Yet again, Maine has demonstrated its reputation for surprises this election. With votes nearly all tallied, Mainers decided to re-elect Sen. Susan Collins, but those same voters decided to back Joe Biden for president by a similar nine point margin . These events are not new to folks in the state that pride themselves on their independence and ballot splitting. This year’s results almost mirror the 2008 election when then-candidate Barack Obama carried Maine by 57 percent of the vote the same year they re-elected Collins with 61 percent.
With election season wrapping up, many things are still uncertain. However, something that is for certain is the state of Maine’s reputation of independence. Throughout the years, the state has prided itself on its ability to look past partisanship to deliver various pragmatists to elected office. Throughout polarizing points in history, Mainers have always chosen leaders that do what they feel is right and not what party leaders expect of them. With our divisive political climate right now, we as a nation might be able to learn a thing or two from the Pine Tree State when it comes to pragmatism over party.
Political observers usually write off Maine as solidly blue with few outliers. However, the state does have quite the eclectic electorate. Voters range from residents in the urban core of Portland, to the blue-collar workers in Kittery and Bath Iron Works, to rural farmers in the northern counties like Aroostook. These differing demographics have forced elected leaders in the state to balance the needs and views of everyone they represent in Washington properly.
Various leaders across parties have helped shape Maine’s brand of independent thinking. This mindset can be seen in Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) for her infamous Declaration of Conscience  speech where she impugned McCarthyism. It was also apparent when Sen. Ed Muskie (D-ME) worked in a bipartisan manner to pass the Clean Water Act . Further, this pragmatic approach allowed President George H.W. Bush to work with Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act . In addition, Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, dubbed the “Sisters of Maine” , helped usher this independence into the modern era by voting to acquit  Bill Clinton in 1999 and by voting for key parts of the Obama agenda.
In Maine, bipartisanship tends to be a positive for voters. Collins has been named the most bipartisan Senator  for seven straight years by the Lugar Center, and Sen. Angus King (ME-I) has received the Legislative Action Award from the Bipartisan Policy Institute. These accolades remind constituents that they’re in Washington D.C. working for the state and country rather than playing partisan games.
Many Mainers feared for the loss of this bipartisan approach during the Tea Party wave in 2010 which elected right firebrand Paul LePage with a plurality of votes , but these fears persisted with his narrow reelection in 2014 with another plurality . In response, many voters pushed for a referendum to establish ranked choice voting in the state. They felt this system would better prevent a radical figure  like LePage from winning high office again because it would require candidates to receive 50 percent plus one to get elected outright to office.
Political pragmatism and independence are something voters are hungry for. People are tired of the polarizing partisan politics that is plaguing our country. These leaders in Maine’s history show a roadmap and provide a mindset of how leaders can represent all their constituents, not just their party base. As the saying goes, “as Maine goes, so goes the nation”.
Image credit: Earl D. Walker
- “nine point margin”: https://bangordailynews.com/2020/11/05/politics/susan-collins-defied-the-polls-heres-what-they-may-have-gotten-wrong/
- “Declaration of Conscience”: https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/margaretchasesmithconscience.html
- “Clean Water Act”: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL30030.pdf
- “Americans with Disabilities Act”: https://www.ada.gov/ada_intro.htm
- ““Sisters of Maine””: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/sens-olympia-snowe-and-susan-collins-the-sisters-of-maine/2011/05/05/AFXKNK2F_gallery.html
- “voting to acquit”: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/maine-senators-may-not-like-each-other-much-but-they-share-love-of-state-job/2011/05/03/AFGwpn0F_story.html
- “most bipartisan Senator”: https://www.collins.senate.gov/newsroom/7th-consecutive-year-senator-collins-ranked-most-bipartisan-us-senator
- “Legislative Action Award ”: https://bipartisanpolicy.org/press-release/gardner-king-brooks-ruiz-to-receive-bpcs-legislative-action-awards/
- “plurality of votes”: https://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/2010-11/gen2010gov.html
- “with another plurality”: https://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/results14-15.html
- “prevent a radical figure”: https://www.vox.com/2018/6/12/17448450/maine-ranked-choice-voting-paul-lepage-instant-runoff-2018-midterms