AUGUSTA, Maine — Top party officials are promising unity at the Maine Republican State Convention this Friday and Saturday in Bangor. If the predictions are right, the event will be a much smoother gathering than the two prior conventions, which saw factionalism split the party along ideological lines.
The push for party cohesion is evident in the convention’s theme: “United for freedom, united for jobs, united for Maine.” It’s an attempt to bring all flavors of Republicans back under one “big tent” after two consecutive conventions in which tea party activists and supporters of libertarian icon Ron Paul bucked party leaders and pushed through their own agenda.
“The Republican Party is not the vehicle for one point of view on a narrow set of issues, or one candidate or one cause,” said state party Chairman Rick Bennett on Wednesday. “It’s a big tent and I believe that.”
The theme is also clear in the proposed Maine Republican platform.
Party platforms, in which partisans lay out their values and goals, used to be relatively obscure documents in Maine. For decades, platforms were the purview only of hard-core party insiders.
Then, in 2010, a minor firestorm was created when tea party activists muscled through their own platform, edging out a more traditional offering by party officers. The new document took the agenda firmly out of Maine, focusing mostly on national policy issues. It called for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education, for example, and called on the U.S. to withdraw from all treaties with the United Nations.
It also called for term limits, an elimination of “political correctness,” and a provision urging the U.S. military to “fight to win” the War on Terror. It declared health care “a right, not a service,” and name-dropped Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas and the darling of the tea party.
Some critics within the party faulted the platform for catering to only one faction within Maine’s Republican community.
The platform was adopted again in 2012, when Paul supporters — backing his presidential bid — hijacked the convention from party officers and again rejected a more broad, inclusive proposal by party leaders. Democrats used the document to their campaign advantage, telling their supporters that the GOP had been taken over by extremists.
This year, the party is proposing a platform meant to focus on areas where all Republicans agree. Gone are references to Austrian economics and in their place are broad references to constitutional fidelity, limited government and other GOP hallmarks that appeal to all members of the party.
“This is a pretty standard Republican platform,” said Mark Brewer, a professor at the University of Maine and expert on partisan politics. It’s “free markets, individual freedom, family values including the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. There’s not a whole lot in here that stands out as out-of-the-ordinary from a Republican platform in the United States in the 21st century.”
Brewer said he didn’t think the platform would turn off any of the activists who so fervently fought to promote their own agenda in 2010 and 2012. Various factions within the GOP — or the Democratic Party, for that matter — have far more in common than not, he said, and the proposed platform focuses on those areas.
“There are significant areas where there is agreement and overlap. That’s why the tea party is in the GOP and not over on the other side,” he said. “Those areas get the most attention here.”
The proposed platform for 2014 also features a Maine-based agenda, which Bennett said was the right way to approach a state platform. It calls for right-to-work laws, free-market health care solutions, and the protection of religious speech. Other planks include opposition to a plan to create a national park in the North Woods and support for voter ID laws.
Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, is a member of the Maine State Republican Committee. She said that after two years of turmoil within the party, there’s a new recognition that the stereotypical “Maine Republican” may be a myth.
Her party cohorts “may fall along a different place in the spectrum … but still share the same principles,” she said.
While the focus for the convention and the new platform is on unity, that doesn’t mean there won’t be room for disagreement. The platform includes an anti-abortion plank, which doesn’t jibe with the pro-choice record of Maine’s senior senator, Republican Susan Collins, an incumbent seeking her fourth term in 2014. Collins is scheduled to speak at the convention on Saturday.
The platform also states that marriage “is defined as the union of one man and one woman,” a view not likely to sit well with libertarians within the party.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, is the assistant minority leader in the Maine Senate. He said there will never be total agreement on all issues throughout a party. It’s the core values that matter, he said.
“If I’m comfortable enough with the vast majority of the platform, then I’m comfortable being a Republican,” he said. “Certainly there are things in there I disagree with, but if you hand me the Democratic Party platform, I’m sure there’s more to dislike.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.