CIA file labels Margaret Chase Smith ‘thin-skinned.’ James Stewart might have agreed.

Good morning from Augusta, where my attention last night was on rooting out a Maine connection in 12 million pages of declassified documents posted online yesterday by the CIA.

The best find? A 1958 file in which the agency smack-talks iconic Maine U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith and mentions the late Republican’s opposition to a military promotion for legendary actor James Stewart.

The CIA prepared the document around two meetings with Smith to gain support for an anti-Soviet intelligence program. In the first, she told CIA Legislative Counsel John Warner that the then-11-year-old agency’s lack of congressional oversight could lead to national scandal.

After that, Warner suggested to CIA Director Allen Dulles that he meet with Smith to do “missionary work” that the legislative counsel said “would go far toward making her a friend of the agency.”

Dulles, the first civilian leader of the CIA, had the meeting, but the story is in a document with background information on Smith that Warner gave Dulles just before his meeting with the senator.

Warner said that people who knew Smith described her as “an intelligent, affable person but lacking in any sense of humor and somewhat sensitive to the point of being characterized as ‘thin-skinned.'” In a tepid insult, Warner also said people found Smith to be “acutely aware of her position as a U.S. senator.”

It also mentions Smith’s crusade to secure a promotion for her assistant, William C. Lewis Jr., from colonel to brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve. But the World War II veteran was passed over by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for a promotion in 1957, according to Time Magazine.

But Stewart, who was the first actor to enlist during World War II, serving as an Air Force bomber pilot and flying 20 combat missions, including in Germany, was on Eisenhower’s list.

Smith led a fight against Stewart’s promotion, which was rejected by a Senate committee in August 1957. The Associated Press paraphrased Smith as saying Stewart was “a fine fellow and she admires his acting ability, but he hasn’t been turning out for training the way he should.”

Warner called it “probably more than coincidence that she made a major issue” of that promotion given her advocacy for Lewis. Smith denied arguments along those lines at the time, saying her only interest was “the morale of the Air Force,” according to a Newsweek article cited in a Stewart biography.

But all ended well. Stewart got his promotion with Smith’s backing in 1959 and Lewis got one, too. From then on, the actor served mostly as a public affairs officer as an in-demand speaker and interview subject.

In a 1961 interview, he said he didn’t think Smith was mad at him personally, but “I’m not sure that the senator fully understood that nobody was expecting me to climb into a modern jet bomber and fly it.”

It’s good to know that Stewart didn’t hold a grudge against one of Maine’s most iconic — if “thin-skinned” — politicians. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • After voting to begin repealing of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is working on a replacement plan. The moderate Republican voted with her party last week to start the repeal process of the health care law, but she has insisted that she won’t support repeal without a replacement. Collins said on the Senate floor on Wednesday that she and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, will soon introduce a proposal based on their 2015 proposal that would allow states to structure health insurance markets without some Affordable Care Act’s mandates, including the one requiring individuals to pay penalties for not buying insurance.
  • Gov. Paul LePage told lawmakers last week that his administration will soon release a request for proposals to build a new mental health unit. In a letter responding to questions on the proposed Bangor facility posed by two legislative committees earlier this month, LePage said many questions will be answered when the Department of Health and Human Services releases its RFP this week.
  • A legislative committee is expected to vote on a moratorium on marijuana legalization on Wednesday. The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will consider a proposal to delay the effective date of much of the law passed by voters last year until 2018 at a morning session.
  • Hearings on LePage’s supplemental budget proposal begin in the Legislature’s budget-writing committee today. The proposal for this year includes $22 million in funding to Maine’s university and community college system. The committee will hear testimony on several provisions starting at 9 a.m. through the afternoon.
  • Former Biddeford state Rep. Paulette Beaudoin died Friday at 83. The Democrat who served in the House of Representatives from 2006 to 2014 ran for office after organizing bus trips to Canada to help seniors get more affordable prescription drugs, the Journal Tribune noted. Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said on Facebook that Beaudoin “swore like a sailor in two languages, took no prisoners, and was a pleasure to serve with.” — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

These comedians say LePage stole their routine

LePage’s Tuesday comment that a civil rights icon should thank white presidents for ending slavery got plenty of attention.

But most colorful attention came from comedians David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, who say LePage took the idea from a 1997 sketch on “Mr. Show.” Decide for yourself. — Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.