With autumn come tiny stirrings of political life. We are a bit more than a year away from a gubernatorial election in Maine and the lead players have taken the stage. Governor Janet Mills will be bidding for a second term and former Governor Paul LePage will be trying for a third.
LePage sat out a term, as our Constitution requires, after his minority wins in 2012 and 2016. Not since the 1840s has a former governor successfully pulled off an attempt to return to the office. The last effort was made by Democrat Joe Brennan, governor from 1979 to 1987, who lost elections in 1990 and 1994, then made it a hat trick when he lost a U.S. Senate race in 1996. Goodbye, Joe. You gotta go.
Mills won her first gubernatorial race with 51 percent of the vote in a three-way race, the first non-incumbent candidate since 1966 to win with a majority vote rather than a plurality. For her reelection candidacy, history is on her side. It has been almost 60 years since an incumbent governor lost an election.
She has also outperformed her predecessor in approval ratings. Governor LePage was underwater, approval-wise, for his entire eight years in office, never hitting the 50 percent mark. Most polls indicate Governor Mills’ approval percentage has ranged from the low 50s to the upper 60s, never slipping below 50 percent.
Each has the other’s record to pick apart. In addition, Mills’ campaign is sure to make much of the former Governor’s mercurial temper and often intemperate remarks. There are rumors that this is to be a kinder, gentler Paul LePage, but it is not unfair to say we’ll believe it when we see it. The man was simply unable to control his temper at a podium.
Governor Mills has a primary challenger in John Glowa, an environmentalist in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection until he retired in 2016. He has lost two elections – primary elections – one for a legislative House seat and one for the state Senate.
If you cannot win a primary for a state legislative race, what on earth makes you think you can win a statewide race for governor? In a Facebook post, Glowa describes his opponent in the 2018 Senate primary as an “unknown” with “no government or political experience,” yet she was “the Democratic Party’s chosen candidate” and “someone the party will be able to train and mold in their likeness.”
It was clearly a disillusioning experience for Glowa, in which he “got to see firsthand the underhandedness and backstabbing involved in politics.” So why is he again entering a race, and for governor at that, running in that same party? His explanation: “I am not a quitter, and I will not go away.”
Prediction: He will go away. If he thought the party’s support “made the difference” in his failed bid for the Senate, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet. That same party will be pulling out all the stops for incumbent Governor Janet Mills. That backing, in a statewide primary with all the effort and resources it demands, will not be overcome.
Perhaps “wildlife advocacy” is not a broad enough platform for a gubernatorial election. It will give Glowa an opportunity to raise a subject about which he is passionate, but one that will not give him traction with the majority of Democratic voters.
Glowa is sincere in his desire for a stronger democracy and earnest in his intention to pursue it. He won 48 percent of the vote in his Senate campaign despite his lack of party support, but that will not be enough to get him over the gubernatorial finish line.
There are two Republicans filing campaign reports in addition to Paul LePage. One is perennial candidate Martin Vachon, who filed as “traditionally financed,” a tradition in Vachon’s case consisting of “not financed.” The other is Michael Heath, former head of the Christian Civic League of Maine.
Heath foreshadowed the recent move in Texas to offer a bounty for neighbors to turn in neighbors who in any way aid or abet an abortion when in 2004 he urged the public to send him “tips, rumors, speculation and facts” indicating which denizens of Augusta might be gay. The move earned him a one month leave from his duties with the League. He is not likely a substantial threat to the LePage nomination.
The other candidate in the race at this point is Green Independent Michael Barden of Limington, a proponent of “social, economic and environmental justice.” He has the usual challenges of alternatives to the major parties, lacking name recognition and resources.
So far, there is no way to make a case for this race being other than a head-to-head matchup between Governor Mills and Governor LePage. Ready, set…
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.