A Republican state legislator from Portland? Hades is approaching freezing point

Posted Aug. 09, 2012, at 1:47 p.m.
Chris Busby
Chris Busby
Gwen Tuttle
Gwen Tuttle

If you think the weather’s been screwy on this side of the Earth’s crust, check out what’s been happening down below.

Theological meteorologists are tracking a massive cold front in Hades. The storm system formed back in 1994, when The Eagles reunited. It gathered strength when the Sox won the World Series 10 years later, and it got downright chilly in the abyss the following summer, when Lola “Bunny” Humphries of West Orange, N.J., finally agreed to go on a date with Marvin “Rat Face” Rabinowicz. (Flurries were reported just south of the Styx when the couple married in ’06.)

Now weather watchers in the netherworld are bracing for a full-on freeze this fall. That’s because there is a very good chance a Republican will be elected to represent part of the Portland peninsula in the Maine Legislature. If Gwen Tuttle wins in House District 119 this November, Wisconsin killer Wade Page will wish he’d packed his long johns.

Tuttle is not a typical GOP candidate. She’s pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. She listens to Lady Gaga and performs stand-up comedy in local bars. She is not yet committed to voting for Mitt Romney (actually, that is fairly typical among Maine Republicans).

The party’s right wing would label Tuttle a RINO (Republican In Name Only), and that wouldn’t be far from the truth. She said she only joined the GOP so she could participate in the caucus this year in support of Ron Paul’s presidential bid. She’s a libertarian at heart, a believer in small government, personal responsibility and the little green men from Mars who run the United Nations (OK, I’m just kidding about that last part; the little green guys are only midlevel bureaucrats at the U.N.).

Tuttle has a decent shot of winning a seat in the Maine House of Representatives because of who she is and who her opponents are.

She’s young (26), bright and articulate. She has already been knocking on doors in the district, which covers Portland’s Parkside and Bayside neighborhoods, home to hordes of urban hipsters who, like the libertarians, support ending the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.

“I get a good response once people are willing to talk to me for more than a minute,” Tuttle told me during a recent phone interview. “Generally people hear the word Republican and they flip off for a little bit.”

Plenty of politicians say they want to get people off welfare. Tuttle is actually doing that already through her job as a social worker. She has been a case manager with Catholic Charities for almost three years, and is pursuing a graduate degree in social work at the University of New England.

Tuttle said she’s not inclined to just slash funding for welfare programs or reduce eligibility. She wants to scrutinize existing programs and reform those that are ineffective, and she has the real-world, professional experience to know what works and what doesn’t.

She’d take a similarly enlightened approach to reducing the prison population, advocating for rehabilitation over incarceration for nonviolent offenders. But like her fellow libertarians, Tuttle’s position on gun control is loony. She contends that gun laws are unnecessary because criminals don’t follow them.

Tuttle’s two opponents in this race are incumbent Ben Chipman, a longtime Green Party activist who won this seat two years ago as an unenrolled “independent,” and Democrat Herb Adams, a historian who was elected to the Legislature in this district many times before term limits forced him to take a break in 2010.

The Greens were gaining on Adams last decade. In 2006, a young upstart named Matt Reading came within about 160 votes of defeating him, though Adams crushed a different Green two years later. Without the benefit of incumbency, Adams is not guaranteed a victory against Chipman, a political junkie who knows how to run an effective campaign.

Chipman and Adams are both reliable lefties, and history suggests they’ll draw roughly equal numbers of votes, which is the only way a Republican candidate gets a ghost of a chance in this district. Matched one-on-one against either Chipman or Adams, Tuttle is dust.

But in a three-way race, a personable Republican with liberal social views can win here, thus heaping a new affliction upon the damned: the snowstorm parking ban.

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. His column appears here weekly.

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