May 9, 2010

Analysis: Platform makeover clouds post-primary unity push

Can 'Anybody but a Democrat' coexist with tea party activists' rewrite of state Republican goals?

By Matt Wickenheiser mwickenheiser@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

 IN MEMORIAM: At the start of Saturday's convention, Chairwoman Ann Robinson asked for a moment of silence to honor Spc. Wade A. Slack, 21, a Waterville High School graduate who died while serving in Afghanistan. A day earlier, 2nd Congressional District candidate Jason Levesque asked for a moment to recall the life and service of Kay Lebowitz, a Bangor resident and former state representative who died in April at age 94

PORTLAND - If there was a recurring theme at the Republican State Convention this weekend, it was a reminder for party loyalists to keep their eyes on the prize.

There are seven Republican contenders in the race for the Blaine House. Republicans will choose their candidate in the June 8 primary. That candidate will face a Democrat and at least a few unenrolled candidates, commonly called independents in Maine.

The prize in mind is the governor's office. Just as the Democratic rallying cry nationwide was "Anybody but Bush" in 2004, the slogan for Republicans in Maine this year could be "Anybody but a Democrat."

It started with former Gov. John McKernan on Saturday morning, who urged the more than 2,000 Republicans to unite after the primary in support of one candidate for the November general election. McKernan's presence alone was a stark reminder of Republicans' Blaine House banishment. He was the last Republican governor, and left office in 1995 -- 15 years ago. The last Republican before him was in office in 1967.

The idea was reinforced by former Ambassador Peter Cianchette, who was the GOP nominee in 2002. Cianchette, who was introducing candidate Steve Abbott of Portland, said this race was "the most important gubernatorial election of my lifetime," noting that he thought the 2002 race was pretty important, too.

Cianchette echoed McKernan's plea for a post-primary kumbaya effort, to put the party firmly behind one candidate.

But during the middle of the convention, amid the recurring calls for unity, a mini-revolt occurred in the party.

The two-page platform that a Republican Party committee had drafted was replaced by a three-page platform proposed by the Knox County Republican Committee and strongly reflective of tea party ideals.

The new party platform, as adopted Saturday, begins with a lengthy introduction that, in part, praises the current Tea Party Movement. It has six main sections, with numerous subsections. Many deal with issues of state sovereignty and personal liberties. Many express stances on federal government issues. (Both the original platform and the replacement platform, in their entirety, are online at www.pressherald.com.)

Did it represent an ideological shift to the right for the party? "Absolutely not," said Charlie Webster, Republican Party chairman. Webster said the issues presented in the new platform reflected the values of working-class Mainers. There was some pretty esoteric stuff in the new platform, to be fair, like a call to reject the "Law of the Sea Treaty" as well as the U.N.'s "Treaty on the Rights of the Child."

While the party committee had attempted to provide a fairly straightforward, high-level platform document, the new platform really got into the weeds. As Webster said, supporters wanted more "specificity."

Tea party activists said there were at least 100 convention delegates from one group, the Maine Patriots, as well as an unknown number from another group, Maine Refounders. Support for the new platform was fairly overwhelming, well beyond what could be attributed to the tea party alone. Efforts to table it were stomped, and it passed handily.

So what does this mean? Will the 259,502 registered Republicans across the state now need to support efforts to "investigate collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth?" Will candidates running on the GOP ticket need to read up on Ron Paul's bill No. 1207 to audit the Fed (as supported in the platform)?

Not necessarily.

Many in the party said Saturday that the platform is talked about during the convention and forgotten during the rest of the year.

"We ignored the old platform, now we can ignore the new one," said one insider.

Practically speaking, the platform doesn't do much, though it was seen as a victory by those supporting it, of course. And these battles have been fought before. The more conservative elements of the party have often sought to take it more in their direction.

But for some, words count.

Gubernatorial candidate Peter Mills noted that "if you adopt a platform that most Republicans won't support, let alone the independents or Democrats, you're adopting a document that doesn't help anyone get elected."

Many in the party wonder whether the conventions are even worth attending, said Mills. This, he suggested, may answer that question for them.

"You need mainstream Republicans to come to these conventions," he said. "They won't come if they're not relevant."

On the other hand, there are some more-conservative candidates running, including Paul LePage and Bill Beardsley. It remains to be seen if the support that was seen for the new platform will translate over to votes in June. After all, those at the convention are just a small part of the universe of voters out there -- and not necessarily representative.

 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com

 

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