A brutal night for Maine liberals

Maine progressives couldn't defeat Lewiston Mayor and Paul LePage ally Robert Macdonald. Photo by Amber Waterman, Special to the BDN

Maine progressives couldn’t defeat Lewiston Mayor and Paul LePage ally Robert Macdonald. Photo by Amber Waterman, Special to the BDN

Election night 2015 was a horrendously bad night for the liberal alliance in Maine.

Oh, they’ll claim otherwise, of course. Political partisans always manage to find a silver lining in every disaster. But, consider the following:

Portland has, for years, been an experimental proving ground for progressive politics. Given the partisan lean of the city and its inhabitants, Maine’s largest municipality has long been where the left goes to try out ideas and push the most outlandish policy proposals because they can accomplish them there. That success then becomes the “foot in the door” proof-of-concept for larger statewide campaigns. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Not so this year.

A proposed increase in the minimum wage to an absolutely insane $15 in Portland, driven by the most rabid of progressive activists was obliterated at the polls. Despite predictions by some on the left that it would win, and comfortably, the minimum wage ordinance lost by more than 15 points. In Portland.

More importantly, its huge loss puts doubt around the proposed statewide minimum wage increase next year and emboldens conservatives who had assumed, up until now, that fighting the minimum wage was a losing battle.

Another local ordinance — dubbed the scenic view ordinance — which was in reality a repulsively anti-development proposal that would leave the city hostage to a small group of hostile NIMBYs in the city and grind growth to a halt, pushed by (again) the most radical local progressives in the city, went down as well. This one lost by more than 25 points. In Portland.

How about the two special elections for the Maine House of Representatives? Two seats that were previously in the hands of Democrats were contested Tuesday night, and the Maine Republican Party has a pretty terrible track record in special elections. Yet Republicans won both seats, putting the party just five votes shy of electing Ken Fredette speaker.

What about the Lewiston-Auburn area? Progressives have made a tremendously big deal out of descending upon this one area of the state and making it ground zero for an anti-LePage liberal backlash. How did they do?

In Lewiston, despite outspending Mayor Bob MacDonald by roughly 60 to 1, liberal activist Ben Chin was only able to get 44 percent of the vote in the first round and will almost certainly lose the runoff election against the incumbent mayor.

Next door, Mayor Jonathan LaBonte was also a major target of the left. LaBonte, in addition to being Auburn’s mayor, serves as Gov. Paul LePage’s director of the Office of Policy and Management and, due to his association with the governor, gained a bullseye on his back. The MEA endorsed his opponent, and the left organized in Auburn to defeat him.

LaBonte won re-election by what has to be a soul-crushing (to the left) 12 points.

The only bright spot for progressives in this election was Question 1, which dealt with dramatically increasing Clean Elections funding. The question was a major priority of liberal special interests, and it did pass by about 10 points.

But was it that much of a victory? At the end of the day the Yes on 1 folks spent at least $1.3 million, but likely closer to $2 million, to pass this referendum, versus around $50,000 for the opponents.

That works out to somewhere between $11.40 and $17.53 per “yes” vote (on a question that supposedly gets money out of politics), versus about $0.54 per “no” vote.

Stunning numbers. I wonder how this question would have gone if the gigantic financial disparity hadn’t existed.

And by the way, where were all of these evil billionaires and corporations who were desperate to keep buying elections? You’d have thought some of these nefarious mustache-twirling villains would have shown up and bankrolled the No on 1 folks.

Nope. Maybe Question 1 really had no effect on their ability to influence elections at all and, as a result, they didn’t care much? But I digress.

More interesting than the absurd cost it took to win that referendum for liberals was just how much they lost across the state with a virtually non-existent opposition.

Yes on 1 lost in Androscoggin, Aroostook, Franklin, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington counties.

It was mostly the 30-point margin in Cumberland County (surprise surprise) that carried Yes on 1 to victory.

So a victory for the left, sure, but perhaps a bit of a pyrrhic victory.

Now, despite winning this question, they have essentially funded the the chronically underfunded Republicans, by basically forcing them to accept Clean Elections money in all of their races. That will represent a lot more (taxpayer-funded) money for conservatives, while doing nothing to stem the tide of outside, dark money attempting to influence elections.

Well played, progressives. Well played.

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.