Election 2010, for better or worse, is over. No more rat-ta-tat TV ads. No more rallies. No more mad-as-hell Maine “patriots” and “refounders” living for the day when they can go to the polls en masse and, as one of their websites so succinctly put it, “Take Back America!”

Welcome to the day after – and a big question hovering like a half-filled helium balloon over Maine’s anything-but-cohesive tea party movement:

Now what?

“There is lots of talent existing in the tea party movement and a lot of those people have been drowned out by the yellers and the screamers and the frothy types,” said Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell early this week. “These are people who stick around. These are people who are educated and really believe in the cause and want to learn more.”

Dodge, 42, identifies himself as Maine’s state coordinator for the national Tea Party Patriots. He’s a freelance music writer, has degrees in government and legislative studies and says he’s one of the few Mainers who have been involved in the tea party movement since it appeared on the national stage in early 2009.

Back then, all eyes were on the 2010 mid-term election and what kind of message, if any, the fledgling movement might send not just to Washington. D.C., but to statehouses and governors’ mansions from Maine to California.

With all that behind us, Dodge said, it’s time to separate what was real from what wasn’t, what was truly a grass-roots uprising from what was mere political opportunism, what still has traction from what was never more than cable-TV-driven wheel-spinning.

“It’s been hard to keep track,” Dodge said.

He’s got that right.

As an Internet search of Maine’s myriad tea party groups quickly demonstrates, this is anything but a centralized movement.

From the statewide “Maine Patriots” and the “Maine Refounders” to the “York County Constitutionalists” and the “912 Project – Tea Party Patriots of Acadia,” it’s all but impossible to discern who’s affiliated with whom, where agendas align and diverge and, most significantly, who will still be standing as the electoral smoke clears and who, just like that, will have vanished.

Dodge says Maine has felt the repercussions of a rift that played out nationally in recent months between the Tea Party Patriots, a self-described nonpartisan coalition, and the more Republican-driven Tea Party Express, which labored hard to elect hand-picked candidates.

“There are groups in every state which are merely fronts for the Republicans and then there are others that are actually nonpartisan and here for the long term,” said Dodge, who left Tuesday to traverse the election-night party circuit in Washington, D.C. “Post-election, a lot of them will disappear – like the ones that were merely started to facilitate the election of Paul LePage.”

Dodge said he’s spent a lot of time in recent months fending off nasty telephone calls and e-mails from Maine conservatives, upset that he didn’t push for universal and explicit tea party endorsement of, say, Le- Page. But simple endorsements, he said, were never the point.

Rather, Dodge said, motivating everyday citizens to advance what is essentially a conservative fiscal agenda – smaller government, lower taxes, less public spending and debt – was what drew him to the movement in the first place. And now that the politicking is over, he predicted, that same movement will rise or fall by how many of those citizens stick around and “keep their feet to the fire.”

But how exactly do the various tea party leaders plan to do that? How will they duplicate Saturday’s 350-person rally in Augusta’s Capitol Park – without the gravitational pull of an election just three days away?

“That’s a really good question,” replied “Pete the Carpenter” Harring of Standish, who first fired up his Maine Refounders website back in the winter of 2009. “That’s something I’m still trying to figure out.”

Harring’s website tallied 845 members when he last checked, on Monday. But numbers, he readily conceded, can be deceiving.

“About 20 percent of the people carry 100 percent of the load,” he said. “And that 20 percent might be a high number.”

Harring, who’s been unemployed since the construction company for which he worked shut down, said Maine Refounders now will focus on two things: educating people about how government actually works, and convincing them that unless they show up at their town hall and make the occasional trip to Augusta, this juggernaut’s going nowhere fast.

“Many of us have never been involved before – we’re just really trying to figure this thing out,” Harring said. “We’re just average, everyday people who are starting to step up to the plate and learn the process. And we’re not going to stand down.”

Standing together, on the other hand, might prove more challenging. Asked why the various groups don’t simply merge into one and become a true force to be reckoned with, Harring said he’s already learned it’s not quite that simple.

“The biggest problem I’ve found since getting into this movement is dealing with people’s egos,” Harring said. “Everybody wants to be the head honcho.”

Not unlike the politicians.


Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]