Maine Republicans Approve New Platform

There isn’t much in this world less likely to excite me than a political party’s platform.  They are – by and large – utterly devoid of meaning, entirely symbolic, and invisible to the public at large.  In short, people don’t care about them, and especially so with me.

That all changed, of course, a year and a half ago.

The events surrounding the 2010 Maine Republican Party platform were, in a word, disastrous.  For those of you who may have forgotten, there was an insurrection among the GOP grassroots on the floor of the convention hall, the establishment platform was thrown out and a new – entirely un-vetted – platform was put in its place.

That platform contained some interesting language, extolling the virtues of Austrian economics and attacking the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The haphazard, eclectic and not-much-to-do-with-Maine nature of the document, as well as the  perceived anarchy among Maine Republicans at their own convention led to widespread ridicule in the media, and confused looks from many party elites.

At the time of the platform’s passage in 2010, I said the following:

I am not privy to exactly what the proposed changes from within the platform committee were, but what I do know is that they were rejected out of hand.  Had the more “establishment” elements of the committee taken those suggestions and compromised and worked with those demands, it seems likely that they would have been able to hammer out something responsible that would have hopefully satisfied the libertarian/tea party wing without the insertion of what Dan Billings has called “nutcase stuff”.

This year, it seems, the Maine GOP decided to take that advice and incorporate their more rebellious brethren into the process and give them a voice, as a way to compromise and make sure nothing like 2010 happens again.

Of course, they had little choice but to listen.  The activists responsible for the 2010 platform and their allies were not at all interested in being marginalized.  Indeed, Christopher Gardner, Chairman of the Washington County Republican Committee sent a letter to the platform committee, gently reminding them that there were people out there who were watching.  Carefully.  Androscoggin apparently sent a similarly worded warning.

If all goes according to plan, there will be no repeat of the 2010 platform this year.  Last night the platform committee  - which included several activists involved in the “rebel platform” - voted unanimously to adopt a new platform.

I have spent most of the day talking to various people involved in the process, trying to piece together how it happened.

For the un-initiated, the platform committee has a very formal structure.  Membership is static:

  • The sixteen county committees can send one representative each
  • The Senate Republicans can send three representatives
  • The House Republicans can send seven representatives
  • The chairman of the party can send three representatives
  • Senator Snowe, Senator Collins and Governor LePage can each send one  representative

The process began in August, and the committee met monthly (twice in December) with former congressional candidate John Frary chairing the meetings.  The initial work was in collecting and organizing ideas, and there were a number of platform submissions from a variety of people, as well as input from two county committees and even a group of farmers from Washington County.

But it was the dirty work of coming up with a document that would, in the end, make both sides happy that was the biggest challenge.

In 2010, the document that was accepted by the floor of the convention was drafted by a member of the Knox County delegation, Ted Cowan.  Cowan was Knox’s representative on the committee this year, and was apparently given a number of opportunities to help draft the new document and give his input as to its direction.

One establishment source I spoke with described the activist contingent of the committee as “mostly reasonable” and interested in working on a compromise platform.  There was tension at times, it seems, but by and large everyone was kept mostly happy.

The final document is the work of the entire committee, but principally Tim Russell, Mary Adams, Ted Cowan, John Frary and Kathy Caso.  A number of legislators were involved from the beginning (Senators Roger Katz and Nichi Farnham as well as Representatives Les Fossel and Denny Keschl were singled out to me), but a number of people I spoke to suggested that the legislative Republicans in general were unengaged, or simply absent.

In the end, the final meeting of the platform committee saw the introduction of two documents.  One was penned by Tim Russell, an ardent social conservative and sober establishment figure, and Kathy Caso, the very personification of fire breathing Tea Party conservatism.  The other, much more colorful document, was written by Mary Adams, the anti-tax activist and TABOR crusader.

Upon the Caso-Russell document’s introduction as the base to work from for final edits, Cowan objected, declaring that the platform was boring and would fail to inspire the grassroots.  It was his assertion that the Adams document – which in bringing up Sharia law in its second bullet point reads an awful lot like the floor platform from 2010 – was bolder, and would excite people.  After a short discussion, the Caso-Russell version was accepted, and the committee began its work crafting a final draft.

I have read the full 2012 platform, and will be posting it here for you to read yourself once the last edits are made and a formal version exists.  In general Cowan is right, it is “boring”, certainly when compared to the 2010 floor platform or the Adams document.  But it is also a very interesting study in compromise, incorporating the activist passions of the base with the reserved concern of the establishment.

Gone are missives about the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Gone are broad commentaries on a host of federal and international issues.  Gone are the whispers of conspiracy.  Well, at least for the most part.

There is still plenty the left will rather enjoy attacking.  Indeed, much to my chagrin a plank was added on Sharia law (over Chairman Frary’s objection), and nothing quite so gets my blood boiling as the phantom conspiracy garbage that issue represents (count me with Governor Christie on this - 2:42 on).

But in the end the new platform will avoid an embarrassing repeat of 2010, and give everyone a little of what they wanted.

The very definition of compromise.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.