Maine Politics in 2013: Still Moralistic Yankeedom's Exemplar?

By Cody, Howard | The New England Journal of Political Science, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Maine Politics in 2013: Still Moralistic Yankeedom's Exemplar?


Cody, Howard, The New England Journal of Political Science


Observers have long identified Maine as an embodiment of Daniel Elazar's moralistic political culture. Maine seemingly reflects Elazar's association of moralistic polities with amateur participation in politics, a preference for nonpartisanship to improve politics by widening access to public office outside traditional party structures, and a belief that "party regularity is not of prime importance" in moralistic polities where "serving the community is the core of the political relationship."1 Similarly, Colin Woodard's recent classification of North America as eleven discrete "nations" places Maine firmly in "Yankeedom", characterized by active citizen involvement in politics, faith in government as an honorable activity and as a constructive force, and support for direct democracy and local control.2 Maine's nonprofessional term-limited citizen legislature, its plebiscitarían polity featuring frequent popular referenda through citizen initiatives and citizen vetoes of existing laws, and its weakness for independent candidates who repudiate party labels, all position the state as New England's and perhaps the nation's purest exemplar of Yankeedom and a moralistic culture.3 Moreover, the policy process in Augusta traditionally has been marked by civility, bipartisanship and cooperation between governors and legislators on budgets and other issues. This is especially impressive when one considers that Maine's state legislative Republicans and Democrats locate themselves farther apart in self-reported ideology than legislators in most other states.4 But ongoing national trends and Maine's own political culture may be subverting its longstanding conceit of a "place apart" embodying "the way life should be."

The Political Setting for the 2012 Election in Maine

Maine entered the 2012 political season with its first Republican governor paired with a GOP-controlled legislature since 1966. The 2010 election had put Tea Party-supported businessman Paul LePage in the governorship with 38% of the vote against three more moderate opponents, the strongest of whom was Independent Eliot Cutler. The new GOP legislature overreached with its initiative (later overturned by voters in a citizen veto) to end election-day registration, but LePage has emphasized economic issues. The governor's brusque, confrontational style has generated much negative publicity and rankled legislators of both parties. Even so, Republican legislators implemented many of his policies, including charter schools (opposed by the Maine Education Association), lower taxes on high incomes, and reduced state spending by cutting social assistance and Medicaid recipients through a tightening of Maine's relatively generous eligibility requirements. LePage insists that Maine live within its means; he abhors borrowing through bond issues, a money-raising device which Maine used routinely for decades until LePage delayed releasing for sale the state-backed bonds approved by voters. LePage wants Maine to make itself more attractive to business to create more private sector jobs. Contrary to Yankeedom's positive view, the governor evidently considers government a time-wasting inconvenience imposing taxes and regulations that impede economic development. For his personal style as much as his policies, LePage has maintained support in the 35-40% range. His fellow Republicans probably were relieved when he chose not to endorse or campaign for any candidates in the 2012 elections. They returned the favor by ignoring him in their own campaigns-or they tried to do so when their Democratic opponents kept associating them with him.

President and Congress

Maine was not a "battleground" state in 2012, so unlike next-door New Hampshire there was no visible presidential campaign. President Obama maintained a steady lead throughout the fall, though the Second Congressional District's single electoral vote was in some doubt as Obama's margin was larger in the more prosperous and socially liberal downstate First District. …

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