Thursday, 4 September 2014

Mid-Term Elections, Part V: As Goes Maine...

Maine Congressional Districts
[U.S. Department of Interior]
         Maine has only two U. S. Congressional House Districts. The First District is small geographically but is the most densely populated part of the state. It includes Portland, Maine's largest city, and the southern half the Maine coast. UNUM Insurance, L.L. Bean and Bath Iron Works (an important shipyard) supply jobs in this part of the state. It is represented by a progressive Democrat, Ms. Chellie Pingree, who is generally popular and expected to win her race.
         The Second District borders Canada. Much of it is forest. Depressed lumber mill towns and large potato and blueberry farming regions characterize it. There are two large metropolitan areas: the city of Bangor, a river port once important to the lumber trade, and Lewiston-Auburn, once a center for shoe and textile production. Coastal development more or less stops north of Acadia National Park, located at the mid-point of the coast. Mr. Michaud represented this district, but because he is running for governor, the seat is now open.
          Maine also has a U.S. Senate race this year: Republican Susan Collins is running for a 4th term. She is one of the few moderate Republicans in the Senate and maintains a strong base of support among Maine voters.
           The Second District is a more uncertain race, but the Democrat is expected to defeat the Republican, who is linked to Governor LePage. The governor is a controversial figure.
  The outcome of the governor's race is uncertain.  The governor was unable to maintain a Republican majority in the state legislature in 2012, which is why the Congressional Districts are  drawn in a reasonably balanced way.
          At first glance, who wins this race might not seem to matter to the national picture. But a governor's policies can impact national policy.
          An example is the struggle over the Affordable Care Act (known as "Obamacare"). The law did not include subsidies for many lower income people because they were expected to get health coverage under another program, Medicaid.  Medicaid is administered by the states. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to tell the states they have to give more health coverage under Medicaid. Gov. LePage refused to expand Medicaid coverage. This means  thousands of people don't have access to health coverage because they don't qualify for subsidies under Obamacare and they don't qualify for Medicaid.
           The governor's refusal also keeps federal money from coming to the state. The federal government promised to pay 100% of any additional cost for more Medicaid the first three years of the program, and 90% each year afterwards until 2022.
   Obamacare is designed as a national system. Each state that fails to join it weakens its ability to lower health insurance costs. The state legislature has voted three times to give Medicaid coverage, but the governor has vetoed it all three times. The legislature has not been able to override the veto.
Stephen King listens to
voter concerns at Michaud
event [photo by S.V. Lowery]
There is a reason the national Republican Governors' Association is spending so much money in Maine: the Republican party can exercise more power at the state level against federal initiatives if it holds the governor's chair. Whenever a federal program needs state cooperation to progress, the governor is crucial.
            The state also decides the rules for voting. It can allow early voting, for example, giving more people opportunity to vote. It can require identification for voting, which may have the effect of making it harder for the elderly to vote. The legislature passes the laws that set these rules, but the Governor's administration enforces them. How these rules are enforced will affect elections beyond the mid-terms--perhaps even help decide who will be the next president.
Incumbents have an advantage in an election. Observers agree that Mr. Cutler will take votes away from Mr. Michaud. But before Governor LePage presumes he will win, he might remember that strange things happen around Stephen King.
For example, there was the case of the Boston Red Sox. The Boston Red Sox lost baseball's world series over and over and over again (86 years of losing it). It was said the team was cursed, that it could never win the series.... then Stephen King and his friend Stuart O'Nan decided to chronicle the 2004 Red Sox season. Even though they were fans of the team, they had no expectation 2004 would be any different than the previous 86 years, but... (You can read about it in Faithful, the book about the Red Sox revival.)
So perhaps Mr. LePage should be a tiny bit concerned.

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