It’s hard to unseat an incumbent, especially a four term congresswoman.
But, at least in terms of milking a cow, candidate Marty Grohman, an independent, did just that during Sunday’s Political Pull at the Windsor Fair. Grohman, who grew up on a Jersey dairy farm in Carthage, filled a pail with about a gallon of milk and handily bested all the opposition, including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, to take home the blue ribbon at the good-spirited, bipartisan gathering.
The annual milking contest seemed like an oasis of civility and fun in the tense, fractious political climate prevalent both state and nationwide. If politicians found they could only get ounces of milk out of recalcitrant cows, no damage was done — except to their pride.
Still, for Grohman, the personal stakes were high. After all, his mother, Joann Grohman, literally wrote the book on small-scale dairy farming, 1976’s “Keeping a Family Cow.”
“I grew up hand-milking,” Grohman said. “I wouldn’t have missed it.”
He was one of about 20 politicians who came to the Political Pull, which is the best turnout ever, organizers said. Although it is a lighthearted event, there is a deeper message, according to Windsor Fair President Tom Foster.
“We want to remind our politicians not to forget agriculture,” he said.
For Pingree, a former Political Pull blue ribbon winner, agriculture is close to her heart. She has worked as a small, organic farmer and serves now on the House agriculture appropriations subcommittee. Prior to taking her turn next to one of the dairy cows raised by 4H members, though, she tried to downplay her milking experience.
“I haven’t done this for quite a few years,” said Pingree, who ultimately came in third. “It seemed like it was time to come back.”
She waited with politicians from around the state, including Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic candidate for governor, and plenty of Republicans, including state Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, who is running for Maine Senate. He was wearing a T-shirt he had purchased that day from a fair vendor that read: “Milk Cows Not Maine Taxpayers.”
“I found it when I walked in and said, ‘I’ve got to have this,’” Pouliot said, adding that he enjoys the spirit of the Political Pull. “Doing things like this, when we come together in this kind of convivial environment, I think that is a really nice thing to do.”
Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, who is seeking re-election, runs a furniture store, not a farm, he said. He wasn’t expecting to take home any prizes, but he likes coming to chat and meet people.
“I don’t know anything about cows,” he said. “But I told them I can milk a half cup as good as anybody. It’s just fun. You never know who’s going to be here.”
Mills also stayed modest about her experience and expectations.
“I’m going to give it a hand, as they say,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”
Master of ceremonies Bill Bridgeo, the city manager of Augusta, kept the politicians laughing as officials slowly tallied up the ounces milked to determine the day’s winners.
“Janet said, ‘let’s start relying on ranked-choice voting to get this squared away,’” he said. “We could be here a couple of weeks.”
But in seriousness, he said, other deliberative bodies could take some lessons from the Political Pull.
“The goal would be to get Congress and the Maine Legislature to work together as well as the participants in the cow milking contest,” Bridgeo said. “I would say as a guy who grew up in Aroostook County and loves this state, this is the type of thing that epitomizes what’s good about us. To see Republicans, Democrats, independents enjoying the spirit of the event — we can all take a lesson about the importance of civility.”
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