Bad News for Saco, Good News for Saco

BREAKING NEWS . . . And this just in from over the transom:

ValentinoAccording to multiple sources, State Senator Linda Valentino, a Democrat, is expected to announce Sunday (March 6) that she will not seek reelection to the Maine State Senate.

Valentino, who has served two terms in the Senate and is now a member of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, has reportedly made her decision for family reasons. After this term, she would have been eligible to serve two more terms under Maine’s term limits law.

On the heels of Sen. David Dutremble’s unexpected resignation from the State Senate a few weeks ago, a departure by Valentino will leave a noticeable void in legislative leadership for the tri-community area.

Dutremble, a fellow Democrat, represented the city of Biddeford. Valentino represents the communities of Saco, Old Orchard Beach as well as Hollis, Limington and parts of Buxton.

The two openings will surely delight Maine Republicans who already hold a majority in the Maine Senate.

During her tenure, Valentino has proven herself to be an independent leader who often questioned her own party. Her colleagues describe her as “passionate, meticulous and hard-working.” There is no doubt that her withdrawal from public service will leave a huge void in experienced political leadership in Saco.

Good News, Experience Matters

There is a silver lining in Valentino’s expected departure from politics. State Rep. Barry Hobbins, also a Democrat, could easily bring his many years of experience and leadership to bear for the district.

hobbbjFirst elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1972, Hobbins has decades of experience and a proven track record of success. He is highly regarded on both sides of the political aisle and he has the insight and political connections necessary to deliver exceptional service. A skilled attorney, he has served a total of eight terms in the Maine House of Representatives and five terms in the Maine Senate.

Few people understand and can navigate Augusta’s political landscape better than Hobbins. He has won each of his elections with wide margins of support, and there is a reason for that. Hobbins knows the district and its people. He knows how to get things done.

In what is expected to be a bitterly partisan legislative session next year, Hobbins would be a moderate voice of reason who will work hard to ensure that state government does not roll off the rails because of political stalemates and tension between the two parties.

Hobbins will almost certainly step up and fill the void being left by Valentino. Such a move will be good for Saco, the tri-community area and the state of Maine. Saco Democrats caucus on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Fairfield School, so the hall will be buzzing.

My prediction is the Dems don’t take any chances during the upcoming election cycle. They need a political heavyweight in that spot. Count on Hobbins being Saco’s next state senator.

A hidden message

Maine_Capitol_Building_ba9aaba7950196e822e4_1My friend Alan Caron has some sage advice that each and every newly elected member of the Maine Legislature should read.

Alan’s column regulary appears in the Portland Press Herald, and an excerpt of his latest piece  ( Last election had a hidden message for Maine’s leaders) can be found here:

“Given the many challenges Maine faces today, nothing is more critical to our future than a nonpartisan, commonsense economic plan.

We’re a small state with limited dollars that’s in bad need of new economic energy. We spend more on government, as a percentage of our incomes, than just about any other rural state in America.”

If you want to read the full piece, you can find it here.

Just another new kid in town

Nate Wadsworth
Nate Wadsworth

Last week, I introduced two new legislators who are both Democrats from Biddeford.This week, we take a trip to the other side of the political aisle and the town of Cornish to meet Nathan Wadsworth, a young man who has been an acquaintance of mine for almost a decade. Nathan’s father, Jack, owns and operates Wasdsworth Woodlands, a family owned and operated company. I first met Nate and his dad while working various stints in the Natural Resources Building at the Fryeburg Fair year.

Now, the younger Wadsworth will be spending much of his time in Augusta as yet another rookie legislator.

He was gracious enough to answer my short survey about his hopes and goals for the next legislative session.

What are your top three priorities as a freshman legislator?

1) Vote for our economy first, especially any legislation affecting jobs, growth and taxes

2) be visible with my new constituents by attending functions in my five towns.

3) figure out how I can help best.

What is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?

Currently, our economy is the biggest issue facing [the state]. The governor has brought us back from the abyss but there is still a lot more work to do.

What, if anything, can the Legislature do about it?

The legislature can do a lot about this issue with bills focused around tax relief, energy policy and job growth.

Do you support limiting the number of bills that a legislator can submit during a session?
I’m new to the process here so I’m not sure if the number of bills need to be limited. I do know if someone has 30 bills they internalize those costs by trying to promote all of them and it would be a difficult job. If were still in session in July then I will probably say there should be a limit.

How important will bipartanship be during the upcoming session?

Cooperation is going to be everything with a very evenly divided legislature. I have libertarian leanings so I should be able to find common ground with the other side of the aisle.


We were only freshmen

Democrats in Maine and across the country took a drubbing during last week’s elections, but there were a few bright spots, including the city of Biddeford, where State Senator David Dutremble easily fended off a challenge by Republican James Booth; and where two political newcomers held their party’s seats in the Maine Legislature.

In fairness, it’s not especially hard for Democrats to win elections in Biddeford.

In the western part of the city, voters overwhelming chose Ryan Fecteau over Republican Debbie Davis to represent them in the House of Representatives, holding the seat that is currently occupied by Democrat Paulette Beaudoin, who was barred from running again by term limits.

And Democrat Martin Grohman easily won a three-way race in the central part of the city to hold onto the seat that is now held by Megan Rochelo.

Fecteau and Grohman will both be sworn into office in December, joining several other freshman legislators from both sides of the political aisle.

We asked Fecteau and Grohman to tell us about their priorities. The following are their un-edited e-mail responses.

Ryan Fecteau

Ryan Fecteau
Ryan Fecteau

What are your top three priorities heading into your freshman year?

1. Focusing on ways to encourage and support the return of young people to Maine and also retain those that are still living here/going to school here.
2. Pulling Maine out of nearly dead last (currently 49th) as it concerns homes heated by natural gas (only 4 percent of Maine households) – careful attention to seniors who are especially vulnerable of fluctuating energy costs.
3. Pushing to fund education at 55 percent as mandated by voters. Currently, the failure to meet this mandate pushes the burden to the hyper-local level: property tax payers.
What do you think is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?
Losing young people and families to neighboring states. Thus losing a skilled work force (in turn deterring businesses from locating here), future entrepreneurs, innovators, and a means to expanding the tax base.
What can the Legislature do, if anything, about that issue? 
We must set ourselves from neighboring states by providing incentive to move to Maine. Whether it be a program to assist in paying off student loan debt or creating /funding incubators for the creation of start-ups, the programs must be aggressively advertised across the country. Young people are burdened by student loan debt, they are mobile, and they are looking for opportunities!
Would you favorably consider a bill that would limit the number of bills a legislator could introduce?
I am not sure. Have not experienced or heard of any troubles with the number of bills introduced. The length of the legislative session is obviously a tight window for presenting and passing legislation; it would seem understandable for there to be a density of legislation despite the number of legislators. More focused on legislation that will positively impact people.
How important is bipartisan cooperation going to be during the next session?
It will be critical. Folks did not cast votes on Tuesday for gridlock; they voted their frustrations. They want results. A do-nothing legislature, gridlocked by partisanship, will not deliver the results that people are looking for. We need legislative leadership from both parties who are willing to work together for the best interests of Mainers.

Martin Grohman

Marin Grohman
Marin Grohman

What are your top three priorities heading into your freshman year?

Probably just to do the best job I can to represent Biddeford well.  Residents are interested in property tax relief, road and bridge infrastructure, and education.  And of course I’m a business guy – I want to see businesses grow, careers grow.

What do you think is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?
I’m really interested in expanding access to health care.  Let’s think about a hypothetical parent, a single parent, mother of four, let’s call her Linda Smith.  Now if we cut her off of health care, you might think we’ve saved the State money.  But if she shows up at the ER, one of her kids shows up at the ER, we’re all going to pay for that one way or the other.  And in a world of epidemics and communicable viruses like Ebola, I don’t think having sick people without access to health care is going to work.  Plus, denying access to health care for ideological reasons just doesn’t make business sense to me – as I said, I’m a business guy.  Anyone in the health care business will tell you getting ahead of the problem saves money.
What can the Legislature do, if anything, about that issue? 
Man, I have no idea!
Would you favorably consider a bill that would limit the number of bills a legislator could introduce?
Probably not – I’d have to study it.  I think coming up with rules and regulations in reaction to a single case or a moment in time tends to cause problems.  But I’m willing to listen.
How important is bipartisan cooperation going to be during the next session?
Look, I’m new.  I’m a rookie.  I’ve served on a lot of boards, done some fairly high level stuff, national, international.  But I’ll have to learn the ropes.  That said, I kind of doubt I’ll just cast every vote along party lines, and hopefully my colleagues will value my viewpoint as I value theirs.

Two for the show

Ryan Fecteau
Ryan Fecteau

Of the 151 seats in the Maine House of Representatives, only 19 of them will offer a primary option for voters on June 10.

One of those 19 Primary Election challenges is taking place right here in Biddeford, and I know both of the Democrats who are battling for their party’s favor.

Of course, since this is Biddeford, a city that consistently sends a Democrat to Augusta, at least in this central district, whichever candidate wins on June 10 will most likely be able to coast comfortably onward to Freshman Orientation Day at the Statehouse.

This evening (May 22) Ryan Fecteau and David Flood will participate in a televised debate that will be held in the Little Theater at Biddeford High School.

I will be live Tweeting from the event, but I encourage my fellow voters in Biddeford to attend and learn more about the candidates.

Expect Fecteau to lean toward progressive themes and talk about youth and new energy. Expect Flood to talk about his succesful business experience and moderate views.

Fecteau has been running a visible and strong ground game. It’s not yet clear where Flood’s campaign has been over the past few weeks.

David Flood
David Flood

Added Bonus: Former Mayor Joanne Twomey will be in attendance, rooting for Fecteau. Now, there’s a reason to vote for Flood!


Smoke on the water

Pot%20leaf_40Attitudes regarding marijuana have dramatically changed during the past two decades.

Those in favor of legalizing the drug are finding increasing support from an expanding constituency, including millenials who can now vote and health care providers who say the drug can benefit their patients.

Even retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens — not a likely Cheech & Chong fan — says it is time for marijuana to be legalized.

In an interview with Scott Simon on National Public Radio, the former justice said: “I really think that that’s another instance of public opinion [that’s] changed. And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction.”

Talk about a dramatic shift. In 1987,  after admitting that he once used marijuana, Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg was forced to back away from the nomination process.

And last year, voters in both Colorado and Washington defied federal law and legalized the use of marijuana as a controlled substance.

But the quest to legalize marijuana in all 50 states face an uphill battle, best evidenced by what has happened in the Maine Legislature.

In November The Legislative Council, a 10-member group of legislative leaders,  split on a proposal that would have sent a statewide referendum question to voters. Because the vote was tied, it failed and cannot be considered again until the next Legislature convenes in 2015.

It was the third time the Legislature has rejected proposals by State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) to legalize marijuana. Russell could not be reached for comment.

But State Rep. Alan Casavant (D-Biddeford) said he is glad the proposal failed.

“I voted against it every time,” Casavant said.

Casavant, who spent more than 35 years teaching high school, said he experienced first hand the impact of marijuana on his students.

“Legalizing it would be nothing more than a continued erosion of our culture,” he said. “I have heard all the arguments for and against, and I can’t support it.”

Casavant also said the issue should not be debated on a state-by state basis. “For it to happen, we really need some guidance from the federal government. It’s a very complicated issue. Where do you draw the line on intoxication, for example?”

Casavant says he is sympathetic to those who need marijuana for medicinal reasons, but says the risks still outweigh the benefits, even when considering that marijuana could provide a bumper crop of new tax revenue.

“As the mayor of a city, as a legislator, I am very aware of how we need new sources of revenue that will not impact people who are already struggling to keep up, but despite those realities, I can’t support this. Not now.”

State Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) said he is “evolving on the issue.” Chenette said he had initial apprehension about the issue when first approached for his support by Russell.

“Being a college student so recently, I have witnessed the rampant use of marijuana on campus,” Chenette said. “I am concerned about how young people will use it, but I also see the other side. I would be in favor of sending the question to referendum, but I have yet to formulate a strong opinion one way or the other. It’s something that warrants more study.”

Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford is hoping to be a member of the next legislature.

Fecteau, 21, says he generally supports the legalization of marijuana but does not want to see it included in the Maine Democratic Party’s platform because it could be wedge issue in a year when Maine Democrats need to be focused on bigger fish, including capturing the Blaine House.

“I think it should be treated the same as alcohol,” Fecteau said, adding that additional revenue from the state sale of marijuana could provide much-needed tax relief for seniors and revenue that could help fund critical programs.

With a little help from my friends

A few days ago, I posted a simple question on my Facebook page about the legalization of marijuana.

That informal survey drew more than 100 responses in 24 hours.

I was surprised by some of the responses. I was also fascinated to see that an almost even split of Republicans and Democrats were on each side of the issue.

Moreover, both men and women overwhelmingly support legalization (male approval led female approval by only a slight margin).

Women with children were equally split. Among male opponents, more than 75 percent are politically conservative, yet nearly 40 percent of male supporters are conservatives.

Here are a few charts to break it down for you:







Primary Colors

empty-pollsAllow me to make a bold prediction.

Voter turnout for Maine’s 2014 Primary Elections on June 10 will be absolutely dismal.

Taxpayers across Maine will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for an absolute non-event; an utter waste of time and resources, all in the name of a Democratic process that doesn’t work without a contest.

In fact, we will be lucky to see voter participation that exceeds the June 1996 state primary, when only 12 percent of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.

Think of it this way, it will be like buying a ticket to watch the Boston Red Sox play the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The winners have already been determined.

Unlike the June 2010 Primary four years ago, the gubernatorial candidates for each political party have already been chosen. If only one Democrat goes to the polls somewhere in Maine, Mike Michaud will clinch his party’s nomination in a landslide.

But in 2010, voters of both parties had lots of choices. There were four candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination, and no fewer than seven candidates seeking the Republican Party’s nomination.

More recently, in 2012, six Republicans and four Democrats fought in the primaries for a chance to fill the shoes of U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe.

This year, Republican Susan Collins has already won her party’s nomination and Shenna Bellows is assured of being the Democratic Party’s sacrificial cow.

But what about the Maine Legislature and the crop of fresh faces ready to head off to Augusta?

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

In fact, you may want to cry because you and all of your neighbors will be funding an entire day of using municipal clerks and voting officials to collect ballots that hardly matter.

Of Maine’s 35 state senate seats, only four will face a primary challenge (three Democratic primaries and one Republican primary)

It’s not much different for the process to fill the 151 chairs in the Maine House of Representatives, where only 19 of the 151 races will see a Primary challenge (8 Democratic primaries and 11 Republican primaries)

In 132 of 151 House Districts in Maine, it doesn’t matter a bit  if you go to the polls on June 10. The races for the Blaine House, the U.S. Senate and the Legislature have been pre-determined.

Please do not disturb the slumber of your municipal clerks or voting officials.



Feeling gravity’s pull

Justin Chenette/ Photo by Matthew Hayes

At first glance, the two men who represent the city of Saco in the Maine Legislature seem worlds apart.

One is 22 years old and openly gay; the other is 62 and married with children.

While Justin Chenette is serving his first term in the Maine House of Representatives, Barry Hobbins is serving his seventh term in the House and previously served five terms in the State Senate.

Over the years, Hobbins has become a steady fixture of pragmatic policy making. He is a successful attorney who knows how and when to pull strings to get things done. He has spent a lifetime building relationships, earning trust and observing the flow of subtle political currents that often shift without warning.

Hobbins is careful, patient and strategic: the hallmarks of a legislator who can deliver when it matters. Like Chenette, Hobbins was only 20 years old when he won a five-way primary race for the Democratic nomination to replace 84-year-old Camille Bedard as Saco’s representative in the House.

“Mr. Bedard gave me some great advice when I was starting out,” Hobbins recalled. “He told me: sit back and learn. He told me to pick my battles.”

Chenette took a different path, however, landing himself in hot water with the state party only hours after he announced that would be running in early 2012.

“I didn’t check in with anybody first,” Chenette said. “They didn’t know who I was or what I was all about. I sort of got scolded.”

Unlike Hobbins’ slow and steady start into Maine’s political machine, Chenette made national headlines earlier this year, when he was sworn into office as the nation’s youngest, openly gay lawmaker.

The issue of gay marriage was again on the ballot for Maine voters, but Chenette says he was not running to make a point about his sexuality. “I didn’t want that distinction,” he said. “I was running because I was frustrated about a lot of issues, so I had to thread the needle carefully.”

Chenette says some people judged him much more harshly about his sexuality rather than his political inexperience and youth. His campaign signs were vandalized with gay slurs. Undaunted, Chenette pressed on, working hard to earn voter respect.

“Some people told me I should get the police involved and do an investigation,” he said. “I didn’t want to do that. “I didn’t want to give people like that any power. They spray-painted my signs with all sorts of ugly things, but most people took the time to get to know me, to understand why I wanted to represent them in Augusta.

Chenette won his June 2012 primary with 78 percent of the vote and went on to defeat Republican Roland Wyman with 60 percent of the vote in November.

Who let the dogs out?

Barry Hobbins

Unlike Hobbins, Chenette did not wait to begin picking battles.

He pounced on Democratic and Republican legislative leaders during his first speech on the floor of the Maine House, only days after being sworn into office.

Chenette latched onto problems he saw in Maine’s political machine, specifically the way lawmakers were using Clean Election funds to form PACs that are used to determine who becomes a legislative leader.

“I said that Democratic and Republican leadership was doing little more than participating in legalized bribery,” he said. “I said it was completely wrong to channel this money for special interests.”

If Chenette wanted attention, he got it.

“It didn’t go over very well even in my own party,” he laughed. “I got called into the Speaker’s office and got my ass chewed. That process became a pattern. I was not playing by any set of unspoken rules.”

Chenette said his first term has been “challenging,” yet he refuses to back down or change his firebrand style.

“We’re not sent to Augusta to sit on our hands, and behave like well-trained dogs,” he said. “The people sent us there to do their work, but on Day One, I was disgusted by the fact that we spent so much time talking about how to get re-elected . . . on Day One.”

Not surprisingly, Hobbins admitted that his colleague makes some people uncomfortable.

“Justin certainly has a different style,” Hobbins said. “He is outspoken and very idealistic. He seems in a rush to make his mark.”

But Hobbins also says Maine’s term limits law has changed the dynamic of how the Legislature works.

“When I first got there, you didn’t feel a clock ticking against you,” Hobbins recalled. “Today, it’s different, younger people feel a sense of urgency, as if there isn’t much time to accomplish their goals.”

Hobbins describes Chenette as conscientious, but certainly not pragmatic.

“There is no denying that there is a generational gap,” Hobbins said. “Justin feels strongly about issues and causes, but that does not mean that others do not feel just as strongly, even if they have a different approach.”

Hobbins said he is just as “progressive” in his political philosophy as Chenette.

“I know what it’s like to be young and full of passion,” Hobbins said. “I became the state party chair when I was 28, and I ran for Congress when I was 32.”

Hobbins said the Legislature is no longer dominated by a bunch of stuffy, old white men. “The president of the senate (Justin Alfond) is 36, and the Speaker of the House (Mark Eves) is also 36. Age is not so much of an issue as a difference of approach.”

Hobbins said a shift of legislative demographics is representative of generational shifts in other parts of society.

“Look, I don’t post pictures of myself every day on Facebook or use Twitter, but a lot of people do, and those can be good tools to keep your constituents updated,” he said. “I think it’s a significant compliment to the citizens of Saco that they choose people who have vastly different styles to represent them.”

Republican Joyce Maker represents the city of Calais in the Maine House. She is old enough to be Chenette’s mother, and concedes that she has taken him under her wing.

DSCN2402“I love Justin,” Maker said. “He is a wonderful young man, and he works very hard, but I do think he has some growing up to do.”

Maker describes herself as a moderate. She says she has been able to find a lot of common ground with Chenette, a Democrat who describes himself as further left of center.

“He comes across as strong and opinionated sometimes, but he is also a really good listener,” Maker said. “I think in time, he will catch on and learn the benefits of being a bit more pragmatic.”

Maker says she sees the value of Maine’s Clean Election Law, but agrees with Chenette about the inherent problems of leadership PACs.

“Justin would like to do away with Clean Elections,” she said. “I see some value to the program because it allows more people the opportunity to participate. But despite our differences, we have been able to work through that issue, and I think he is genuinely interested in hearing other points of view.”

Chenette says he is more than happy to work with his colleagues on the other side of the political aisle.

“I love having lunch with Republicans,” he laughed. “It’s always a good opportunity to learn about the people beyond their particular labels. You can find a common connection, and that helps make the process work better.”

Is Chenette becoming more pragmatic?

“I don’t know,” he confessed. “But I know that I will always stay true to values and core beliefs. Barry’s style has a place. We just have different approaches. I think we make a good tag team for Saco.”

Next installment: Justin Chenette: A rising political star?

Who do you love?

me and the manThere is only one subject I find more fascinating than politics: psychology.

Some of us spend so much of our time focused on the candidates or those elected to public office, yet we barely scratch the surface when it comes to examining the people beyond the headlines and the hype.

Who are those people? You and me, the people in the streets.

At the risk of being redundant to the extreme, I find myself falling back again to the words of Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

My rather loose, modern-day translation?

The masses (you and me) tend to operate on a day-to-day hamster wheel of human obligations: family commitments, jobs and financial security, concerns about the future and the occasional circus: The Red Sox, rock n’ roll or watching Honey Boo-Boo.

The masses crave bread and circuses. And abundance of both typically leads to a sense of apathy when it comes to politics.

This dynamic was true in the days of Caesar, and it has changed little today.

An abundance of bread and circuses allows us the luxury of ignoring the machinations of the political class. But take away the bread or the circuses, and all hell can break loose pretty quickly.

You’re dumb, I’m smart

I spent the better part of this weekend representing one of my clients at the annual Maine Snowmobile Show in Augusta.

As it is every year, statewide political candidates attend the show to press flesh and talk to prospective voters. In about a year, Maine voters will choose the state’s next governor. Today, there are three leading candidates: Republican Paul LePage, the incumbent seeking a second term; Democrat Mike Michaud, a member of Congress; and Independent Candidate Eliot Cutler, who is making a second attempt to live in the Blaine House.

I had the opportunity to speak with all three candidates this weekend. These were brief, perfunctory interactions. Like them, I was there in a professional capacity so — of course — those conversations were limited, professional and cordial.

Because I was working, I did not have the opportunity to follow any of the candidates through the show or to observe all of their interactions with other exhibitors and attendees.

Thus, my observations were anecdotal and certainly limited; but I was able to observe the candidates from a decent vantage point and had the luxury of hearing public reactions long after each of the candidates left the civic center.

I began to wonder about the motivations of those who support LePage, Michaud or Cutler. What makes those people tick? What drives their political preferences? Why do they react positively to one candidate and not the other?

I got some answers to those questions only a few moments after I posted a photo of me and Governor LePage. The reaction from my “friends” was equally swift and clear.

Posting that photo on my Facebook page caused a visceral reaction that brutally revealed a harsh reality.

The angels want to wear my red shoes

One man who I consider to be a close friend made his assessment of the photo with just a pithy comment: “Maybe 100 total IQ points right there.”

Honestly, that comment stung. Without any other context offered, my friend was speculating that Maine’s governor and I had a combined IQ of 100 points, literally translated: on average, the governor and I have a respective IQ of 50 points, meaning that neither of us would be able to function at even the most basic level.

My friend’s comment was endorsed by a couple other Facebook “friends.”

These very same people will be among the first to bemoan a sorry state of political discourse or to champion “civility” and a bi-partisan approach.

Take this to its obvious conclusion: Governor LePage is stupid and so are the people who support him or even those who have the temerity to be photographed standing next to him.

Further commentary on this photo ranged from those who said they would “vomit” if they were within a few feet of the governor to another friend’s description of LePage as a “useless turd.”

What causes such a visceral reaction? Why do people react with such emotion? I suspect it is motivated by fear.

Make no mistake. We see this same dynamic on the political right. Just mentioning President Obama’s name in the wrong crowd can ignite a bonfire of emotion and even asinine comparisons to Adolph Hitler.

A while back I wrote a piece about Sarah Palin and her appeal to so many of my fellow Americans.

When we dismiss Sarah Palin, especially when we run off the rails and make fun of her penchant for shopping at Wal-Mart, her religious beliefs or her love of hunting, NASCAR or her limited education, we are subconsciously pointing the same critical finger at the millions of those who are undeniably loyal to her.

Democrats bemoan the loss of moderate Republicans (code: Republicans who tend to support Democrats).

John McCain was described by the left as an honest, independent maverick who exemplified the proud, glorious and bygone days of a better GOP – – – right up until the day he was selected as the GOP’s nominee to take on Barack Obama in 2008.

Hands down, Governor LePage received the warmest reception at this weekend’s snowmobile show. It was not universal, but it was clear and undeniable. People flocked to him, offering hugs and encouragement.

Whether you like it or can admit it, the 2014 gubernatorial race will be a battle for the political center.

Democrats are at a disadvantage, just as they were in 2010, because their own party is divided between two candidates. The Maine Democratic Party needs a major win in 2014, especially since they were crushed by an “independent” candidate in last year’s senate race.

Democrats would be well-served to better understand LePage’s appeal to those who they routinely dismiss. There are plenty of reasons to vote against LePage, but they also need some even better reasons to vote for Michaud. Otherwise, they can expect the same results we saw three years ago.

Automatic for the People

Note: Please see edits below.

Maine Democrats are celebrating tonight, but I think they have a serious problem.

Let me back up.

State Sen. (Elect) Eloise Vitelli
State Sen. (Elect) Eloise Vitelli

Politics is fascinating.

Don’t puke just yet, at least not until you consider that observing politics offers the best of everything: intense drama, fierce competition and hilarious moments of human folly, all wrapped in a package of somber significance driven by human pathology.

It’s like a sporting event, a comedy show, and a night at the Met, all wrapped into a neat little package of 30-second installments.

Okay, so go ahead and puke now if you must. But for the rest of you consider this scenario.

It’s the middle of an all-too-short summer in Maine, where a state senator lands a sweet federal gig and must vacate his seat halfway through his two-year term.

He is a solid Democrat, a progressive, even…respected in his party (a former majority leader in the senate) and handily supported each election cycle by his constituents.

His district (State Senate District 19) is a reliable haven for his party: Mid Coast Maine, the home turf of Senator Angus King, Bowdoin College… not a hotbed of right-leaning conservatism, by any stretch.  Not really true, see edits below.

The Dems want to keep this seat. They still feel the sting of 2010 when they lost the Blaine House and both houses of the Legislature. Another gubernatorial campaign is already underway, and the Dems are absolutely committed to dumping Republican Paul LePage, who has repeatedly embarrassed his own party with ill-advised remarks and a stunning inability to control his temper and message.

Now, back to this sleepy senate district.

Two smart, savvy women lace up their gloves, representing their respective parties. A Green candidate also gets into the race.

Republican Paula Benoit
Republican Paula Benoit

More than $150,000 is spent on the campaigns during just a few weeks. It will likely top $200,000 when all the final campaign reports are turned over for public inspection next month.

It is, according to several political observers — including former State Senator Ethan Strimling — a record-breaking race for campaign funding in a state senate race.

The result?

A turnout of slightly more than 30 percent of the district’s registered voters, and a narrow victory for the Dems. Eloise Vitelli beats Republican Paula Benoit, who previously held the seat from 2006-2008.

Of the 8960 votes cast, the Democrats hold onto their seat by a margin of slightly more than 3  percent, 282 votes.

The Democrats are cheering and drinking bubbly tonight. They deserve the celebration. They worked hard.

But I think they will have a big hangover tomorrow morning.

How do you spend more than $100,000 and win by a little more than 3 percent when the Republican governor is trailing in the polls and you are running a campaign on your home turf?

Conventional wisdom says that the Maine GOP is in trouble and eating their own. Maybe.

But it seems pretty clear that Maine Dems have plenty to worry about between now and next November.


Edited to include Benoit’s prior election to the Dist. 19 seat in 2006.

Editor’s note: There is a peril to blog posting when you are a political junkie jacked up on Twitter, caffeine and cigarettes. Some glaring mistakes need to be corrected: 1.) Bowdoin College is not within Senate District 19. In fact, the town of Brunswick is not in Senate District 19, so you can also scratch my reference to Senator Angus King. I was consumed with the Brunswick Times Record’s endorsement of Benoit, thus thinking about Brunswick, instead of focusing on silly things like facts. Not smart.

District 19 may not be a Democratic stronghold, but it’s not a Tea Party demographic either. Like much of Maine, it is shifting and best described as purple instead of red or blue (Props to Gina Hamilton at the New Maine Times for that analysis). Republican Art Mayo who served in the seat from 2002 to 2006 switched parties and became a Democrat in 2004. Gina is much better at facts. Dan Demeritt (@DemerittDan) also pointed out that I did not include the tallies for the Green candidate in the race. Daniel Stromgren garnered 357 votes (4 percent), and Demeritt opines that of every four votes for a Green, one stays home, one goes GOP and two go Dem. So, you tell me: was Stromgren a factor?

In the end, I stand by my original analysis, despite my rush to publish and all of its associated pitfalls. Why?

1.) In 2012 (just last year) Goodall crushed his GOP opponent, Jeffrey Pierce (64-36 percent). Two years earlier, he trounced Republican David Kaler, 52-45 percent.

2.) Republican Gov. LePage is trailing in polls and getting widespread media attention for his gaffes, helping the Dems.

3.) The Dems had the seat and spent more than 100 grand to keep it. They got a 3 percent return for their money and a 30 percent turnout. What “message” are they sending to Gov. LePage? Do they really feel good about that? Really? They are not on easy street. Case closed.