Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Snowe's Mixed Signals

In February, the political establishment here in Maine was rocked by Sen. Olympia’s Snowe’s late and entirely surprising announcement that she would not seek reelection. The Senate, she said, had become a frustrating place, where “an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.” Rather than serve another term - her reelection was a given - she would “enter a new chapter” in which she would “help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.”

“I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us,” she added, and later announced she would convert her campaign committee into a PAC to support such centrist, post-partisan change.
But here in Maine, where she is the perhaps most influential Republican, Snowe has not yet put her money where her mouth is.

As my story in today’s Portland Press Herald shows, Snowe, her husband, and her campaign committee gave exclusively to Republicans and in Maine’s state-level races this cycle, including divisive and polarizing figures like Gov. Paul LePage, with whom she shares a personal loyalty. Indeed, her staff say she gave to candidates based on their loyalty to her during her abortive reelection bid, and the pattern of her giving emphasizes party over ideology, as when she appeared in television ads to unseat the most avowedly centrist, non-partisan member of the state senate in favor of a Republican challenger.

Sources expect her political donations will change character going forward, now that her campaign committee has become Olympia’s List. Stay tuned.

Cross-posted from Washington Monthly

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How did the Maine GOP lose the State House?

Earlier this month, Republicans lost control of both houses of the Maine legislature, reversing their historic takeover just two years ago and isolating Gov. Paul LePage, a Tea Party-style conservative now mid-way through his first term.

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram, I've tried to determine how and why. Drawing on data on electoral geography, political spending, party strategy, candidate incumbency and candidate ideology (as determined by the LePage-ist Maine People Before Politics and the liberal Maine Peoples Alliance) -- and interviewing candidates, part strategists, and academics -- the piece concludes that the Democratic effort was regionally targeted and greatly helped by Gov. LePage's reputation in those areas and the willingness of donors to give lavishly to block his agenda.

Also with the article check out the map of the new Maine House of Representatives: a stark "red/blue" map showing the GOP to have become the party of the so-called "rim counties", the Democrats the party of southern, central, and coastal Maine as well as Bangor. (The senate map is similar.) Given the relative population of these areas, that's a worrying trend for Republicans and one that's likely to be on their minds as the 126th legislature gets to work.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Meeting readers at MWPA's Holiday Book Sale, Nov. 23

If you live in or near Portland, Maine and are wondering how best to spend -- or avoid -- the Black Friday shopping experience, may I suggest seeking sanctuary at the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance's 2012 Holiday Book Sale?

MWPA has teamed up the Friends of the Portland Public Library and Portland's own Longfellow Books, to host the annual event Friday, November 23, from 2 to 5pm. More than a dozen Maine authors will be on hand to meet readers, sign books, and hide from the bustle of the Maine Mall.

I'll be there, but despite that you may still want to come by to meet fellow authors including Janis Bolster, Susan Conley, Gail Donovan, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, Brenda Gilchrist, Margaret Hathaway, Preston Hood, Wesley McNair, Elizabeth Miles, Jim Nichols, Patricia O'Donnell, and Elizabeth Peavey.

It's at the main branch of the Portland Public Library on Monument Square.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reviewing "Governing the World" in the Washington Post

As a longtime foreign correspondent and onetime student of international relations, I've had an interest in how it is that the United States went from being the leading force in the creation of institutions of international governance to an opponent of the same. Under Woodrow Wilson, F.D.R., and Harry Truman we worked to build the League of Nations and United Nations -- the latter, at least, a powerful lever for implementing American policies for decades -- only to have neoconservatives and the Rapture-minded-faithful-in-office work to take them down.

There were reasons for this conversion, of course, and  Columbia University historian Mark Mazower relates them in his new book Governing the World: A History of an Idea. My review of the book is in this morning's Washington Post if you'd like to learn more.

For those looking for other reading suggestions, my most recent reviews for the Post were of Mike Lofgren's The Party is Over, Eric Ratkow's American Canopy, E.O Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth and David Hackett Fisher's Fairness and Freedom.

[Update, 11/25/12: The Denver Post picked up this review.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Woodard on Woodward

Bob Woodward is coming to Portland, Maine tomorrow and, as a result, I interviewed him last week for the Portland Press Herald. The article - pegged to his talk at USM - is in today's paper.

At the start of our conversation, Woodward asked: "That's 'Woodard' with no second W?" Yes, I said, although for my entire career people have been trying to add the 'w' back in on account of you. (The reverse, I understand, is not true.)

In any case, enjoy the interview, which focuses on Woodward's thoughts about investigative journalism in the age of Wikileaks and weakened newspaper companies.

The talk, should you go, is sponsored by WEX, the company until recently known as Wright Express. Company president Mike Dubyak wrote to let me know of their central role in the event. He said Woodward is speaking before his company's employees at USM Thursday morning and that he, Dubyak, will be moderating tomorrow night's event. (It's also a fundraiser, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to scholarships for USM students.)

Photo C

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Beyond the Red State, Blue State Map, a Federation of Regions

I have yet another offering in regards to how the "true" regional map of out country is reflected in the results of last week's U.S. elections: this front page story from the Maine Sunday Telegram. (It was also the lead story in the Telegram's Augusta sister paper, the Kennebec Journal.)

The nut: "While [red state/blue state] maps suggest our political differences may have a regional basis, they actually conceal the depth of the sectional divide because they fail to capture the true cultural fault lines that have shaped and defined American politics since long before the United States came into existence."

(Needless to say it draws from the American Nations paradigm.)

The piece is also available via the McClatchy news wire, for any subscribing publications out there.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The 2012 U.S. Election and the American Nations

If you've been on the edge of your seat, wondering if the U.S. election would play out as suggested by the regional map put forth in American Nations, the waiting is over. It did, almost to a T, and no surprise given that the general election became an explicit choice between those two touchstones of American regional conflict, individual liberty against communal freedom.

I hold forth on this in this OpEd piece today at Bloomberg View, which just over a year ago published a five part series of excerpts adapted from the book. (It's worth a click just to enjoy the illustration, which features a fight between a cartoon-like Puritan and Appalachian frontiersman.)

Enjoy and, as always, let me know what you think.

[Update, 20:17: The Minneapolis Star-Tribune picked up this OpEd, with a fun cartoon of their own.]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

On the GOP's collapse in Yankeedom

I've written several pieces running this weekend on the effect of regional cultures on the U.S. election results this year. They all draw, of course, on the paradigm set forth in my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

The first posted last night over at Washington Monthly and focuses on the predictable but disastrous outcome for the Republican Party in the region of its birth: Yankeedom, the swath of the country first colonized by New Englanders and their progeny. It's the featured piece on their website this morning. As always, have a read and let me know what you think.

If you've just been introduced to my framework, you can download a high-resolution, county-level map of the eleven regional cultures here.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Maine Politics: Evaluating the Money Flood

I have a number of election related pieces about to come out in several venues, and the first is on the legislative races here in my home state of Maine.

After the 2010 elections, I wrote about the unsavory consequences of outside spending in Maine's once fairly chivalrous state senate, house, and gubernatorial races in Down East. This year, the flood of third party spending into our legislative races more than doubled that of 2008, with unknown consequence for Pine Tree State politics.

In tomorrow's Maine Sunday Telegram I explore the issue, speaking with campaign finance experts, candidates who'd won and lost in targeted races, and other sources about what it all means. Did it work? What's it mean for clean elections candidates? Who outspent whom and why might they be involved? It's all in the piece, now up online.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gov. John H Reed (1921-2012)

John H. Reed, governor of Maine in the early and mid 1960s, died Wednesday in Washington, DC at age 91.

I didn't know much about Gov. Reed until late yesterday morning, when I started work on this obituary profile which ran in today's Portland Press Herald. Grandson of one of Fort Fairfield's most successful men -- a seed potato grower -- and a farm manager himself, Reed was thrust into the governor's mansion at 38 after the sudden death of his predecessor. A Republican who became friends with LBJ, he would later serve - twice - as our ambassador in Sri Lanka.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. It's all in the piece....

(A side note. By odd coincidence, yesterday I wound up speaking to both name partners at the law firm Curtis Thaxter back to back for entirely different and unrelated stories. (Kenneth Curtis defeated Reed to become governor of Maine in 1966.))

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Maine: fulltime virtual schools reapply for charters

For those following the issues surrounding the possible advent of full-time virtual charter schools here in Maine, I have an update in today's Portland Press Herald.

Schools that would be managed by K12 Inc and Connections Learning have resubmitted their applications to receive charters. The companies were at the focus of an investigative report I did for  the Maine Sunday Telegram which ran Sept. 2.

More details in the article.