May 27, 2018
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After the Election

Tuesday’s election had a mixed bag of results: a resounding victory for a conservative Republican who appealed to disaffected voters, many of whom identify with the Tea Party; strong rejection of a tax reform measure that people didn’t trust to lower their taxes; and support for more than $100 million in state borrowing.

If people are looking for a clear message in the results, they won’t find one. But there are interesting lessons to be learned.

The first is that the vast majority of voters didn’t care about the governor’s race or the referendum and bonds on the ballot. Or they couldn’t be bothered to form an opinion and act on it. Turnout was less than 30 percent, not unusual for a primary election, but a sad commentary on the importance the public places on choosing their leaders.

Tuesday’s election results also confirm that a large number of voters — especially Republicans — are angry and won’t accept the status quo.

Waterville Mayor Paul LePage won by an unexpectedly large margin. According to unofficial results, he garnered nearly 38 percent of the votes in a seven-way race. Les Otten, who spent more than $2 million, was second with only 17 percent of the vote.

Mr. LePage’s win is reminiscent of the 2006 governor’s race. That year, Chandler Woodcock, also a staunch conservative, won the Republican primary, but received only 29 percent of the vote in that November’s race. Gov. John Baldacci was re-elected with 38 percent of the vote, who — unlike Libby Mitchell, who secured the Democratic nomination Tuesday — had a candidate to his left in the race.

Mr. LePage, whose shrink government, reform welfare and lower taxes message appeals to voters angry with Augusta and Washington, is too conservative to appeal to many independent voters, whose support is necessary to win in November.

Mr. LePage and Ms. Mitchell, the current Senate president and former speaker of the House (and first woman in America to hold both positions), represent the stalwarts of their respective parties. However, most Maine voters are somewhere between the two extremes, which opens the door to Eliot Cutler, an independent on November’s ballot. He already has formulated detailed plans to remake state government, create jobs and reform education, while lowering its costs. He will be a formidable candidate in November.

Anger and distrust also spilled over into the results on Question 1, which repealed a tax reform package passed by lawmakers last year. Voters remained unconvinced that their tax bills would decline, although the Maine Revenue Service said that nearly 90 percent of Mainers would pay less. Many voters said they didn’t trust the government agency’s analysis and the complexity of the reform law sunk it, as 61 percent of voters favored repeal.

One result that doesn’t fit into the distrust government narrative is that voters approved all four bonds on the ballot. Perhaps, despite all the anger — and apathy— those who did go to polls realized that investing in wind power, transportation and clean water is necessary and will help the state’s economy.

One last lesson: There were very few advertisements and no debates on the bonds.

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