Millions have read his books. His movies have chilled audiences for decades. He’s arguably the most famous Mainer — alive or dead.
But do his remarks on politics matter?
Maine native Stephen King made the news last week for some political commentary he made in Florida, where he lives part of the year when he’s not in Bangor or Center Lovell, where he also owns homes.
At a rally to support education, unions and veterans, the horror author compared Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, all Republicans, to “Larry, Curly and Moe,” the Three Stooges. King, who has spoken out for Democratic causes often in the past, made no mention of Shemp.
All three governors have taken aim at state workers’ pensions to address state fiscal problems, and have been criticized by unions for doing so .
King also referred to LePage as a “stone brain.”
On Monday, LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt made light of King’s comments.
“Maine is proud of Stephen King and his ability to terrify, but his novels are no match for Maine’s business climate when it comes to keeping entrepreneurs awake at night,” Demeritt said. “Governor LePage is fighting to reduce the costs and burdens of doing business in Maine because he knows that private sector investment is the only thing that will create jobs and prosperity for working families.”
Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, noted that King was a major contributor to the Democratic Party in Maine.
“It’s pretty hard to look at someone who can write those kinds of checks and give that kind of money to what most people would perceive as the most liberal Democratic party in the country — how much credibility will he have?” said Webster. “Not much with me.”
According to the state Ethics Commission filings, King has given at least $220,000 to the Maine Democratic Party since 2002, and gave $10,000 to the No on 1 campaign in 2009 to support gay marriage. A search of Federal Election Commission records shows that King has donated thousands to Democratic candidates for Congress in Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Nebraska. He donated $40,000 to the Maine Democratic State Committee in the last decade, $28,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2007, and $10,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party in 2004.
It’s that unabashed support for progressive politics — coupled with the conservative position of LePage — that will minimize the overall impact of King’s most recent comments, suggested University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer.
“That’s not in any way a commentary on King’s fame. Clearly, he’s certainly the most famous living Mainer — probably the most famous Mainer of all time,” said Brewer.
“But his politics are so well-known that those people who already don’t like LePage, for the same reasons King doesn’t, aren’t surprised at all to hear those comments. Those who like LePage, they probably already dislike King’s politics — they sort of write him off.”
Everybody knows King is very liberal in his political views, and has been very supportive of those causes, said Brewer. On the other hand, he said, “LePage isn’t a blank slate. He’s not trying to be something he’s not or hide what he is — he says what he thinks and, so far, has done what he said he would do.”
Neither man plays much in the middle of the political spectrum, so there won’t be much swaying of hearts or minds, suggested Brewer.
Brian Duff, a political science professor at the University of New England, noted that King started off talking about LePage as a “tea party” candidate who was elected by a plurality.
“He put his finger on something that I think is going to resonate with people in Maine,” said Duff. “We’re going to hear a lot more about it.”
Because candidates Elizabeth Mitchell, a Democrat, and Eliot Cutler, who was unenrolled, split the vote, “we ended up with a governor that is much more conservative than the Maine population as a whole,” said Duff.
“He is not a shy guy, he is going to push forward with his ideas, and he has the Republicans in the Senate and the House to help him do it,” said Duff. “There’s going to be conflict, more protests.”
Duff said he thought that King’s quick comments, posted on YouTube, would be embraced by the left as conflict grows in Maine.
“He’s saying something that people are going to continue to say and repeat — he’s a good spokesman for the perspective,” said Duff.
At the rally, King also asked why, “as a rich person,” he doesn’t have to pay more in taxes. He said the explanation by Republican leaders that it will discourage jobs is “bull. It’s total bull.”
“Now you might say, what are you doing up there? Aren’t you rich? The answer is, ‘Thank God, yes.’ Because I grew up poor,” King said. “And you know what, as a rich person I pay 28 percent tax. What I want to ask you is, why am I not paying 50? Why is everybody in my bracket not paying 50?”
Duff said he didn’t think that argument would resonate with people, in general. Most citizens want taxation to be fair, he said, and wouldn’t support rich people paying 50 percent, even if it allowed others to pay much less.
King’s recent comments weren’t the first time he’s made a stir politically. In 2004, at a University of Maine rally for then-vice presidential candidate John Edwards, he called the Bush administration “the most dangerous and unpleasant bunch we’ve had since the Nixon years.”
In 2008, speaking to high school students at the Library of Congress, King suggested that not being able to read could force some people to join the Army for a lack of other career options. That drew fire by right-wing bloggers and from the military, as well.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.