The Maine Republican party, having won a sweeping victory in 2010, is a house divided.
Last weekend the party was taken over by Ron Paul supporters. February had featured a very messy caucus process; party leaders said Romney won, even though it was not clear if all towns would have their votes included. But those caucuses were the first step in awarding the delegates to the national convention, with the actual selection at the recent state party convention.
Before the convention, party chair Charlie Webster called Ron Paul supporters “wingnuts,” and named the chair for the convention. However, when attendees selected the chair, the party establishment’s candidate lost. Despite some shenanigans from the Romney camp, captured on video by the blog Dirigo Blue, Ron Paul won almost every delegate to the national convention. Moreover, Ron Paul supporters won a majority of the seats on the state party’s governing committee. They also retained the tea party-oriented 2010 party platform.
This schism may not easily heal. One legislator called Paul supporters “fools” whose “cult of personality worship … reminded [him] of Nuremberg.”
Romney attorney Ben Ginsberg, George W. Bush’s lawyer for the 2000 Florida recount, attended the convention and said Romney would challenge the legitimacy of Paul’s delegates at the national convention. In other words, although Ron Paul’s supporters out-organized Romney’s forces at the state convention, the establishment candidate will ask the national party to turn these delegates aside. It’s hard to imagine that the victorious Ron Paul revolution would quietly let that happen.
Among Maine’s elected Republicans, all is not well between Gov. LePage and his party in the Legislature. While LePage won with 39% of the vote and intends to do his best to fulfill the agenda he promised, Republican legislators have to win majorities and some have some different views than the governor.
Perhaps this is why, after the governor used one of his constitutional tools, the line-item veto, his party’s legislators refused to take a public position. Rather than returning to the Legislature, they took a secret vote to not vote at all.
Not only was the legislators’ negation of their constitutional responsibility clearly not a profile in courage, there were some additional curiosities. While we can only know what happened among Senate Republicans — the House Republicans pointedly did not write down how they voted — some made votes that differed from what they said in public.
Moreover, as columnist Mike Tipping pointed out, “Senate Republican leaders Kevin Raye of Perry, Jon Courtney of Springvale and Debra Plowman of Hampden (all of whom are now candidates for federal office) apparently voted against coming back to consider overturning the governor’s vetoes. They showed no loyalty to a budget they previously had supported and their colleagues across the aisle had agreed to in good faith.” As Raye, Courtney and Plowman are all saying they would work (to some extent) in a bipartisan way in the U.S. Congress, the votes they took behind closed doors make that look like an empty promise.
When the Legislature returns, Republicans will again be pulled in different directions. Should they support LePage, who is popular in the party base and in some localities, but turns off many independents? Certain Maine Republicans, including Gov. LePage, have signed Grover Norquist’s pledge never to increase any tax, while others have not.
Moreover, some separated themselves from the governor’s rhetoric. Recently Rep. Flood and Sen. Katz decried LePage’s characterization of state workers as “corrupt.” Katz also directly repudiated the Republican mantra on public employees by pointing out that they are paid less than they would be in the private sector. Will he face a backlash from some Republicans? What will Republicans do the next time LePage stirs up discord?
2012 features critical state and national elections. Booed at some caucuses, Sen. Snowe declined to run for re-election. Angus King is now the leading candidate for this Senate seat and recently the decidedly less-popular Gov. LePage loosed his sharp words on King. The eventual Republican Senate nominee, if seeking support from unenrolled voters, will have to decide how closely to be linked to the divisive governor.
Whether this house divided will stand is unclear, but it is most surely shaken.
Amy Fried is a professor of political science at the University of Maine. You can follow her on Twitter at ASFried and at her blog, www.pollways.com.