After a few days’ stay on the other coast, one thing is clear: As Maine goes, so too should California.
The two states are distant, outsized cousins, with rugged shorelines and coastal tourism in common. Like California, Maine has its own dose of head-scratching rules. My favorite – a ban on out-of-state firewood, which may add up on some ecological level but seems utterly impractical to enforce. Then again, we can’t even use our fireplaces here on the Left Coast.
What does America’s only monosyllabic state have to offer that the Golden State doesn’t (other than cold-water lobster and 24/7 retail therapy at L.L. Bean in Freeport)?
1. A gonzo governor. That would be Republican Paul LePage, not-so-affectionately known as “a shoot-from-the-lip” conservative, who is forever in a fracas, be it with welfare recipients or Democratic lawmakers. There’s talk of legislators seeking to impeach LePage for denying a $500,000 grant to a charter school that had hired the governor’s political nemesis, the speaker of the state House. That seems tit-for-tat spiteful, but it’s more entertaining than the spectacle of Jerry Brown huddling with Pope Francis over global warming.
2. Speed and defiance. Credit Maine with efficiency. The governor has only 10 days to act on legislation, as opposed to the month-long wait in Sacramento. In addition to threatening to bounce LePage, lawmakers in Augusta just did something their Sacramento counterparts won’t – they thumbed their noses at the governor and enacted a more expensive budget (though at $6.7 billion, a mere pittance of California’s $115 billion beast). In California, legislators pass their plan, feign defiance and then knuckle under to Brown (this year, in less than 24 hours). A few budget veto overrides would break up California’s decades-long monotony of one branch of government submitting to another’s will.
3. Real financial relief. Maine just acted where California’s political leadership only postures, on tax reform. Its new two-year budget will cut the state’s top income rate from 7.95 percent to 7.15 percent. Meanwhile, the state sales tax stays at 5.5 percent instead of a planned rollback to 5 percent. This is the second time in less than five years that Maine has addressed its tax burden. Care to name the last time California cut its top rate?
4. Diversity. Not the first word that comes to mind when Maine’s minority population is under 5 percent, yet the state has officeholder variety that California does not. In the last decade, it has elected governors and senators of three party affiliations, as opposed to California’s one. Maine candidates may sometimes lack sizzle, but at least there’s crossover appeal for voters looking for a blend of left, right and center.
5. Presidential relevance. Want to make the Golden State matter in future presidential elections in ways other than fundraising? Adopt Maine’s system of allocating electoral votes. Maine awards two for the statewide winner, plus one for each congressional district. In theory – and it’s a stretch because such a split hasn’t occurred – Jeb Bush could go trawling in his summer vacationland for one or more electoral votes in an otherwise reliably blue state. Apply Maine’s formula to California in 2012 and Mitt Romney earns 12 of the state’s 55 electoral votes, with as many as six more electoral votes in play in districts won by either candidate by 5 percentage points or less.
The list goes on. Maine has one baseball house of fanaticism (Red Sox Nation) to California’s scattered five. Better to stumble across a moose than a mountain lion.
Maine also gave America the eerie words of Stephen King and the delightful stage sprite that is Anna Kendrick. California has delivered a litter of Kardashians.
Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.