When national magazines write major articles about Maine, they most often depict those parts of our state and its culture that appeal to tourists.

Very few publications have bothered to probe deeply into our politics — probably for the excellent reason, at least for the past few decades, there wasn’t much depth to probe.

Our state elections most often had Democrat X being re-elected as long as the term limits law permitted, or until X decided to pursue another opportunity, whereupon he or she would be succeeded by Democrat Y, and so ad infinitum.

Regarding national office, regardless of party, once you worked your way into Congress, you could (and still can) count on Maine voters keeping you there long enough to grow roots. Not to mention moss.

But now, things have changed — and, glory be, it’s not a liberal journal gloating over the latest leftist we’ve elevated to some high public office, but one of the country’s top conservative publications noting last November’s sea change in who’s running things in Augusta.

In an article in the Feb. 7 issue titled “Downeast is Red,” The Weekly Standard’s Conrad Kiechel examines the Republican takeover of the governor’s office and the Legislature (at www.weeklystandard.com).

The title is a takeoff on, of all things, the name of a song popular in Communist China during the Cultural Revolution of the ’60s: “The East is Red!”

Mao Zedong’s redness is a different kind than the color the networks have painted states won by Republicans.

Still, the article has more than tint on its mind. It opens in the Top of the Hill Grill in New Sharon, where “an oil burner repairman who moonlights as the Karl Rove of the Maine GOP” is having breakfast.

This devious mastermind is the state party chairman, Charlie Webster, who tells the writer as he downs his ham and cheese omelet that Republicans pulled off their trifecta last November because “we represent the working people” and were able to convince voters of that humble fact.

Of course, that’s historic Democratic turf, but Webster is quick to note that history is being made new every day.

And it doesn’t do GOP claims to working-class sympathies any harm, Kiechel points out, that the Democrats’ largest single donor is “a hedge fund manager from the north woods of Greenwich, Connecticut” — none other than U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s fiance, Donald Sussman (though curiously the article doesn’t mention either his name or his relationship to one of the state’s most powerful elected officials).

The writer concentrates on a couple of GOP newcomers to public office to personalize the overall trend.

One is Gov. Paul LePage, who, though he was mayor of Waterville, had no statewide political experience before becoming Maine’s chief executive.

LePage told Kiechel that “in the last weeks of the campaign, the message that Maine had to make changes to create jobs seemed to break through: ‘Everyone looked in the mirror and said, no wonder it’s tough around here … no wonder we’re unemployed … no wonder people are leaving instead of coming.’ “

Then Kiechel makes this assertion: “On Election Day, voters gave LePage a decisive 38.3 percent of the vote.”

Now, if this paper has seen one letter telling the new governor he lacks a “mandate” because he only won a plurality of the vote, it has seen dozens.

Not that this line of argument is exclusively liberal — over the past four years, the conservative website As Maine Goes had plenty of comments about John Baldacci being “Gov. 38.”

But both miss the point badly. Even at 38 percent of the vote, both men won 100 percent of the governorship, and just like his predecessor, LePage is entitled to wield its powers and authority as he desires.

Besides, if you want to see what an undeniable majority mandate looks like, the GOP won control of both the House and Senate, and it appears clear that it intends to make full use of that new status.

Which leads us to another Republican recruited by Webster and cited by Kiechel: newly elected Rep. Amy Volk of Scarborough, “a 40-year-old homemaker and small-business owner” who with her husband, Derek, “had watched with dismay as businesses had left Maine. To them, the state government’s bias against business was symbolized by Senate President Libby Mitchell’s proposal to guarantee five days of sick leave for employees at private firms.”

Mitchell, the Democratic nominee for governor who ended up with just 17 percent of the vote, showed no sympathy whatsoever for the costs this would impose on hard-pressed businesses. But that attitude seems to have left Augusta as soon as she did.

As Rep. Volk puts it, when she arrived at the State House she met “all these Republicans who had been waiting for it, planning for it, praying for it. And it wasn’t, ‘Oh my God, what do we do now?’ It was, ‘Oh my God, now we get to do stuff.’ “

The “stuff” they and LePage have in mind, Kiechel says, includes “lowering taxes for retirees so they don’t leave the state, raising the minimum taxable income to the living wage so people can manage, reducing regulations so business will prosper and the state’s revenue base will grow.”

Welfare reform will be a priority, and the state’s “natural advantages — its fisheries, forests and farms — will become economic advantages again.”

Good. That’s the kind of “stuff” that makes a difference. 

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at:

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