Paul LePage has been elected to a second term as Maine’s governor, an improbable outcome for the combative chief executive who has at various times battled with Democrats, other Republicans, interest groups and the media since bursting onto the state’s political scene four years ago.

The governor has been a polarizing force, attracting fierce loyalty and equally fierce opposition. The Democrats ran a strong candidate against him in Rep. Mike Michaud, outspent him and fought hard to the end, but LePage pulled out an impressive win.

In the end, what had been seen as his vulnerability turned out to be his greatest strength. His blunt, emotional, angry public demeanor spoke to Mainers who were also angry about the state’s slow economy. People appreciate his personal struggle over poverty and approve of his tough love approach to others in the same boat. Mainers always know where the governor stands, and many trust him,

To his opponents, the first LePage victory seemed like an accident because he snuck into office with a plurality in a multi-candidate race. Winning a second time should change the way his critics view him – no one can say he snuck up on them this time.

Our perception of LePage is not the only thing that’s changed. Maine no longer looks like the politically moderate state we have long believed it to be, led by a broad swath of centrist Democrats, Republicans and independents who represent a governing consensus capable of working together and solving problems.

We are instead a closely divided state with unresolved conflicts on most of our crushing problems, which include paying for education and health care, creating economic opportunity and taking care of those in need.


Every issue seems to be a close one. And from marriage equality to bear baiting, we have seen opinions break down predictably along regional lines, with southern and coastal Maine going one way and central and northern Maine the other.

And this most expensive gubernatorial campaign in history has also been one of the most negative, with groups supporting the Democratic and Republican candidates smothering the airwaves with vicious attacks. This was a contest of personalities, not a contest of ideas. Because of the outcome of this race, a lot of Mainers are personally disappointed and there is bound to be bitterness. There is a cost to running campaigns this way.

After all the votes are counted, the governor will have work with a Legislature that is polarized and set up for conflict.

This is not just a problem of partisanship. Competition between parties over matters of substance is how democracy works. But it is about a struggle for power, in which money and campaign tactics make the business of governing less important than the game of getting elected. And we all play a role in it.

Mainers have put themselves in ideological silos, interacting only with those with whom they agree. A poll by the Pew Research Center in June found that more than a quarter of Democrats see the Republican Party itself as a threat to the nation’s well-being. The response was even stronger on the Republican side, with 36 percent of respondents saying that the Democratic Party is a national threat. How can anyone be expected to come to terms with a rival whose very existence is threatening to the country as a whole?

Attitudes like these fuel the growth of the number of unenrolled voters, but they are not an ideologically coherent group. In Maine, independent voters run the gamut from the most liberal to libertarian, and they are just as polarized as the partisans.

Bringing these interests together will be the leadership challenge of the next four years, but it can’t be a job for leadership alone.

The challenge for us all is to listen to each other. It’s not a matter of compromising on core principles, but finding the areas on which we can agree and building on them.

Maine has problems. Its economy is slow-growing, its population is aging and the cost of living is high. But a toxic political environment won’t make any of that any easier. The sooner Mainers can put this election behind them and get to work, the better for our state.

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