The last column of 2012 gives me a chance to count up the biggest winners and losers in Maine politics for 2012.

Paul LePage

It’s hard to say that a man who started out the year by telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt” at the start of Martin Luther King Day weekend could be quick on his feet politically, but by almost any way you figure, the governor won more than he lost.

Armed with the first Republican majority in both houses of the Legislature in a generation, the LePage cut taxes (although not as much as he wanted) cut state employee pensions (although not as much as he wanted) and rolled back some environmental standards (again, not as far as he would have liked).

He ended up the year by proposing sweeping changes to the state’s social service safety net that would eliminate health coverage for 65,000 people and limit benefits for tens of thousands of others.

It looks like the new governor’s style is to ask for the moon, and complain bitterly when he only ends up with a few stars. Look for Republicans in the Legislature to scale back the governor’s plans and still try to fundamentally change Maine’s traditional approach to people in need. And watch the governor complain that they’re not cutting enough.

Occupy Maine

Get an Occupy Wall Street organizer alone in a tent some night and I bet they would tell you that their movement was more successful than their wildest dreams.

What started as kind of a foggy critique of the political and economic systems — with lots of esoteric talk of globalism and the Federal Reserve system, turned into a real-live 3-D demonstration about what’s wrong with this country that could not be ignored.

Ever since Ronald Reagan became president, members of this country’s middle class have acted as if they were rich people in training, and supported economic policies that helped narrow interests other than their own.

The Occupy movement turned that upside down and illustrated what has been a sneaking suspicion for a while: Most members of the American middle class are a layoff or a health crisis away from pitching a tent, while the richest are sailing through this period of economic chaos unscathed.

The occupiers may have overstayed their welcome, but it will be interesting to see if most average Americans keep thinking they have more in common with a billionaire hedge fund manager than the neighbor who is losing his house.

Michael Brennan

There was only one big race on the ballot in the off-year election, and Portland’s first popularly elected mayor in living memory won it.

Brennan, a former state senator, finished first in a field of 15 in a grueling five-month campaign.

The election leaves him as the political leader of Maine’s biggest city, and arguably the highest ranking Democratic office holder in the state after Maine’s two members of Congress (both Democrats).

How much this helps him in Republican-run Augusta, especially when the LePage’s budget cuts are like smart bombs aimed at Portland’s ability to deliver services, will be the big story of 2012 and could move Brennan from this year’s winners to losers.

But at this point Brennan is still on top.

And since you can’t have winners without losers

The two Charlies

Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster and Secretary of State Charles Summers teamed up in an ill-advised attempt to make it harder for Maine people to vote.

The Republican-led effort to end Election Day voter registration ran into a people’s veto campaign, and it was crushed at the polls. First the two Charlies said the law was needed because election clerks were overworked (for the most part, the clerks disagreed).

Then they said they needed it to prevent fraud, even though an investigation conducted by Summers’ office uncovered a single case of fraudulant Election Day registration, in a system with nearly 1 million registered voters. The people’s veto vote came in 61 percent to 39 percent, about the same proportion as the gubernatorial field versus Paul LePage in 2010 , which probably inspired a lot of candidates not named Paul LePage to think about the 2014 election.

Clean Elections

Maine’s landmark public financing law took a major hit with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed matching funds for “clean” candidates. Now, if a privately financed or self-financed candidate wants to bury a publicly financed opponent, he only has to out-spend him. A candidate who accepts public financing will now have to accept the fact that he may be putting himself at a significant disadvantage in the final days of the race.

This will probably scare candidates with fundraising options out of the program, which had been popular with Democrats and Republicans. That won’t be good for voters who like to see competitive races between candidates, not fundraisers.

There are plenty of others licking their wounds and there will be plenty of winners and losers as we enter what could be an explosive legislative session and Election Year.

But, thankfully, 2011 is in the books.

 

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481, or [email protected]