Monday, June 18, 2012

The Agony and the Apathy: A Post-Primary Round Up

My reactions to Maine’s U.S. Senate Primary election are so varied and disjointed I decided to address each one individually. Read on for my analysis.

The Dark Horse Rises

The Democrats offered the biggest surprise of the night, by selecting their most progressive candidate, state Senator Cynthia Dill, as the party’s nominee. Dill supports single-payer universal health care and cutting the bloated, wasteful military-spending budget—two issues that are of prime concern to Guerrilla Press.

Whether Dill can prevail against popular former governor, Angus King in November remains to be seen.

Many Democrats fear a repeat of the 2010 governor’s race in which Dill splits the vote with King, thus handing Republican Charlie Summers the win. (In fact, my sources in the Maine Democratic Party quietly concede all four of the primary contenders are token “placeholders,” and the party has essentially given King its unofficial endorsement. If this is true, it calls into question the relevancy of the Democratic Party in the state.) As I have documented numerous times, the so-called “spoiler” effect is largely a scare tactic. And as my friend The Punk Patriot has made clear, strategic voting is misguided, as it is.

Regardless of Dill’s chances, at least the Dems actually have selected an outspoken, unabashedly progressive candidate. Dill is a welcome change of pace from the tepid, milquetoast candidates the state has favored in recent elections (Libby Mitchell, John Baldacci, and Tom Allen to name a few). With no Green candidate in the U.S. Senate race, Cynthia Dill may offer Greens a progressive alternative they do not have to feel ashamed of supporting.

The Agony and the Apathy of Maine Voters

If Dill’s win was the most surprising outcome, the low voter turnout was the least surprising.

Whether the poor turnout was due to a general lack of enthusiasm for the candidates, a sign of dissatisfaction with both parties, or if voters are simply waiting for November when Independent Angus King will be on the ballot, Mainers decided to sit this primary out. Indeed, Dill and Summers were elected by a mere 11 percent and 13 percent of voters, respectively. As a follow-up editorial in the Portland Press Herald put it, “It was as if these two Cumberland County towns [Brunswick and South Portland] picked the winners and Maine’s other 496 municipalities just watched” (“Our View: Low Primary Turnout Sends Clear Message,” 6/14/2012).

It is no secret that many Americans do not vote—in state primaries or at all. The one downside to my own political activism is I have experienced citizens’ apathy toward politics, civic engagement and democracy firsthand. It can be very depressing and demobilizing. One can only hope last week’s primary was an aberration and voter turnout will be much higher in November.

The King’s Speech

Speaking of Angus King…

His post-primary press conference, where he called on his opponents to renounce any “Super PAC” money, is a prime example of the former governor’s deviousness.

Strategy-wise, King’s move is brilliant. He has essentially put Summers and Dill in no-win bind. If they accept King’s No-PACs proposal (and, so far, neither Dill nor Summers has formally agreed to it), they put themselves at a clear monetary disadvantage. If they refuse, both end up looking like upholders of the status-quo, and reinforce King’s image as the innovative “change agent.” Of course, the independently-wealthy King does not need any Super PAC money to win the race, which is why his entire proposal, while certainly laudable in principle, is entirely disingenuous.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely support abolishing Super PACs and getting big money out of politics. But one-percenters like Angus King, Michael Bloomberg and Newt Gingrich are hardly the most appropriate spokesmen for this cause.

You can read my thoughts on Angus King’s bid for the Senate, here.

Success Not Guaranteed

Not much to say about GOP nominee, and current Secretary of State, Charlie Summers. He’s not as bad as rival Bruce Poliquin, but he is still undesirable for the position.

This will mark Summers’ fourth bid for national office. He has run unsuccessfully for the First Congressional House District seat (currently occupied by Chellie Pingree) three times. He failed to win the primary for the House District race in 1994; lost to Rep. Tom Allen in 2004; and failed to defeat Congresswoman Pingree in 2008. Given that King is the likely winner of this race, it looks like Summers will be “oh for four” as they say in sports.

It is worth keeping in mind Summers’ efforts to repeal Maine’s “Same day voter registration” policy last fall. Summers in his capacity as Secretary of State, accused a number of UMaine students of engaging in voter fraud during the 2010 and 2008 elections. Even after a two-month investigation failed to confirm his claims, Summers maintained Maine’s voting system remains “fragile and vulnerable” (Bangor Daily News, 9/21/2011). To date, I do not believe Summers has formally apologized to any of the students falsely accused.

And so begins the summer of our discontent… Stay tuned for more election updates, and a more coherent piece later this week.      

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