Maine: First District|
Rep. Tom Allen (D)
Last Updated June 7, 1999
The 1st District stretches from southernmost Kittery and nearby Kennebunkport to the craggy-shored ancestrally Republican counties to the east. The historic center is Portland, Maine's largest city, home to the yuppies and lawyers that have revived and renovated its downtown landmarks. Most voters in the 1st District, except those far Down East, live within a couple hours drive of the Maine Mall--just off the Maine Turnpike and I-295 and near the airport--the state's heaviest concentration of retail and office space. Politically, the 1st votes very much like the state as a whole, quirkily, often for independents, splitting tickets with abandon. From 1968-94 it elected three Democrats and three Republicans, with each side serving 14 years.
The congressman from the 1st District now is Tom Allen, a Democrat, first elected in 1996. Allen is a native of Portland, where his grandfather and father served on the city council. He was class president in high school and college, and at Bowdoin was captain of the football team and challenged fraternities because they wouldn't admit blacks. He was a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford the same years as Bill Clinton (who struck him as ''one of the nicest, warmest people I ever knew''), Robert Reich and Strobe Talbott, and when he returned he got a job on the staff of Edmund Muskie. But he dropped out of politics, went to law school, practiced in Portland, and worked on charities and community service. In 1989 he was elected to the Portland City Council, and in 1991 rotated into the position of mayor; he started a program of low-interest loans to businesses locating downtown. In 1994 he ran for governor, and ran a distant second to Joseph Brennan in the Democratic primary, with 24%.
The 1st District race was an obvious next step, and an attractive opportunity. Freshman Republican James Longley had a well-known name as son of the independent elected governor in 1974, and he had won the 1994 race 52%-48%, though heavily outspent. But Longley's moderate record was overshadowed by his support for the Contract with America and more than $1 million in ads run by the AFL-CIO. The League of Conservation Voters, which gave him a 31% rating, named him as one of their ''Dirty Dozen.'' Allen, with heavy support from Portland, won a 52%-48% primary victory over state Senator Dale McCormick, who is openly lesbian and brought her partner and their daughter to the podium at the state Democratic convention. Allen called for ''incremental steps'' toward a single-payer health care finance system. He charged that the Republican followed Newt Gingrich rather than people in Maine, that Longley would cut college loans and education funding. The candidates disagreed on capital punishment, partial-birth abortions, term limits and the balanced budget amendment. Allen called for scaling back a Republican $10 billion increase in defense spending; Longley pointed out it included a Navy destroyer to be built at the Bath Iron Works, and Allen backtracked and said he would of course support Maine defense contracts. In November Allen won 55%-45%.
Allen has a very liberal voting record, with some exceptions on economic issues. His major initiative in his first year was the freshman campaign finance bill, co-sponsored by Republican Asa Hutchinson. A group of a dozen freshmen agreed on a pared-down approach, to minimize partisan objections. Their bill, introduced in July 1997, would ban soft money contributions by unions and corporations, index contribution limits (the $1,000 limit was enacted in 1974) and require disclosure by groups spending more than $25,000. In April 1998, after Allen launched a discharge petition, Speaker Newt Gingrich switched and allowed the freshman bill to come to the floor as the vehicle for campaign finance bills; Allen was pleased when the more stringent Shays-Meehan bill passed the House in August 1998, though the Senate never acted on it.
Other Allen proposals included a bill, co-sponsored by Henry Waxman, that would make prescription drugs available to seniors at the lowest price paid by federal government (the government would end up controlling the price of 40% of the prescription drug market) and a bill, co-sponsored by Olympia Snowe, that would expand tax credits for people taking care of family members. He sought to grant states money for day care centers if they agree to certain inspections, staff ratios and training requirements. He pushed to require power plants and trash incinerators to cut mercury emissions 95% and sponsored the compact to allow Maine and Vermont to dump nuclear waste in Sierra Blanca, Texas, near the Mexico border, a measure Paul Wellstone called ''environmental racism.'' Allen's priorities have on occasion caused scheduling problems. He angered some state Democrats when he insisted on keeping a commitment to visit Maine defense facilities with Ike Skelton, ranking Democrat on Armed Services, instead of joining Al Gore on a campaign trip to the state; Gore cancelled the visit. And Allen said he might have to skip the vote on impeachment on December 19, 1998 in order to attend his daughter's wedding, but ended up chartering a plane to meet both obligations.
Bowdoin political scientist Chris Potholm describes the swing voters in this district as ''cruel yuppies,'' attracted to candidates who reflect their trendy values and negativity toward taxes. Allen seems to have won their allegiance. In 1998 he was opposed by Ross Connelly, a former Bechtel executive who moved to Maine, where his family had roots, in 1996; he spent $120,000 of his own money and came close to matching Allen's spending. But his strong views on abortion and his demand that Bill Clinton resign evidently didn't sell well. Allen won 60%-36%, winning more than 50% in each county; he carried Portland 75%-23% and the ''cruel yuppie'' suburbs 63%-35%.
Probably Safe. While this Portland- and Augusta-based district has deep blue-collar (read: Democratic) roots, it also has a serious independent streak which makes it competitive. But this district likes its incumbents, and Tom Allen has avoided high-profile controversy that might put him in political danger. A strong candidate could give Allen a run for his money.
- Pop. 1990: 613,960
- 49.3% rural;
13.9% age 65+;
- 98.4% White,
0.3% Amer. Indian,
0.6% Hispanic origin;
57.2% married couple families;
27.5% married couple fams. w. children;
47.2% college educ.;
median household income: $31,124;
per capita income: $14,453;
median gross rent: $413;
median house value: $107,700.
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