The Christian Right in American Politics: Marching to the Millennium

By John C. Green; Mark J. Rozell et al. | Go to book overview

TWELVE

Citizen Initiative in Maine

Matthew C. Moen and Kenneth T. Palmer

RELEASE OF U.S. CENSUS BUREAU DATA IN 2001 SHOWED northern New England to he the least demographically diverse area of the nation. Similarities among Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine do not end there. All three states were populated by settlers from England but then gained immigrants from French Canada and southern Europe, giving them a substantial Catholic population. All three share a moralistic political culture, with widespread participation and concern for the welfare of the entire community (Elazar 1984). Each state has a large legislature where districts in the lower chamber sometimes resemble neighborhoods. An annual town meeting remains the governing mechanism in many rural communities.

Despite similar origins, the three states have moved in rather different directions in recent years. Vermont has experienced the most dramatic change. An influx of people from the urban areas of the Middle Atlantic starting in the 1970s reconfigured its politics. Once considered the most Republican state in the nation (because it never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate until 1964), Vermont is now very liberal. In fact, a Voter News survey in the early 1990s showed Vermont had a higher proportion of self-identified liberals than any other state (Nelson 1997). This change is symbolized by Bernie Sanders, who was elected mayor of Burlington in the 1980s as a socialist and has since served as an independent in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Vermont's compactness and unstructured politics have caused state government to adapt relatively quickly to the policy orientations of this new electorate. Vermont has an activist and centralized government focused on issues such as environmental protection (Bryan and Hallowell 1993). On July 1, 2000, Vermont bestowed on same-sex partners

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