It’s not a particularly earth shattering revelation to say that a lot has happened in the last decade here in Maine. Ten years, after all, is a long time — even if it feels to some of us like it was just 2010.
As we start 2020, the inevitable wave of lists and summaries have poured in, recapping the big events and changes that shaped the last decade locally, nationally and around the world.
Rather than attempt to compile our own extensive list of standout people, events and shifts that, from our perspective, defined the last 10 years here in the Pine Tree State, we’d like to focus on one observation that ties many of them together: In many ways, the last 10 years were a time of apparent contradictions.
Perhaps the most glaring of these contradictions is political. Much of the work done in Augusta during most of the decade was shaped, for better and for worse, by former Gov. Paul LePage. First elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014, LePage brought unshakable conservative and unabashed controversy to the forefront of Maine politics. But while voters chose conservative leadership for most of the decade, both in the Blaine House and at times in the Legislature, Maine progressives also notched several significant wins, particularly through the referendum process.
In 2012, Maine voters signaled a definitive yes — after some back-and-forth in the Legislature and at the polls — for marriage equality. In 2016, voters chose to raise the minimum wage, legalize recreational marijuana, enact a system of ranked-choice voting and approve Medicaid expansion after repeated vetoes from LePage.
This contradiction between conservative leadership and the success of progressive policies at the ballot box was an interesting, and perhaps defining, struggle in Maine politics over the past decade as different parties and officials looked to shape the state’s future.
There’s still room for debate on whether that mix of convervative leadership and progressive policies was a matter of old fashioned independence on the part of Maine voters, or an inability to make up our collective minds, but there should be little doubt that this contradiction played out similarly in the 2016 presidential race.
For the first time ever, Maine split its electoral votes — with Democrat Hilary Clinton winning three votes, two for winning the overall state vote and one for winning in the 1st Congressional District and Republican Donald Trump securing one for winning in the 2nd Congressional District. That, of course, speaks to the differences between the two geographically delinatied districts, but also highlights the seemingly contradictory political atmosphere across what has been a decidedly purple state over the past decade (even with times of unified Democratic and Republican control in Augusta).
The contradictions observed here in the last decade are not limited to politics. Advances in technology have made us more connected to information than ever before as a society, but for many places in rural Maine, access to things like broadband and the accompanying economic and educational opportunities are still unrealized. And we have for several years earned the unhappy title of oldest state in the country, but we are also seeing slight population growth.
As we head into the next decade, we expect Maine’s tendency toward contradiction to persist. Even as the state’s economic and demographic landscapes continue to change, the political pendulum swings are likely to remain constant.