Disorganized Chaos

I have argued for years that Maine is not, as is commonly thought, a deeply liberal state.  By no means do I think it is a conservative stronghold either, but the extremely complicated mix of geography, culture and ideology produce a conflicted and often times contradictory political identity.

Maine is full of pragmatic, independent-minded people yes, but even the makeup of the parties can defy reason.

French Catholic Democrats in the inland and north tend to be socially and fiscally conservative, while their more patrician kin on the coasts and in the south are the very definition of mainstream liberal progressive activists.

Republicans are less geographically divided, but are quite ideologically split.  The state party is currently at war with itself with moderate pragmatists, libertarians, business interests and social conservatives all ready to burn down Maine GOP headquarters and start over.

This varied makeup is why the state can fluctuate wildly from election to election, with new coalitions being created from thin air, only to die the next cycle.

I have always believed that the flinty individualism inherent in most Maine people is capable of producing a robust, durable conservative movement that can win elections and control government.

The problem is putting the movement together.

Prior to the mid to late 1950s, Maine was a monolithic Republican stronghold so strong that there would often be only a single state senator who identified as a Democrat.  Yet the potential to create a new majority coalition always existed, and it took a brilliant political mind and heavy organizational muscle to create it.

Democrats found that in Ed Muskie and his allies.

Today, I believe Democrats find more success in Maine due to tactics and organization (and the lack thereof among Republicans), not ideology. Voters would reward a coherent and organized conservative movement, if only it existed.

Sadly, such a thing does not exist, and has not existed for a very long time.

Consider, for example, the Maine People’s Alliance, a left-wing grassroots activism organization that promotes progressive causes and candidates.  It claims a staff that includes an executive director, an associate director, a communications director, a political engagement director, a member programs director, an office manager, an administrative assistant just for the city of Portland, a major gifts director, a communications associate, six separate community and issue organizers, and three canvass leaders.

And that is just a single organization.

The right has absolutely no answer for the Maine People’s Alliance, or an organization that even comprehends what MPA does.  Certainly no one has even attempted to duplicate it.

The things that the right does have, such as the Maine Heritage Policy Center, are more effective for developing legislative policy and driving the media narrative than they are for organizing people and winning elections.

The party apparatus has so atrophied over the years that it barely operates.  Republicans lost the Legislature in a handful of tossup races last year by only a few thousand votes collectively, which is attributable to the hyper-organization of the left, and the tragic failure of the Maine GOP to respond.

The monied interests in the party are disparate and disorganized, obsessed with personal projects and individual ambition rather than building a movement.  The activists continue to bicker rather than find common ground.  Nobody can even recognize what is missing, let alone try to address it.

Amateurism and antiquated ideas about political organizing rule the day in Maine, and as a result the potential to build a majority of voters fails to materialize.  Even when successful, the movement still manages to disappoint and underperform.

There is a deficit of leadership among conservatives in Maine, but worse there is a deficit of vision.  That lack of vision must be solved, and the only way it will be is with a coordinated effort to rebuild and innovate.

Maybe the right creates a strong, centralized state party that operates as a well-oiled machine and puts boots on the ground.  Maybe certain members of our party put the welfare of the movement above their personal ambitions, and use their resources to start a right-wing grassroots organization to compete with the Maine People’s Alliance.

Maybe we all band together and start working for our common goals in a coordinated, organized way, rather than savagely eating our own young.  That would certainly be a start.

Whatever we do, I implore Maine Republicans to choose the movement over themselves, to begin to understand what is wrong, and promote people who have a plan to fix it, and have the capability of bringing together the people necessary to get it done.

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. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.