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Can Maine's Democrats come back from the dead?

Or have they been Republicans for too long?
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  January 19, 2011


Let's skip over several huge problems the Maine Democratic Party faces as it tries to recover from its historic losses in November, when for the first time since 1964 the Republicans took control of both houses of the Legislature and the governorship. With tea-party Paul LePage in the Blaine House, Maine hasn't had such a conservative government, historian Paul Mills says, since the early 1940s.

Let's mention in passing the big backfire from the Democratic Party's crude, nasty advertising against independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, who was in many ways more progressive/liberal than Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell. Partly as a result of that fiasco, Mitchell received only 19 percent of the vote. Democratic voters fled to Cutler, who wound up with 37 percent to LePage's 38 percent.

And let's put aside that State House Democrats have no rousing leaders, are intimidated by the Republican triumph, and are psychologically worn out and sore after eight years in bed with an unpopular governor, John Baldacci.

Maine's Democrats have a bigger problem: what their politicians have come to represent.

For years, Democrats in Augusta have followed the conservative Republican economic path even when they were in complete control of the government. This path in the end didn't lead to electoral success, and it didn't lead to prosperity for Mainers — only to a fiscal mess and reduced state services. Ironically, in choosing the Republicans, voters have now chosen an intensified conservatism. But that's an alternative — the only one presented to them.

"This is not the party that George Mitchell and Joe Brennan would have led," says Colby College government professor Sandy Maisel, of his fellow Democrats.

But it has been the party of John Baldacci.

To be sure, Maine's Democratic politicians have become conservative on economic issues partly because of national trends over decades: political campaigns became expensive, resulting in a dependence on rich people; unions declined; social issues became more important to the better-off, educated Democrats who led the party; and, as President Obama confessed recently to a group of liberal economists — reported by the National Journal — he hasn't been able to "change the narrative after 30 years" of Ronald Reagan-esque rhetoric and policies.

But the fact that Baldacci was a Republican on economics helped pull Maine Democrats far down the conservative path. He refused to raise taxes despite massive shortfalls between state-government revenues and expenditures. He continually reduced government services. And he cut taxes on business.

Even during the fall campaign, when Baldacci was a lame duck, Democratic candidates continued to quack like him — and like LePage. Libby Mitchell echoed LePage's line that the central mission of state government is to stimulate private-sector jobs, and that this should be done by cutting state spending and reducing income taxes for business and the affluent.

But now, with Republicans in power, Democrats who continue to follow the Republican path will be irrelevant to voters. Democrats could be relevant, though, if they presented a distinct alternative to the GOP, whose policies are likely to be as unsuccessful as Baldacci's. The only way Democrats can present an alternative is by going in the other direction: returning to their progressive roots.

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tapley laments the rise of laissez faire republicans who will, by anyone's understanding, punish the poor with neglect and proclaim that civil abandonement of those in need has created jobs. It's a truism that the maine populace seem so quick to embrace. Private sector creates jobs. So if we take 5% of our state revenue and give them to rich people, Maine as a whole will get richer. Well, will it?

What will happen is that rich people will buy more bonds, stocks and invest in companies who are - investing more in China. Why is it that china with high taxes, lots of state-owned and state-assisted :"private" enterprises is thriving with jobs and economic productivity while the US lags? It's not what the republicans propose - in fact china is more government but government leading in an economic direction - building infrastructure and training people - and making it easy for companies to come in and hire at any wage, pollute with abandon and so on. Maybe a bit of Chinese is just what the economy needs?

My take on the US economy is that China has set in place policies that disadvantage us, and they are doing their own smart things. in the US, we blindly folllow WTO and now Global trade agreements that are disadvantageous ot us and then we don't have our own smart policies. Just dumb theories that are ridiculous but seem to appeal to angry, let-down job hunters.

I'd recommend that the Maine democrats get behind a clean energy policy that would provide HUGE tax breaks for solar and wind investments - and that the state commit to using clean, renewable energy in its buidlings and grant recipients by 2025. that' s something that would not only deliver on the green agenda, but on the economic as well. I'd also run against state policies that don't promote job investment and that punish the poor.

to try and be more centrist was the wisdom of the day. Now it appears - according to Tapley- that we need to be more right on with things that will lift most of the boats - and not be intimidated by the "we know it all" pre-fascist leanings of the right. In fact, we know the New Deal was the great leap forward for the USA, which until then still lagged many countries. As we are now 25th in the world on infant survival, and not in the top 10 on education of our children - I concur with the author it's time to learn from our competitors and time to be more like china.
Posted: January 21 2011 at 5:54 AM
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