As Maine Goes goes dark

As Maine Goes, a political web forum which during its 16-year run increased its reach from political conservatives to just about anyone interested in posting about anything at all, was taken offline on Thursday morning with no plans to continue.

Scott Fish, the site’s co-founder and owner, said Friday that he took the site down early Thursday morning after having announced his intention to do so in early November. Fish backed away from the site’s day-to-day operations three years ago when he took a job as spokesman for then-Senate President Kevin Raye, who asked Fish to distance himself from the site. Fish now works for the Department of Corrections, another job which he says isn’t compatible with his prior political activism.

“There’s a bit of irony in having built Maine’s premiere political web forum and then being hired to handle communications and being asked not to use my website,” said Fish. “But I agreed and so from that point up until the present, I wasn’t using As Maine Goes, though I still owned it and I was responsible for the web hosting fees. It became a site that I was paying for but I couldn’t use it so I just decided it’s time to close it down.”

As Maine Goes debuted in 1998 at the hands of Fish and former legislators John Vedral and John Hathaway. Fish, who was a spokesman for House Republicans at the time, said the idea for the site — which launched at a time when the internet was still in its relative infancy — developed because Republicans were hungry for a forum outside the mainstream media through which to communicate their goals.

“I remember when I was first learning about email and the web, seeing immediately the possibilities it opened up for communications,” said Fish. “Back then a lot of the legislators I worked for didn’t trust the press.”

Since Thursday, this is what has appeared at the popular political website As Maine Goes

Since Thursday, this is what has appeared at the popular political website As Maine Goes

As Maine Goes started out as an email newsletter and since then has gone through several iterations, most recently as a series of discussion threads that could be started by almost anyone. Though conservative political discourse was always at its core, the site eventually became a forum for people of all political persuasions and at times a place where someone could solicit answers to just about any question, including how to install a wood stove, according to Fish. The only rule was that conversations had to be civil.

“It was just an all-around great experience,” said Fish, who said As Maine Goes regularly attracted between 21,000 and 35,000 unique visitors a week. “It grew way beyond what I thought it would become.”

Pem Schaeffer of Brunswick, a self-described conservative, has been a frequent contributor to As Maine Goes since the late 1990s, though he said he did so under more than one pseudonym.

“I’m going to miss it,” said Schaeffer. “I used it sometimes for amusement but most of the time I used it for news. I think there was a very good representation of people from around the state who would post interesting things, things that you weren’t going to see in the newspapers. … We had a number of very progressive folks who would drop in and lob the typical hand grenades, but it clearly wasn’t a board that had equal participation from both sides of the spectrum.”

Gerald Weinand, who until last year wrote a liberal blog called Dirigo Blue and who remains an active progressive voice on social media sites, said Fish was a visionary for creating As Maine Goes and that it was an interesting and useful forum for many years.

“I think it just sort of descended into a weird sort of Tea Party echo chamber,” said Weinand. “Three years ago, I used to go to it every day. It was just a good source for news coming out that I had never seen before. I’ve been banned from it three times. One of the things I didn’t like about it was that it wasn’t an open forum. That’s why it spiraled down to where it is today.”

Former Republican State Rep. Jon McKane of Newcastle was another frequent As Maine Goes contributor.

“It’s a shame that it’s gone,” said McKane. “You could go there for serious debate or just to want to converse and argue for the fun of it. You could always find out about Maine issues on As Maine Goes and I hope that’s preserved somewhere.”

Fish said he still owns the domain name and the federally registered “As Maine Goes” trademark, but has no immediate plans to revive the site. He said he would consider selling it, though he declined to reveal his asking price.

There are some who are determined to see As Maine Goes continue, including Naran Row-Spaulding, who has been one of the site’s moderators for several years.

“The idea and spirit of AMG has not died,” she wrote in response to questions from the BDN. “I can assure our loyal Maine readership that the website will return, in another form, and soon. Maine citizens need and deserve an active, grassroots voice. I am determined to make that happen, so please stay tuned.”

Schaeffer said he has started visiting another website, themainecitizen.com, which he said is trying to pick up where As Maine Goes left off. There is currently a discussion thread on that site titled “Saving AMG,” but the thread contains no posts.

Fish said discontinuing As Maine Goes was a difficult decision.

“It was a labor of love,” said Fish. “Not too many people get too many opportunities to work on a project for 16 years of their life. … I just feel like I’ve reached a place with As Maine Goes where I’m going into a hospital room where someone I love very much is in a coma and they’re on life support. It’s like I was waiting to let As Maine Goes go to the other side, and now it has.”

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.