MATTHEW GAGNON

Maine’s minority governors

Posted Oct. 06, 2011, at 5:15 p.m.

Sixty-one percent. You see the passive-aggressive stickers on cars all across Maine. It has become something of a battle cry for an entirely too smug and self-righteous group of Mainers who view Gov. LePage as illegitimate, due to his 39 percent share of the vote in the last election. See what they did there?

If you flip the number 61 upside down, you get 19, the total percentage of the vote received by Democrat Libby Mitchell in that same election. But I digress.

You can imagine I’m not much of a fan of this group. There are several problems with Maine’s 61 percenters, but a couple of big ones come to mind right away.

For starters, they seem to be under the mistaken impression that the 61 percent of people who did not vote for Gov. LePage are a single, unified block opposed to the governor’s policies. I hate to be the one to break it to them, but that isn’t the case, and that 61 percent doesn’t exist. It is entirely possible to vote for one candidate and also be pleased with another one winning. I myself supported LePage, but were Eliot Cutler to have won I would have been mostly satisfied.

In reality, the share of the vote that didn’t go to LePage was split between radically divergent candidates, several of whom shared an awful lot in common with the winner.

Indeed, while Cutler and LePage differ on some areas of social policy, they are quite similar on fiscal issues. They both ran on a “fiscal honesty” theme, talked about confronting hard realities, cutting spending, creating a state with a better business environment and bringing unfunded liabilities under control. They both believe in school choice, and neither has much love for liberal voting laws.

What about Shawn Moody, who was an everyman populist with a right-leaning twist? Are his voters really in the same family as the 19 percent who pulled the lever for Libby Mitchell? No, they’re not. The point is, there is plenty of crossover appeal and the 61 percent isn’t really 61 percent.

More importantly, this group ignores Maine political history and pretends like their little club is even remotely unique. The truth is that Maine has a chronic habit of electing governors who the majority did not vote for.

From 1974 through today, Maine has conducted a gubernatorial election a total of ten times, and only twice — 1980 and 1998 — has it given the victor an overall majority of the votes.

I’ll be kind and round the number down, but if a group like this formed every time a governor won with a plurality instead of a majority, we’d have had a lot of very obnoxious bumper stickers to look at.

In 1974, those who didn’t vote for Gov. Longley would have formed the 60 percenters. In 1978, those who didn’t vote for Gov. Brennan would have formed the 52 percenters. In 1986 those who didn’t vote for Gov. McKernan would have formed the 60 percenters; in his 1990 re-election campaign, the 53 percenters.

Angus King — the most popular modern governor of the state — would have had to deal with a group calling themselves the 64 percenters in 1994. Gov. Baldacci would have seen the 52 percenters in his first term, and the 61 percenters in his second.

Only in the re-election campaigns of Gov. Brennan and Gov. King did a majority of Mainers deliver a real mandate. The rest of the time there could have been some kind of silly percentage group lurking around and being snarky and acting morally superior. But there wasn’t.

It isn’t really all that endearing to be a sore loser, and up until now people seemed to understand that and be humble in defeat. Elections have consequences and whether the winner gets a plurality or a majority, they still won and got more Mainers to vote for them than anyone else.

If that bothers the 61 percenters, maybe next time they should throw their 61 percent behind a single candidate. Of course, we all know that they can’t, and since they can’t I’d prefer to be spared the self-righteous superiority complex.

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at matthew.o.gagnon@gmail.com and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.

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