Not knowing much about Maine before I moved here, I figured that I would end up living on a farm or maybe an island.

Instead, I settled in Portland, Maine’s biggest city, and for more than 20 years I’ve been enjoying a very happy urban life.

Imagine my surprise on Election Day to find out that I’ve been living on an island after all.

In Maine, conservative Republican Paul LePage squeaked out a win over independent Eliot Cutler in the race for governor.

In Portland, we had a spirited two-way race too, but ours was between Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell.

Gov.-elect LePage finished a distant third on my island.

And as the country was delivering a shellacking to Democratic members of Congress, Maine’s 1st District re-elected its Democratic incumbent, Chellie Pingree, thanks to a big boost from her supporters in Portland.

Pingree, a member of the House Progressive Caucus, which constantly criticizes the Obama administration for not being liberal enough, survived the conservative tsunami, and was returned to office with a bigger percentage of the vote than she got two years ago, one of only eight House Democrats who can make that claim.

She ended up with 56 percent of the vote district wide, but had 73 percent in Portland.

There were other survivors on my island.

Even though the state Senate changed hands from Democratic to Republican control, we will be sending back both of our incumbent Democratic senators, Justin Alfond and Joseph Brannigan, both elected by huge margins.

The House also changed hands but you wouldn’t know it in Portland, where we elected seven Democrats and one independent (a former Green). In every singe race, the Republican got thumped.

We do have partisan politics here, but it’s not what most people are used to.

In Portland, the liberal Democrats make up the establishment and duke it out with the upstart progressive Greens.

While they do battle over issues like who is more in favor of energy efficient buildings or walkable neighborhoods, the one elected Republican on the City Council, Cheryl Leeman, is rumored to be next in line to serve as mayor.

Apparently, the council’s Democrats would rather have her than a Green.

Next year, when the voters get to pick a mayor instead of five councilors, a Republican like Leeman probably won’t stand much of a chance.

The are other election results that make Portland stand out. If Portland had its way, it would have legalized same-sex marriage by an overwhelming margin last year and it came within a whisker of giving non-citizen residents the vote in 2010.

The city’s posture puts it at odds with trends around the state, but don’t expect to see headlines on the front page saying “Portland tells Gov. LePage to go to hell.”

The “island” of Portland is not like our own renegade island of Peaks, which is always harping about independence.

We are happy to stay in Maine and the state should be happy to have us.

Despite being something of a moral and social outlier — kind of a Gomorrah on Casco Bay — Portland is also an attractive place to do business.

Greater Portland (made up of my island and its nearest neighbors) has bucked economic trends as well as political ones.

Unemployment was 7.7 percent statewide in September, but 5.5 percent around Portland.

While the state ages and population growth is at a crawl, Portland has the ability to attract new people, including young ones, who pay income taxes and use few services.

Between 2001 and 2008 (the most recent data available) population in metro Portland grew by 4 percent, earnings by 33 percent and employment by 9 percent.

While Maine is last in New England for the percentage of people who have attained post-high school education, the city of Portland is near the top, with a higher rate of college graduates than Boston.

That may be why Portland had a better pre-recession economic growth rate than Boston or Manchester, N.H., places, state economist Michael LeVert points out in a recent column, that have reputations for being more business friendly.

If all that is seen as a reason by legislators from the parts of Maine that are not as strong economically to cut back on programs that affect Portland, they should think twice.

A 2007 study by the Portland Regional Chamber compared Portland to other biggest cities in small rural states and found that Portland contributes more to its state’s economy than any of the others.

Balancing the state budget by shifting the cost of care for people with disabilities or assistance for the destitute onto Portland’s taxpayers would just slow down development here, and would mean less revenue would be sent to Augusta to support schools, elder care and other services in areas more dependent on state money.

Portland might be turning into an island politically, but the rest of Maine should resist temptation and not let us drift off completely.

 

Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481 and: [email protected]