With much of the United States solidifying its partisan leanings, Maine has stood out for its bipartisan vote. Jeffrey Brown reports on what is different about the state and what it can teach us about the rest of the country.
As much of the country has solidified its partisan divide, one state stood out for its bipartisan vote.
Our Jeffrey Brown explores what's different about Maine, and what it can teach us about the rest of the country.
This is what Bill Green knows best, showing off Maine's great outdoors in front of a camera. And on a picture-perfect December day, I joined him for some skeet-shooting.
You did it! Awesome!
Green is a celebrity here in Maine, longtime host of the popular television program "Bill Green's Maine."
Every Saturday night at 7:00, we will be checking out a different part of the Pine Tree State.
But, this year, he got in front of a camera to do something he's never done: Endorse a political candidate.
No matter who you're voting for, for president, Susan Collins has never been more important to Maine.
Green was aiming for an increasingly rare political phenomenon, split-ticket voting. He stepped into the middle of a hard-fought Senate race between incumbent Republican Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Sara Gideon.
Enormous amounts of money, more than $180 million, poured into the race, much of it from outside. In the end, Maine went as Bill Green hoped, for Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Susan Collins.
Based on what you know about this independent streak in Maine, did it make sense, what happened this time?
Yes. I think Mainers are really independent. I mean, look around. You have to take care of yourself a little bit. And we're having fun out here in front of a fire, but we had to build the fire.
We had to shovel the deck. No one's coming to do that for us.
I think what goes on in Washington doesn't have too much to do with me. Politics should be local. And the big name brands, Republicans and Democrats, that came in and upset our system and upset our state, I think, were wrong.
If the idea of local still means something in Maine, you can see some of the economic changes and political impact in the rural north, like here in Millinocket, once one of the nation's leading mill towns.
The mill opened in 1900. The town grew with it and became known as the Magic City. At its peak in the 1970s, the Great Northern Paper Company employed more than 2,000 people here. But the mill closed in 2008. The town's population dwindled and aged. Main Street is now peppered with closed businesses.
Jimmy Busque worked in the mill and is a former town councillor. A few days after my visit, speaking via Skype, he told me, when he was growing up, Millinocket really was the Magic City.
It was a great, great place to grow up. Everybody knew everybody. We had a population of that was double what it is now. It was a lot of big families, a lot a lot of kids. Everybody had money.
Politically, this area was once reliably blue, but that's changed. Unlike most states, Maine splits its electoral votes by congressional districts.
And, in 2016, Donald Trump won the 2nd Congressional, which includes Millinocket, making him the first Republican since 1988 to gain an electoral vote here. He won the district again this year.
The Democrats, why did they lose strength there in your part of the world?
I think they lost touch with the people. The Democrat Party, growing up, was — seemed to be more for the working class. And I think it's kind of turned now. I think now the Democrats have lost touch with the average person, and President Trump brought the Republican Party, turned it right around.
What is it about his message that resonated for so many people, do you think?
One of the issues here in Maine that he did that I couldn't see a Democrat do it is when he abolished the federal marine monument on the coast. It saved a lot of fishing jobs.
Local issues rule here, Busque says, and have led to divisions just like in the rest of the country.
It's always been said there's two Maines, and I firmly believe there is two Maines.
And are there two Americas, when you look out now?
Well, it definitely — it's the same idea of rural America and your urban America. And I feel that we have lost our country — we definitely lost our country when we started losing our small towns.
If there are two Maines, the other can be found in Portland. It's the largest city in the state and a Democratic stronghold on the coast. In recent years, it's become something of a hip tourist destination, with a hot foodie scene that includes the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club.
It's owned by Briana Volk and her husband and has been named one of the best cocktail bars in America. Volk is originally from Oregon. She moved here about 10 years ago.
We're so close to the ocean. Our farmers are doing amazing things. And how could you not be a foodie town when you have so much access to so many great things?
Now, of course, the pandemic is devastating hers and other local businesses. It's just one reason Volk, progressive in her politics, got involved this election cycle, even publishing a cocktail book, "Collins Against Collins," to raise money for down-ballot Democrats.
There are rights of so many of our fellow neighbors on the table and at risk, that that was absolutely frightening to me.
Watching the response from the pandemic from the federal administration showed me that they had no idea what they were doing, and they are letting thousands upon thousands of people die, and don't seem to care.
What did the election results here in Maine tell you about Maine and about the country?
I think we are, as a country, politically divided.
I grew up in a rural community, and there would be issues that people would disagree on politically, but there would be, like, these community conversations about it. And you would still go to the grocery store the next day and say hi to that person, whether you disagreed with them or not. And we have just lost so much of that.
Back in the north, Jimmy Busque isn't so sure there is a way forward.
Do you see any ways to help bridge this divide?
I'm not sure. I don't know how to go that direction, how to how to fix that. I'm not sure.
But when I asked Bill Green about the notion of two Maines, he rejected the idea.
I won't subscribe to two Maines, because it's so insulting. There are haves and have-nots here, like everywhere else. And if you have, you have got a great life going. And if you don't, you're fighting for opportunity for you and your children. I want there to be one Maine.
Warmed by a winter fire, Green says he's for divided government.
Not just civility, but reasonableness. I want them to come together and have to talk about it. And I want them to give and take a little bit and move forward together incrementally, to have to fight through issues and do what's best for the most people.
It's a way of thinking increasingly rare in a polarized America, but, at least in Maine, this election, it's what seems to have won out.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in the Pine Tree State of Maine.
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