Opinion

To all the rich guys who want to be president — remember Maine

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Dear America, remember Maine!

Not “Remember the Maine,” which maybe you read in a history book. Rather remember the last eight years of politics in Maine.

In 2010, Maine was on the bleeding edge of a political tsunami that was headed toward American politics.

We elected a boorish, racist proto-Trump. Then four years later, we re-elected him.

In his time, former Gov. Paul LePage did his square best to break the institutions of government. He wielded his executive power as a weapon against political opponents and disfavored businesses.

He called people vile names, and incited violence. He said people of color were the enemy and wrongly accused immigrants of carrying diseases that put the state at risk. He had only a loose connection to the truth.

Sound familiar?

LePage was elected – and re-elected – in part because a rich dude thought he could sprinkle magic independent dust over the electorate and knock off a hard-core partisan during hard-core partisan time.

While there are smart folks who might disagree, rich guy Eliot Cutler, the socially liberal and economically conservative answer to a question no one was asking, ran twice for governor, and I believe twice delivered the Blaine House to LePage.

Now, there’s a richer guy who’s threatening to create the same dynamic on the national level. Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz launched a trial Zeppelin over the weekend with an appearance on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” suggesting he’s just the right kind of unicorn who can defeat the two-party system and be elected president as a “centrist” independent.

He isn’t, and I don’t believe he can.

Fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who’s considered his own independent presidential run in the past, made it clear: “In 2020, the great likelihood is that an independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up reelecting the president.”

Other experts disagree. They’re free to believe what they want, but in Maine we lived with the consequences of a divided opposition for the last eight years.

I’m a partisan Democrat. I worked on former US Rep. Mike Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014, which was not successful in defeating LePage. Cutler made clear his preference for LePage over Michaud, and that’s what we all got.

That year, Cutler was held to about 8 percent of the vote, and LePage was elected with less than a majority.

Given our state’s experience, I don’t think we can afford to take a chance with Schultz or any other super-wealthy would-be savior running as an independent in 2020.

If Schultz wants to run, he should run in either the Democratic or Republican primary and give his ideas – and his money – a work out. If he’s correct, that there is this unquenched desire among voters for a campaign like his, then he can win. If he’s wrong, someone else can take a shot at unseating Donald Trump.

I think a big, robust Democratic primary fought over big ideas is just what our party and the country needs. Join our big tent, Howard. I promise we’ll listen, even if we vote for someone else.

Maine has a strong tradition of unenrolled candidates, a status that matches the majority of voters in the state. And we’re also reluctant to tell anyone they can’t run for office. The more the merrier.

But Maine voters also saw what our current system wrought and took matters into their own hands. They passed ranked-choice voting twice at the ballot box and fought to defend it through the state and federal courts.

While the system doesn’t cover gubernatorial elections yet, dissatisfaction with LePage and his antics put voters in the mood for reform. Until the country follows suit, the odds of an independent becoming president are just above zero.

Kids in cages, NATO at risk, the government shutdown, white supremacy on the rise, the fight against climate changed abandoned – the stakes are two high for a second term for Trump.

Please America, remember Maine!

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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