This book is all about rural Maine

When I got a copy of Chasing Maine’s SECOND by Michael Norton, I assumed it was all about the Second District Congressional race between Bruce Poliquin and Jared Golden. After all, the subtitle is A Fight for Congress in Paradise.

Michael does give us a great story about that race which was decided by ranked choice voting. I was one of the original petitioners who submitted the ranked choice proposal to the Secretary of State, and I supported it because it guarantees that the winner will be a person that a majority of the voters likes. I really like this statement on the back of the book: If American democracy dies, it dies last in the stubborn Second.

You’ll read a lot about Poliquin and Golden, along with their bitter campaign, and I’m sure some of this will be news to you.

Amazingly, $31 million was spent on that second district race. When I managed David Emery’s campaign for Congress in Maine’s First Congressional district in 1974, we spent a total of $36,000. Yup, things have changed, and not for the better.

But what I really appreciated about this book, is that Michael focuses on the many challenges faced by our rural Maine towns. For example, he tells a story about Atkinson, a town just 6 miles from Dover Foxcroft. Over the years Atkinson lost a lot of its residents and most of its forests were placed in the tree growth program which substantially limited the amount of property tax the private landowners had to pay.

That caused the property taxes for everyone else to skyrocket, and so the residents chose to give up their town and become an unorganized territory – and their taxes went from $23 per thousand valuation to just six dollars. Their kids continued to go to the same schools and the county took responsibility for their roads. I know that more and more towns are considering deorganizing, due to all of the challenges now facing people in rural Maine.

Michael takes us back quite a ways in the history of the second district starting with Henry David Thoreau. I particularly liked the stories of Andrew Jackson Pope and Frederick Talbot representing the cycle of commercial advance and setback in the mid-1800s. And of course he tells us the stories of Joshua Chamberlain, Ed Muskie, and even Ralph Nader whose criticism was aimed at the forest products industry which he said was exploiting the water, air, soil and people of a beautiful state.

Michael also gives us a history of medical care in Maine and the country which is very interesting and something we’re still wrestling with. He does report that “without the public health care spending that Lyndon Johnson and Wilbur Mills birthed in 1965, the second would be a pine-covered desert, not capable of sustaining economic or civic life.”

I’m sure glad that didn’t happen!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.