AUGUSTA — The first thing that members of the Socialist Party of Maine want to make clear is that they support democracy.

That democracy stretches across all parts of life from politics to the workplace and everything in between.

On Sunday, the Socialist Party of Maine held its founding convention at the Viles Arboretum, during which they unified the Socialist Party of Eastern Maine and the Socialist Party of Southern Maine into a statewide party and started to map out strategies for running for office.

“Because we believe in democratic socialism, we take both the democratic and the socialism very seriously,” said Tom MacMillan, one of the organizers of Sunday’s event. Democratic socialism means putting people in communities in control of their lives, he said.

“In their workplaces that means promoting worker-owned cooperatives. That’s a good example. Democracy at work, democracy at the ballot box and democracy in society. We think that regular people can control their lives better than their bosses can or by the owners of big companies. If factories are owned by their workers, they are not going to be sending jobs overseas, because that’s their jobs. They (are) not going to be displacing themselves.”

He said all that would be achieved by democratic means. “We don’t believe in violently overthrowing anybody,” he said.

The timing is not an accident. MacMillan said that in the aftermath of the November presidential election, disillusioned voters have walked away from both major parties for a variety of reasons.

That may result in fertile ground for the party to attract voters who are interested in fair wages, affordable health care, education, food and housing, ending oppression and discrimination and building an economy that improves the quality of life for those who live in Maine, he said.

“There’s a real shakeup in American politics,” said Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, noting that morning cable talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican U.S. representative from Florida and one of the leaders of the Republican revolution in the 1990s, announced this month that he left the Republican Party.

Melcher said discontent also exists among Democrats.

Tom MacMillan, left, Maia Dendinger and Jeremy Claywell discuss the party’s platform, which emphasizes workers’ rights, a fair minimum wage and affordable health care.

Third parties rise up when a popular figure emerges for voters to rally around, he said. “You start with a charismatic figure, but also frustration with major parties,” he said.

In Maine, four parties are now active: Democratic, Green Independent, Libertarian and Republican.

Two other political parties have emerged and are working to gain a toehold in Maine.

In January, the Secretary of State’s Office sent out a letter notifying municipal registrars and clerks across Maine that the American Delta Party, which appears to have formed around the 2016 presidential bid of businessman Rocky de la Fuente, and the Progressive Party, which embraces progressive ideals of equality and equity, are new qualifying parties – and both parties may begin enrolling voters.

Political parties may form two ways in Maine.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said a party can be formed around a candidate, if a candidate for governor or president receives more than 5 percent of the vote.

The other is by enrollment, Muszynski said. Under state law, 10 or more voters who are not enrolled can sign a Declaration of Intent to Form a Party by Party Enrollment and submit it by Dec. 30 of an even numbered year. By Dec. 1 of the next year, the proposed party must enroll at least 5,000 voters who complete a new Maine Voter Registration Application that designates what party they are joining.

Once that threshold is reached, parties maintain their status by having 10,000 registered and enrolled voting in general election cycles.

Muszynski said a recent change in state law gives new parties two general election cycles to reach 10,000 enrollees.

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Orono, said there’s really one instance in American history when a so-called third party has been able to transform itself into a major party, and that’s the Republican Party in the years leading up to the Civil War.

“Building a party is hard work,” Brewer said. “From the ground up, it’s tough to do.”

MacMillan said Sunday that he and other party members are less interested in forming a political party to run candidates. And they are not looking ahead yet to the next deadline for submitting a Declaration of Intent to form a party at the next deadline, Dec. 30, 2018.

As much as it’s a political party, it’s also a movement, he said.

The party’s short-term goals are to support raising the minimum wage, support ranked-choice voting, and support higher taxes on the wealthy. The long-term goals include transitioning to a cooperative society.

“We find it important to be active in the community, planting gardens to make sure people aren’t hungry and to show up at city council meetings to speak for better public transportation,” he said.

Party members don’t know yet who will run for election next year. And they are not terribly worried about party formation deadlines.

There’s no advantage to file for official party status; the same number of signatures are required for candidates of all political parties to get on the ballot. The disadvantage for smaller parties is they have a much smaller pool of members to draw from.

Running as an independent is easier because the deadline for gathering signatures is longer and they can come from any party.

And Maine has embraced independent candidates in the past, including U.S. Sen. Angus King, who was also elected governor as an independent.

“We want candidates who are going to be running as independents,” said Maia Dendinger, chairwoman of the Socialist Party of Eastern Maine. “You can’t really run as a Socialist, but it would preferably be a Socialist or someone with Socialist Party values that we could back.”

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

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Twitter: JLowellKJ


Correction: This story was revised at 11:16 a.m., July 18, 2017, to reflect the correct spelling of Jeremy Claywell’s name.