GovernorJohn Baldacci (D)
SenatorsOlympia Snowe (R)
Susan Collins (R)
RepresentativesRep. Chellie Pingree (D)
Rep. Michael Michaud (D)
Districts1st District (Pingree)
2nd District (Michaud)
Maine possesses a distinctive personality—ornery, contrary-minded, almost bullheaded, rough-hewn. It is the state geographically closest to Europe, but it was not heavily settled until the mid-19th century, by people migrating from the south and the west. The typical pattern at the time was people moving to the west. In an urbanizing and rapidly changing country, Maine was famous for its pointed firs and steady habits, with a few dozen small factory towns and paper-mill towns but nothing like a major metropolis. Maine grew in a rush, and then mostly stopped. There were 600,000 people here in 1860, but the population dipped after the Civil War—many soldiers did not return—and did not top 1 million until the 1970s. Then the tremors of the New England high-technology booms of the 1980s and 1990s reverberated up Interstate 95 and reached Maine. The simple, back-to-nature Yankee style came into vogue. The antique dockside buildings on Portland’s waterfront were restored and an old-style Public Market was constructed. The Maine Mall expanded and office parks sprang up nearby, a miniature edge city. Real estate prices rose by hundreds of percents, not just in vacation coves, but also in Portland and small towns that had never considered themselves picturesque. The L.L.Bean headquarters in Freeport, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, symbolized the boom. The two chaste initials and the Anglo-Saxon monosyllable suggested the dry understatement of Down East Yankees; the 24-hour-a-day schedule reflected the hard work needed to eke out a living from the cold waters of the North Atlantic to the pine-covered North Woods; and, the commercial success of the enterprise became a prime example of Maine’s unexpected boom. Something like the Maine slogan: “The way life should be.”
In the past two decades, Maine’s economy has transformed. It has lost jobs in shoes, chicken processing, papermaking, leather processing, and timber, but gained them in tourism, call centers, high technology, and biotechnology. The Grand Banks have been overfished and fishing seasons shortened, but there’s a new market among Northern Europeans for Maine shrimp. The lobster industry had been thriving, with prices at an all-time high, but it took a big cut when soaring fuel prices drove up costs, and a collapsing economy made lobster an extravagance to too many families, causing prices to fall. Scratching small Maine boiling potatoes out of the soil of Aroostook County has gotten harder. The nation’s top potato producer 50 years ago, Maine fell to eighth place in the 1990s: small potatoes. Georgia-Pacific closed its paper mill in Old Town, near Bangor. But Loring Air Force Base, shuttered in 1994, has been redeveloped and is generating jobs in food manufacturing, aircraft disassembly and storage, telemarketing, and state government. Maine exports not just paper and lumber and seafood, but also computer and aircraft parts. Tourism continues to be the biggest business. Bath Iron Works, long the state’s largest private employer, has a long-term contract to build 21 Arleigh Burke Class Naval destroyers. Maine politicians rallied when the Pentagon in 2005 recommended closing the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which repairs submarines. The base closing commission let the shipyard remain open but ordered the shutdown of Brunswick Naval Air Station, the state’s second-largest employer. Maine, its economic development director still insists, has “the best work force on the planet,” and Democratic Gov. John Baldacci’s Pine Tree Zones have generated 3,000 new jobs.
Now, in effect, there are two Maines—humming coastal Maine and declining interior Maine, one symbolized by the lobster and the other by the moose. Growth is greatest in York County and along the coast east of Portland to the Penobscot River. Population is stable in the North Woods and declining in the northern and eastern edges of the state. A slow-growth economy has some advantages: Maine didn’t have much of a housing bubble in this decade and so has not had a housing bust like many other states Its unemployment rate has tracked the national average. Demographically, Maine is like Western Europe, with an aging population and the lowest birth rate in the United States. The country as a whole grew by 22% from 1990 to 2008, but Maine grew by just 7%, as young people continued to leave. An aging population has its advantages—Maine has the nation’s lowest incarceration rate. But it also has disadvantages—health care costs are high, and the percentage of people with employer-provided health insurance is low. Maine has the highest high school graduation rate in the country, but its high schools and colleges have not been providing enough graduates to fill its job openings. There has been little immigration here and Maine is the whitest state in the nation. It is 1% black, 1% Hispanic, and 1% Asian. It treasures what diversity it has, however. French-Canadian immigrant children were once chided when they spoke French. Now the Legislature has a French-American day each year, when business is conducted in French and the Pledge of Allegiance recited in French.
In politics, Maine is contrary. Until 1958, it held state elections in September, a date originally chosen because it followed the state’s early harvest. Starting in 1840, long before the advent of public opinion polls, the election results were taken as a gauge of national sentiment—hence the saying, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.” Actually, Maine didn’t vote like the rest of the country most of the time. In September 1936, Maine voted 56% for a Republican for governor (Lewis Barrows) and in November, only Maine and Vermont voted for Republican Alf Landon over Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, prompting Roosevelt’s campaign manager to observe, “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.” Maine’s adherence to flinty Yankee Republicanism and Prohibition was echoed almost nowhere else in the nation. Since then, it has voted for the loser in the close presidential elections of 1948, 1960, 1968, 1976, 2000, and 2004—a record equaled by no other state. Maine cast the nation’s highest percentages for third-party presidential candidate Ross Perot, 30% in 1992 and 14% in 1996. In 1994 and 1998, it elected Angus King, an independent and former Democrat, as governor, as it had elected independent and former Republican James Longley in 1974. In the past eight gubernatorial elections, Maine voted twice for Republicans, four times for Democrats, and twice for independents.
If Maine’s tradition-minded Yankees kept the state Republican long after the nation embraced the New Deal, the sons and daughters of its ethnic citizens—the Irish, French Canadian, Greek, and Arab immigrants have come to equal the numbers of WASPs (though these new Mainers in many ways share traditional Yankee traits and values)—made the Democrats competitive here in the 1980s even as they were losing ground in the rest of the nation. But there are exceptions. Maine has voted Democratic for president five times starting in 1992 and hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. House since 1994. But it hasn’t elected a Democratic U.S. senator since 1988, and only once since then has a Republican Senate candidate won less than 58% of the vote. Moderate GOP incumbents Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins wield considerable clout in the Senate. Maine has more partisan turnover in its Legislature than just about any other state. In its small legislative districts—the average population of a state House district is 8,724—Mainers vote for the person, not the party. In 2004, Republicans gained seats in the Legislature even as Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry carried the state, but in 2008, Democrats made significant gains. Vestiges of Maine’s ethnic divides remain: Protestants voted for Republican George W. Bush in 2004 and John McCain in 2008, while Catholics cast bigger percentage margins for Democrats Kerry and Barack Obama. But young Mainers seem more volatile: Bush carried them in 2004; Obama won 71% of them in 2008. Yet when a group called Fed Up With Taxes put up a state ballot measure repealing fees on health insurers and repealing taxes on beer, wine, and soft drinks, it passed 65%-35%.
As the economy changed, Maine moved toward a consensus on how to balance economic growth and preserve the environment. But disagreement rages about the North Woods. The big paper companies, long the largest landowners in Maine, have been selling off millions of acres since 1998. As Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan put it, “For generations, the paper companies sort of managed everything for us up here. They gave sportsmen pretty much free rein, and in turn people up here helped out as stewards of the land. But with all of these new buyers, nobody quite knows what will happen now, and people are getting nervous.” Local Mainers want to keep using the land for hunting, trapping, and snowmobiling. But a Concord, Mass., group called Restore the North Woods, with backing from Hollywood stars, wants to create a huge national park, bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. Environmentally minded people are buying up land with a view toward donating it for a national park. Roxanne Quimby, a beeswax lip-balm multimillionaire, bought 70,000 acres and has banned hunting and snowmobiling on her land. Mainers reacted angrily to advocates “from away,” as they say; Baldacci called the national park proposal a “nonstarter,” and has promoted alternatives. The Nature Conservancy in 2006 donated easements on 195,000 acres, with space for recreation and land available for sustainable timber harvests.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Caucus
Maine has been a hard state to predict in recent presidential politics. It gave majorities to Republican George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996. In between, the 1992 race was very nearly a three-way tie, with Clinton in first place, Ross Perot in second, and Bush, who spent nearly every summer of his life in Maine, in third place. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won 49%-44%, with 6% for Ralph Nader. But there has been a clear Democratic trend since then. Maine was on the campaigns’ target lists in 2004, but Democrat John Kerry ended up carrying it 54%-45%. In 2008, GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and husband Todd Palin campaigned in Hermon, Presque Isle, and Bangor after polls showed a close race between Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. Maine is one of two states (Nebraska is the other) that gives two electors to the statewide winner and one elector to the winner in each congressional district. The McCain campaign thought it might win the electoral vote of the northern 2nd District. But Obama’s lead widened even while the Palins were on the stump, and McCain lost the 2nd District 55%-43%. McCain carried Piscataquis County, deep in the woods, with 51% of the vote—the only county he carried in New England. Statewide, Obama won 58%-40%, with his biggest percentages in metro Portland.
Maine held its first-ever presidential primary on March 5, 1996, in an attempt to attract the candidates’ early attention. But the ploy didn’t work, and the state abolished its presidential primary for 2004. In 2008, the parties held caucuses on different dates in early February. When Republicans voted on February 1, 2, and 3, some 5,000 people turned out. Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins endorsed McCain early on, but that didn’t make much difference. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won 52% of the Republican caucus vote, just days before his campaign was ended by the Super Tuesday results. McCain got 21% and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas got 18%. Democrats voted on February 10 when the race was still very much contested. Democratic Gov. John Baldacci endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and, in the week after Super Tuesday she campaigned in the mill town of Lewiston and at the University of Maine in Orono, while Obama campaigned in Bangor. Caucus turnout was only 3,500 people, and Obama won 59%-40%. Clinton carried Lewiston and three northern counties. Obama was strongest along the coast.
|111th Congress: 2 D|
District lines in Maine are drawn by a 15-member, bipartisan Legislative Apportionment Committee. The Legislature may amend the plan and must approve it by a two-thirds vote. The governor has a veto, though presumably that’s academic since there would be a two-thirds majority to override it. Under state law, the committee sent its last plan to the Legislature in spring 2003. This arguably violates the Constitution, since the 2002 elections were based on the congressional districts drawn from 1990, rather than 2000, census results. But no one has challenged the law, for the good reason that it makes no practical difference. There has been little change in the boundary between the two House districts since Maine lost its third seat after the 1960 census. In the 2003 session, however, the Legislature failed to adopt a map. On July 2, 2003, the state Supreme Court adopted a plan for the 2004 election, and it stayed in place.