Wednesday, March 12, 2014
WASHINGTON – Blaine House hopeful Eliot Cutler has a word for the two-party system that he argues is poisoning the political process: duopoly.
And if Cutler’s comments at a Washington panel discussion on Thursday were any indication, Mainers can expect to hear a lot more about this alleged Democratic-Republican stranglehold during the next 11 months.
“In America today we have a duopoly – literally, a duopoly in our political system – and enormous amounts of voters are disenfranchised,” Cutler said as part of a panel discussion on political polarization held at New York University's Washington, DC, academic center. “And I have never seen a duopoly that wants to reform the system of which it is a part because they’re doing well and the public interest isn’t their principle concern.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines a duopoly as “the market condition which exists when there are two sellers only.” Cutler, an independent who also made the duopoly claim during his 2010 gubernatorial bid, used the term at least eight times during his initial remarks as part of the panel discussion sponsored by NYU's School of Law.
He then elaborated on his theory with an analogy in which shoe-shoppers had only two choices: red-laced shoes and blue-laced shoes.
“And if you want loafers, you’re out of luck,” Cutler said.
There are more independent or “unenrolled” voters in Maine than either registered Democrats or Republicans. Yet Cutler said fundraising rules in Maine disadvantage independents because they can only raise money for the general election while party candidates can max-out contributions from individual donors separately during the primary and the general election.
“It’s all about the money,” Cutler said. “And the money, both nationally and in Maine, I believe is creating the polarization and is creating the dysfunction.”
Cutler also said he does not believe the rise of wealthy candidates self-funding their campaigns is beneficial to politics – an irony that the well-off Cape Elizabeth resident acknowledged given the fact that he self-financed roughly half of his $2.2 million campaign in 2010.
Of course, Cutler also can’t afford to not play the money game if he hopes to have any chance of winning next year.
Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial election was the costliest in state history. Early indications are that the 2014 contest between Cutler, Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud could easily top it.
Cutler has already raised more than $430,000, compared to $345,000 for LePage and $314,000 for Michaud. And immediately after bashing the big-money nature of modern political campaigns, Cutler hopped a flight to New York for a fundraiser attended, he said, by individuals connected to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Political watchers will remember that Bloomberg funneled large sums into Maine last year to support Sen. Angus King, a fellow independent who took the place of Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe in Washington. Cutler is hoping for – and likely counting on – some friendly outside groups willing to make “independent expenditures” to counter the anticipated heavy spending by Democratic and Republican groups backing Michaud and LePage.
But Cutler acknowledged that independents have done well in Maine, despite the alleged duopoly.
“Look, if I win this time,” Cutler said before immediately corrected himself with a smile. “When I win this time, Maine will be the first state in modern political history to have both an independent senator and an independent governor at the same time. That can spread and it ought to spread.”
Duopoly or not, Maine’s Democratic and Republican establishments are hoping to keep Cutler (and his hypothetical loafers) out of the Blaine House next year.
Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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