From Bangor to Scarborough to Boothbay to Waterville and hundreds of other Maine towns, candidates won on Election Day this past November who stood up and spoke out for the everyday Maine values of community and fairness and focused their campaigns on improving the lives on Maine people. They showed the strength of their convictions and Maine voters responded.
Too often in politics, races are fought based on the superficial - misleading attacks, the avoidance of important issues and simple labels like left, right and center.
In contrast, this year saw candidates with strong moral compasses tackle big issues head-on.
For years, Republicans have attacked Democrats on the issue of taxes. This year, progressive candidates stood up and pushed back, making the case against unfair tax cuts for the wealthy and the need for a fair share economy a centerpiece of their campaigns.
Senator Chris Johnson won his second election in ten months against a sitting Republican Representative to retain the traditionally-Republican District 20 Senate seat. The hallmark of his campaign and of his time in office so far was his work to stand against the Governor’s most extreme policies and his unflagging advocacy for a fair budget.
"Societies are measured by how they treat their least fortunate and least able to stand up for themselves," said Johnson earlier this year. "It is clear we have a moral deficit in Augusta which won't be solved as easily as the budget deficit."
On the national level, candidates have reversed themselves on health care and given in to lobbyists. In Maine, however, many of the candidates who won were those who spoke out the loudest against the money and influence of big insurance companies and stood up for local small businesses owners struggling to afford care for their employees and themselves.
In Bangor and Hermon, the major issue that physician Geoff Gratwick ran on was health care, particularly the rising cost of coverage and care. Republican PACs funded by Anthem insurance attacked Gratwick and attempted to lampoon him as “Dr. Taxes,” but he stayed focused on a value-based campaign and defeated incumbent Republican Nichi Farnham by a wide margin.
"Another voter shared their concern with me while I was listening and talking to people in their homes: She thinks that Augusta should fix health care for the middle class, not fight over it," wrote Gratwick on his website during his campaign. "She wants a system that focuses on taking care of the patient, not insurance company stockholders. I told her that currently about 30% (some analysts put the number as high as 50%) of health care dollars are spent on administration and profit. Medicare spends 3% on overhead. Having a doctor in the Maine State Senate will bring some much needed perspective to the health care debates."
The strong stands of these new legislators inspired an outpouring of grassroots support. MPA community organizers and volunteers alone registered 4,000 new voters across the state and together, volunteers for progressive groups personally contacted tens of thousands of voters in the lead-up to the election. This swell of grassroots engagement built on the effort Maine saw in 2011 when hundreds of Mainers organized to defend Election-Day voter registration.
This record level of door-to-door and voter-to-voter contact allowed progressive candidates to win, even in the face of record levels of spending by out-of-state groups.
Social worker Colleen Lachowicz was attacked by the Republican Party not just on tax issues, but on her hobby of playing video games. She stayed focused on the issues that mattered and unseated incumbent Republican Senator Tom Martin.
"I joined this fight and ran for office because there are children in our local schools who have lost family members to entirely preventable causes. Maine People’s Alliance is in this fight because our local schools aren’t unique, this is happening everywhere," said Lachowicz. "Together, we can recreate a government that works for us. One that protects those who need our help the most. In Maine, we are the government, and the question is whether we will stand up and build a government worth protecting, or whether we will let our sick neighbors fend for themselves."
The success of these candidates in traditionally conservative areas left some people confused.
"I just still struggle with so many of my area town ballots," wrote Maine GOP committeewoman Karen Gerrish on Facebook. "They went R at the top, Mitt, Jon, Charlie, then BOOM, state house went D. I don't understand that."
This was a different kind of victory and, hopefully, it will mean a different kind of Legislature. It offers the chance for a fresh start and for a legislative agenda based not on momentary politics but on fundamental values and an engaged electorate that will hold these new leaders to their campaign commitments.
Mainers have always believed in fairness, equality and a sense of shared prosperity; on Election Day they proved they’re ready to support the candidates who speak to these values. The difficulty now will be to make sure they stick to those values and truly represent the people of Maine. That's a big part of MPA's mission and the most important thing we ask of our members: continue to speak out. Don't let up.