Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On Romney, Dixie, the Electoral College, and the American Nations

There's been a lot of talk in political circles about what it would mean if Mitt Romney won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College contest while carrying only the South. Would Barack Obama be said to have more of a mandate than he would if his popular vote loss wasn't confined to Dixie? Will such a development shore up support for retaining the Electoral College?

As the author of a book on North American regionalism, I've found the discussion intriguing. This evening I joined in, offering some thoughts at Washington Monthly's Ten Miles Square. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Making of Charlie Summers

For those who've been following the race to replace US Senator Olympia Snowe here in Maine, the third and final installment of my candidate biographies is out in today's Maine Sunday Telegram.

Today's profile is on Republican nominee Charlie Summers, who by some -- but by no means all -- polls is within striking distance of the frontrunner in the race, former governor Angus King. Summers -- literally raised in his parent's hotel in Kewanee, Illinois -- was a rising star in Maine politics twenty years ago, but has been serving his state and country in appointed or military capacities, not elected ones, ever since. Now he's hoping to replace his former mentor - Sen. Snowe - even as he has become estranged from her.

While reporting this story, I made some calls to Kewanee, which prompted a reporter there to write this "local kid made good" piece for the regional newspaper chain in that area this weekend. 

In case you missed them, here are the previous profiles of Angus King and Democratic nominee Cynthia Dill. And if you're a glutton for Maine politics, there's also this dual profile of the US House Maine-2 candidates, Michael Michaud and Kevin Raye.

[Update, 10/29/12: Here's my post introducing the U.S. Senate profiles to readers of Washington Monthly]

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Things to watch and read, Oct. 25 edition

A few items that may be of interest to readers of this blog:

Case against McKernan-led firm moving forward: As I reported in the Portland Press Herald today, one of the two whistleblower suits against for-profit university company Education Management Corp., looks to be going forward. A magistrate judge has recommended four of six counts against EDMC go forward. Former Maine Gov. John McKernan was CEO when at least some of the alleged counts took place, and is currently EDMC's chairman of the board. He is married to U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who announced in February that she is not seeking reelection.

Regional origins of violence: I've argued in my latest book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, that understanding our cultural geography is essential to understanding just about anything in U.S. (and Canadian) politics. Today Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker takes a similar approach to understanding regional differences in violence and other things over at the New York Times's Opinionator blog.

Is the Tea Party done for?: A year ago, I used the American Nations paradigm to show why the Tea Party movement is doomed to never become a dominant force in national politics in the Washington Monthly. Today, the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne argues the conservative ideas central to the movement are on the wane on the national stage. (Central evidence: Mitt Romney's sudden, necessary lurch to moderation.)

Republic of Pirates, the TV series: As many of you know, NBC announced in May that it was ordering a prime-time television series based on my third book, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Neil Cross (of BBC Luther fame) is writing the show, which is now titled "Crossbones." For entertainment news hounds, this recent news item on the show has been circulating around the web.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

NOM, same sex marriage, and Maine campaign finance law

If you've lost track of where things stand with the National Organization for Marriage, same sex marriage initiatives, and Maine's campaign finance laws, here's the story for you.

NOM was the primary force behind efforts to defeat the same sex marriage ballot measure back in 2009, giving nearly $2 million to the effort. It ran afoul of Maine law, however, by refusing to disclose the source of those funds, prompting an investigation by the state ethics commission, a suit by NOM against the commission in federal court, and this story I wrote for Down East at the time.

As of the last filing period, NOM had given $250,000 to defeat this year's repeat ballot initiative, again constituting a majority of the funds raised so far. This time it claims all funds came from its general treasury, meaning no further disclosure is required.

So is NOM in violation of the law this year as one national activist has claimed, and why haven't they had to disclose their 2009 donors, given that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against them? Read my story in today's Maine Sunday Telegram for an overview of where things stand.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Alewives in St. Croix: Environmental group files suit against Maine

For those of you who've been following the peculiar story of the alewives of the St. Croix River -- who the Maine legislature has prohibited from spawning in most of the river -- there's a new development.

The Conservation Law Foundation has filed suit against the State of Maine, charging that the law is in violation of the constitution, a development I broke in today's Portland Press Herald.

It follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's directive informing Maine that its law violates the federal Clean Water Act and Attorney General William Schneider's response that the EPA's remarks were not legally relevant.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Speaking on American Nations in Plattsburgh, NY, Oct. 16

For those in the greater Plattsburgh, New York area, I'll be discussing American Nations at the State University of New York - Plattsburgh tomorrow evening, October 16th, at 7:30.

This is part of the Karl Cron Lecture Series hosted by the university's Protestant Campus Ministry Student Association and  is held at the Alumni Conference Room.

The lecture is free and  open to the public.

For more information, their press release says to contact chaplain Ana Rivera-Georgescu at or the student association president Alexander Malsan at

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Making of Cynthia Dill

Here in Maine, the big political race this season is for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Olympia Snowe, whose sudden retirement announcement back in February took the entire political class by surprise.

There are five candidates, but even in the most generous analysis, it's a three-way race between former two-term independent governor Angus King, sitting Republican secretary of state Charlie Summers, and Democratic nominee Cynthia Dill, a state senator.

I've been researching "the making of...." biographies of these three candidates for the Maine Sunday Telegram, seeking to show where the candidates came from, how it shaped who they are and the values and political philosophies they hold and, in the broadest sense, what those values and philosophies are as demonstrated by their extant political career. The first, on Angus King, appeared late last month.

The Cynthia Dill profile is in this morning's Telegram, and traces her life from her birth in Carmel, New York (where the Dills are a well-known and much respected family) to her rapid political ascent, which has seen her go from first-term town councilor in Cape Elizabeth to a major party nominee to perhaps the most influential legislative body in the world in just six years.

A side note: Maine politicos may also be interested in my post yesterday at the Press Herald's Open Season blog, in which Ms. Dill hints at the possibility of a "last minute deal". In a Facebook comment yesterday, Dill further clarified that she might leave the race if someone -- presumably Mr. King -- stood up for "Democratic values."

The third installment of this series - on Mr. Summers - is scheduled to appear a week from today. [Update: 10/28/12: The Summers piece is out too.]

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In a polarized age, Maine CD-2 candidates have much in common

In a politically polarized age, Maine's Second District Congressional race stands out. The district -- the largest east of the Mississippi -- is more rural, poor, and conservative than Maine's other, more southerly House district, and while it has supported Democratic presidential candidates in recent elections, its voters are largely responsible for giving the GOP control of both houses of the legislature in 2010.

Perhaps its not surprising, then, that the two men vying for the seat this year have a great deal in common. As my dual profile in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram points out, incumbent Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and his rival, state senate president Kevin Raye, have remarkable parallels in terms of background (both live within a few miles of the rural Maine towns where they were born) and policy (both being moderates within their respective parties with reputations for fostering cross-partisanship and who express concern for the loss of American manufacturing.) They've even faced off for this House seat before, in 2002, when Mr. Michaud won by 4 points.

In the absence of stark contrasts, incumbency may be serving Michaud well. Polls have him up by double digits.

Monday, October 1, 2012

American Nations, the Penguin paperback

I'm pleased to announce that my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, is now available in paperback. Penguin put their edition on sale last week, with slightly modified cover art and the current map of the nations.

The book is also available in Viking hardcover, Kindle, Nook, and audiobook editions. I've provided links to the Amazon pages for informational purposes, but buy them from your local bookseller if your community is fortunate enough to still have one. (Here in Portland, Maine, that's Longfellow's where there are usually signed copies in stock.)

For more on the book, try the reviews and media available from the American Nations page at