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Maine Politics

An Electoral Mystery
By John Frary
Jun 27, 2010 - 6:29:43 PM

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All of Maine's journalists, commentators and political professionals were astonished at the outcome of this year's Republican primaries. It's not just that Paul LePage won, it was become he won with nearly 38% of the vote in a field of seven. It's not just that he sprung so suddenly way to the head of the line, despite the polls; it was because the won after spending just $190,149 against a $4,253,000 cash avalanche spent by his rivals. He gathered 48,370 votes at a cost of $3.95 per head, while his general election opponent, Sen. Mitchell got herself 41,714 votes at $16.66 per head in a field of four.

So the explanation for all these surprises was his grass-roots support. All agree on this. And that brings us to another surprising thing which, oddly enough, has gone unnoticed. There can't be any doubt that, with this kind of grassroots support, Paul LePage could have collected enough five-dollar checks to have qualified for $600,000 in clean election funding.

So why didn't he? An extra $410,000 in TV ads would have gotten him more votes. Let's say an extra 25,000 at Libby Mitchell's rate per capita, or an extra 4,000 at the $110 Otten and Poliquin spent per vote. He could have avoided investing $110,000 of his own money in the campaign and still had $300,000 for TV ads.

I happen to have the answer to the question that no one is bothering to ask because I spoke with Paul about clean election funding several times before he decided on "traditional" funding. Paul LePage did not choose the clean election option because he couldn't.

Nearly as I could tell most, if not everyone, of those around him were urging him to take the clean election funding option. They knew Les Otten and Bruce Poliquin were willing to dip into their millions. Peter Mills was certain to get $600,000 of taxpayer funds. Steve Abbott had connections with Susan Collins fund raising sources. There's was no disgrace in reaching for that $600,000. It is perfectly legal. Libby Mitchell even boasts that she went that route.

Paul could not seek taxpayer funding because it ran bang on into his personal values. He hasn't criticized anyone for doing so. He never made an issue of it in his campaign that I noticed. He simply could not accept "welfare for politicians" because the State of Maine must make serious cuts in the next budget. There is no way he could see himself demanding tough choices as governor if he did not make this tough choice himself.

For me this is the most astonishing thing about his campaign.  It's downright abnormal for a candidate from any party to weaken his campaign prospects on principle.

As mayor of Waterville Paul promoted and supported change from a "strong mayor" to a "weak mayor" charter. This change could only weaken his own power in dealing with a solidly Democratic council. This was a strange thing to do. I've never heard of an office-holder anywhere at anytime who was willing to weaken his own power. So why did he do it?

It was because the city of Waterville had suffered in the past from shady characters who had abused their power as mayors. Seberal went to jail. Paul did not plan to be "mayor-for-life" and he wished to protect his city from the same abuse of power it had suffered under some of his predecessors.

I'm not claiming to be an objective observer. I'm a Republican and a personal friend of Paul LePage. Still, his refusal to run with clean election funding and his advocacy of a charter weakening his own power are plain facts. If he was not motivated by principle, I would like to hear what other motive he could have had.

Readers may have different opinions about his policies. May even find something frightening about such uncompromising principles. But there is no question that Mayor LePage will stick to his principles. And Maine needs this in its next governor.

Professor John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former US Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at:

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