Saturday, October 20, 2018

BTRTN: Finding Refuge in Local Politics: The View from Maine

An inspiring guest column by Brandon Lieberthal on campaign volunteering in Maine.

A couple weeks ago, former Maine Democratic senator George Mitchell came to my campus to give a speech called “Healing Our Democracy.” He spoke extensively about the social and political factors that have contributed to our current dysfunction and polarization in the federal government. Although Senator Mitchell offered a few procedural steps that the government could take to get on the right track, such as getting money out of elections and doing away with gerrymandering, his major point was that the most important thing we , as citizens, could do to restore our country is to work from the ground up. He said we need to learn how to listen to each other and build a community that responds to all of our desires.

The sleepy state of Maine has been in the news a lot lately, mostly thanks to the perennial swing vote of Senator Susan Collins, but Maine is especially notable for its independent streak. We have a history of female Republican senators who have on occasion bucked the trend of their parties. Although Maine usually votes for the Democratic presidential candidate, the state actually splits its electoral votes based on the results in each of its two districts, and in 2016 my district gave an electoral vote to Donald Trump. We have the only Republican senator and Republican representative in all of New England. We recently voted to enact ranked choice voting for federal elections, which should ideally give independents a fighting chance and bridge the divide between the two major parties. We have automatic voter registration and no voter ID laws. And we have a Clean Election Fund, which provides public election funding in exchange for collecting no more than $5 donations from any individual.

This year, Maine has a couple of contentious elections. Former marine and state house representative Jared Golden is running to unseat our Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin. Although the polls show that race as a toss-up and Golden is hoping to ride the blue wave, no incumbent has ever been defeated in northern Maine in over a hundred years. Attorney General Janet Mills and businessman Shawn Moody are in another toss-up race to replace the oft maligned governor Paul LePage, who is getting termed out this year. The local Democrats see this year as an opportunity to win both houses of Congress and the governor’s mansion, giving them an excellent chance to deliver on their agenda.

Jim Dill, on the far right
Earlier this year I began volunteering for the reelection campaign of Democratic state senator Jim Dill, who also serves as the local tick expert at the University of Maine. He is running against the Republican Deb Perkins and the socialist Maia Dendinger to represent a district that includes the college town Orono, several towns further north that have been suffering from the collapse of the paper industry, and a piece of unincorporated Native American territory. Jim prides himself on being able to reach across the aisle and pass bills with bipartisan consensus. He campaigns on encouraging economic development in rural Maine, providing high quality affordable education, addressing the opioid epidemic, protecting the environment, and protecting women’s rights.

Image result for political map of maine
My volunteer work for Jim Dill involved managing his Facebook page, stuffing mailers, and driving him up and down through rural Maine. Jim’s campaign style is to spend as much time as possible interacting with his constituents, either in one on one conversations or at larger social events. Over the last three months, we have visited around 6,000 people, and he has asked every one of them about their concerns. Surprisingly, national politics don’t play much of a role in the concerns of most Mainers. They are much more concerned about the opioid crisis, creating new jobs, and access to health care than anything going on in DC. Almost everybody we talked to, even the Republicans, said they were more likely to vote for Jim Dill just because he made the effort to come to their houses and talk with them.

By working with Jim, I’ve learned that there is a bright side to the dirty, partisan politics that plagues our country. There are still many politicians out there that genuinely want to help their communities, and people who have real problems that need to be addressed. Although there are deep divisions between the Maine parties, they are still willing to work together at times to address domestic, economic, and environmental issues. And that by far the best way to engage in local politics is not through money or the Internet, but by talking to people, one constituent at a time.

October is a relatively sleepy month in politics. July and September are the most important months to convince the public to vote for you, and the first week of November is the most important time to actually get everyone to vote. If you want to do what you can to help and it’s not too late to register in your state (https://www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/), I would recommend you take some time in the next couple weeks helping people get registered to vote. You can do the most good on college campuses and low income communities, where people have less access to voting resources and are very often overlooked. Otherwise, get in touch with your local candidates and ask if you can help canvassing or phone banking. Let’s do what we can to heal this country from the ground up.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

BTRTN Gubernatorial Election Snapshot: Good News for the Dems?


Tom on the races to control state houses.

The races for Governor are not as high profile as those of the houses of Congress, perhaps because a majority does not constitute “control” in the same sense.  But governors, of course, play crucial roles in governing our country, for many reasons.   With our current federal government intent on championing “states’ rights,” power is flowing to those states, and governors work with state legislatures to use that power in many ways.  Just for starters, in the area of health care alone, states have created laws that limit access to abortion, have rejected federal funds for Medicaid expansion and created myriad other obstacles to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

And, of course, the governors and their legislatures control the district reapportionment process, and the GOP electoral successes in this decade owe significantly to the gerrymandering frenzy undertaken in the wake of the 2010 census.   The next census is just around the corner, in 2020, and so the races for the state houses are of monumental significance this time around.

Finally, today’s governors are future presidential candidates, and because of their executive experience and presumed distance from Washington, D.C., they come to the process with inherent advantages.  It is no wonder that governors have been more successful than Senators in reaching the Oval Office; in recent times, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush held the office in their state.  Since Richard Nixon left office 44 years ago, only Barack Obama among his successors came from the Senate.

And what a fulsome gubernatorial election cycle this is, with fully 36 of our 50 governorships on the line in November.   The GOP dominates state houses now, with 33 governors, while the Democrats have only 16, with one Independent (in Alaska).   So, the Dems have opportunities they don’t have with the Senate playing field – of the 36 seats on the ballot, 26 of them are held by the GOP.

As of this snapshot – not a prediction, but if the elections were held today – the Democrats are in line to flip a net of 9 seats, to even the state house battle to 25/25, which would be a huge gain.   Keep in mind, though, that 16 of these races are currently “in play,” and half of those are “toss-ups” with the polling in the current margin of error.  The GOP could still come out with far fewer losses.  But as of now, the Dems are doing well, and they even have a path to take a majority – which has no legislative meaning per se but would be quite a statement heading into the 2020 census – and presidential election.

BTRTN GOVERNOR SNAPSHOT

BTRTN GOVERNOR SNAPSHOT

10/18/18


Current
Projected
Change
DEM TOTAL
25

Dem
16
25
9
Dem Holdover
7

GOP
33
25
-8
Dem Solid
7

Ind
1
0
-1
Dem Lean
6





Dem Toss-up
5





GOP Toss-up
3





GOP Lean
2





GOP Solid
13





GOP Holdover
7





GOP TOTAL
25






The chart below lays it all out on a state-by-state basis; the races are ranked in order of the strength of the Democrat on the ballot.   As you can see, the nine states that the Dems are on track to flip are Illinois, Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and South Dakota.  In three other races, the GOP is holding on to the narrowest of leads: Nevada, Georgia and Kansas.  The GOP is not on track to flip any state house, though it could take control of Alaska by defeating Independent Bill Walker.  The Dems have decent leads (5 to 10 points) in four of their seats that are in play:  Rhode Island, Colorado, Connecticut and Oregon.


GOVERNOR SNAPSHOT
State
Inc. Party
Incumbent
Democrat
GOP
Recent Polls Avg
BTRTN Rating
NY
D
Cuomo
Cuomo
Molinaro

D Solid
CAL
D
Brown
Newsom
Cox

 D/I Solid
HAW
D
Ige
Ige
Tupola

D Solid
PENN
D
Wolf
Wolf
Wagner

D Solid
ILL
R
Rauner
Pritzker
Rauner

D Solid
MINN
D
Dayton
Walz
Johnson

D Solid
MICH
R
Snyder
Whitmer
Scheutte

D Solid
RI
D
Raimando
Raimando
Fung
D + 9
D Lean
MAINE
R
LePage
Mills
Moody
D + 8
D Lean
NMEX
R
Martinez
Grisham
Pearce
D + 7
D Lean
COL
D
Hickenlooper
Polis
Stapleton
D + 7
D Lean
CONN
D
Molloy
Lamont
Stefanowski
D + 7
D Lean
OR
D
Brown
Brown
Beuhler
D + 5
D Lean
FLA
R
Scott
Gillum
DeSantis
D + 4
D TU
IOWA
R
Reynolds
Hubbell
Reynolds
D + 4
D TU
WISC
R
Walker
Evers
Walker
D + 4
D TU
OHIO
R
Kasich
Cordray
DeWine
D + 3
D TU
SD
R
Daugaard
Sutton
Noem
D + 3
D TU
NEV
R
Sandoval
Sisolak
Laxalt
R + 1
R TU
GA
R
Deal
Abrams
Kemp
R + 1
R TU
KAN
R
Colyer
Kelly
Kobach
R + 1
R TU
OKL
R
Fallin
Edmondson
Stitt
R + 5
R Lean
NH
R
Sununu
Kelly
Sununu
R + 5
R Lean
ALASKA
I
Walker*
Begish
Dunleavy

R Solid
ARI
R
Ducey
Garcia
Ducey

R Solid
MARY
R
Hogan
Jealous
Hogan

R Solid
SC
R
McMaster
Smith
McMaster

R Solid
TENN
R
Haslam
Dean
Lee

R Solid
VER
R
Scott
Hallquist
Scott

R Solid
IDA
R
Otter
Jordan
Little

R Solid
ALAB
R
Ivey
Maddox
Ivey

R Solid
ARK
R
Hutchinson
Henderson
Hutchinson

R Solid
MASS
R
Baker
Gonzalez
Baker

R Solid
NEB
R
Ricketts
Krist
Ricketts

R Solid
TEX
R
Abbott
Valdez
Abbott

R Solid
WYO
R
Mead
Throne
Mead

R Solid
*  Walker is also on the ballot as a Independent