how the 77-year-old building will be repurposed. Will Mercy officials prioritize affordable housing proposals or nah?
Who is going to win Music Video Portland 2019?
On a lighter note, we’re excited to attend the second annual Music Video Portland awards at One Longfellow Square on January 10 and see which artist/band wins the bragging rights. The lineup of nominees is stacked — including KGFREEZE, Jamie Colpoys, Crystal Canyon, Dead Gowns, Shameek The God, The Very Reverend, Sarah Violette, Forget Forget, Tiger Bomb, Twin Grizzly, John Hughes Radio, and Bri Lane! The event is organized by sometimes-Phoenix contributor and Hot Trash Portland blogger Victoria Karol and will be hosted by illustrious drag queen Cherry Lemonade. Should be a good time.
Will anything come out of the Trump/Russia investigations?
This year was brimming with developments that seemed to suggest we were on the cusp of a Trump indictment (or impeachment), but so far we're still in the dark. While FBI director Robert Mueller's probe into whether Trump conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election has yielded all sorts of shady info about Trump’s surrogates, nothing has yet been revealed that directly links him to an intentional crime. We definitely need some closure on this case in 2019. At the very least it might put a damper on all the cultural Russophobia in the mainstream media nowadays while freeing up Dems to focus on different strategies for taking down Trump.
Is the Women’s March still going to be a thing?
In January of 2017 and 2018, somewhere between 1-3 million people marched in cities across America demanding racial and gender justice as part of the globally recognized Women’s March. Two years since its inception — which was born out of resistance to President Trump and applied to the ravages of patriarchy in general — a couple controversies threaten the future and cohesiveness of the Women’s March. Basically a bunch of people online started brigading two leaders of the Women's March, (Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour and black gun control activist Tamika Mallory) because they've appeared at events alongside Louis Farrakhan, a radical minister who has a history of anti-semitic comments. This loose affiliation between the Women's March and Farrakhan was notably exaggerated and exploited by conservatives, who largely fueled the online smear campaigns against Sarsour and Mallory. Many took the bait. Despite Sarsour and Mallory assuring critics that they don't have anti-semitic beliefs, their past comments on the topic were enough for Teresa Shook, one of the founders of the Women's March, to call for them to step down as co-chairs. Neither have and the march is still set to take place on January 19. Are these just the growing pains of a diverse coalition or will this unfortunate controversy impact the future of the Women's March?
Seriously, what are we doing about climate change?
How many reports on the catastrophic effects of climate change must emerge before politicians start to give a shit? The latest study from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change gave us a timetable: 10 years. That’s about how long we have to get carbon emissions under control before the majority of the world's population sees catastrophic impact — sea levels rising faster, resources get scarcer, extreme weather events become more frequent, and populations of displaced people increase (which is already happening around the globe). Why then do establishment Democrats have virtually no plan to address this? We want to see what the group of newly elected insurgent Dems calling for a 100 percent transition to clean energy through a “Green New Deal” can actually get done in a capitol building infested with fossil fuel lobbyists.
Will Republicans get some version of their fantasy border wall?
At this writing, President Trump (aided by House Republicans) shut down nine government departments because Democratic leadership wouldn’t include funding for their dumb border wall. They want $5 billion for it — so much for fiscal responsibility! While House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer showed some spine on this issue and refused to cave to Trump’s December threats of a shutdown, but it’s not clear how long they will keep that commitment. Currently Republicans do not have enough votes to pass a budget bill with border wall funding in it, but it's clear this is the xenophobic hill many of them want to die on, so they're probably not going to budge on it. Meanwhile, Democrats are currently negotiating with President Trump on other forms of “border security.” Will Dems do that thing where they make concessions simply to end the stalemate?
Are Democrats going to run presidential candidates who are actually progressive?
Ready or not, preparation for the 2020 Democratic Presidential Election has already begun, with the first debate for the presidential primary candidates slated for June. That means we should know the full list of candidates officially running any month now. About 30 Democrats, including senators, governors, mayors, billionaires and former Cabinet officials, have toyed with the idea of running for the big seat. The three politicians who have generated the most buzz as potential candidates are of course, Beto O’Rourke, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders. Each of these candidates have some good policy ideas and easily have the fundraising and political acumen to take on Trump in 2020 ... but can we do better maybe? It's worth mentioning that many in the Democratic base aren't thrilled at yet another white dude candidate and instead are directing enthusiasm toward potentials like Tulsi Gabbard, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, who might better represent the diverse makeup of their constituency.
Who's gonna get #MeToo’d next?
The newly energized #MeToo Movement, which encouraged women to speak up about their abusers, outed dozens of high-profile men involved in sexual abuse or harassment scandals last year. Some — but not all — have faced legal or career-related repercussions because of them, and sparked much needed conversations on how power structures can perpetuate toxic attitudes toward women. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that one in three women experience some form of sexual violence in their life, but many of them don’t report the abuse. Recognizing this, it’s safe to assume there are plenty of more bad men out there in positions of power, who eventually — hopefully — will get their comeuppance. Meanwhile, the movement has spurred some necessary education and rehabilitative practices that help men identify and distance themselves from some of the more toxic and oppressive expressions of masculinity they were raised in.
Will America pass meaningful federal gun control legislation?
There has been almost a mass shooting for every day in 2018. According to Gun Violence Archive, the number of mass shootings in the U.S. reached 307 through November. Some 12,000 people died from gun-related violence in the country this year, a rate that’s 28th highest in the world. Are we doomed to repeat the morbid cycle of enduring a mass shooting, talking about gun control legislation for a week or two, and then doing nothing until the next tragedy happens? We’ll probably know for sure next year. House Democrats plan on introducing a number of bills in the new year which direct funding to study gun violence as a public health concern, as well as mandate gun control measures like universal background checks, but odds of stricter gun laws passing in both chambers are slim because Republicans control the Senate. And if nothing can get done with a Republican majority, we're wondering whether or not Democratic candidates for 2020 will run on the gun-control platform.
How big of an impact will future “de-platforming” efforts have?
In 2018, we learned that “de-platforming” or “no platforming” dangerous extremists actually works. Despite some concern-trolling centrists and liberals who argued that banning hate-mongers online would actually amplify their reach, we’ve largely seen the opposite. Ever since the walking 4chan thread Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy wacko Alex Jones were kicked off YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, their audience reach and monthly income have plummeted. Glenn Beck’s public influence too has waned significantly since he was booted from Fox News, and alt-right comedian Owen Benjamin — who once enjoyed mild success in Hollywood — is now struggling to book gigs and relegated to drunkenly ranting to webcams in the woods. (This was after he was banned from Twitter for harassing Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg).
There’s research to back the effectiveness of de-platforming too — a study from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that bans of some of Reddit’s most toxic subreddits resulted in less hate-speech on the site overall. But let’s face it, you can’t ban everyone, and the Internet is still a cesspool of hate; plenty of toxicity and nasty isms still get amplified to thousands of people every day across YouTube and other social media sites. Hell, clips of Fox News host Tucker Carlson still get hundreds of thousands of views, despite the fact that he produces segments sympathetic to white nationalism (prompting activists to target his advertisers). In 2019, can watchdog groups like the Sleeping Giants convince advertisers to divest from even more far-right bullshit?
Which big-budget blockbuster is going to flop horrendously?
Okay, let's end with a fun one. There were some spectacular cinematic flops in 2018. Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines comes to mind as a recent example — a fantasy steampunk epic about moving cities cost over $100 million to make but might not even make its money back after opening to a dismal $7.5 million on opening weekend. It was clunky as heck. Hollywood will likely continue its track record of extraordinary hits and misses because 2019 is shaping up to be a big year for big budget movies. We’re getting live action remakes of Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King, as well as a new Spiderman, X-Men, IT sequel, Jumanji, Star Wars, Avengers, Fast and Furious, and Hell Boy. Those franchises are probably too big to fail, but other titles coming out next year seem iffy. We’re wondering if the hotly anticipated Shazam!, Pet Sematary, Men in Black International, and Pokemon: Detective Pikachu movies will actually bomb at the box office.