Politics 2002Week of December 9

Maine Democrats Won’t Count Votes

Basking in the gains they made in both houses of Congress and in winning the most state legislative seats in half-a-century, most Republicans don’t have the make-up of the state senate in Maine high on their screens these days. But they should be paying attention, because as veteran conservative activist and commentator Paul Weyrich says: "Now in Maine, we have an election that is being, honest to God, stolen. And where are the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to lead their cheering, jeering crowds? And do they say a word? Not on your life. The wrong party is being stolen from."

Weyrich is referring to the tumult over who’s in control of the Maine Senate. As Maine voters were electing Democrat John Baldacci governor, they simultaneously elected 17 senators from each major party to the 35-member senate. One seat remained in play, with Democrat Chris Hall leading Republican Leslie Fossel by nine votes out of more than 17,000 cast.

Forty-four votes remain uncounted, but Democrats who now rule the senate refuse to consider any of them. Thus, when Republicans launch their expected challenge to Sen. Hall’s seating in January, they will almost surely lose 18 to 17, with the disputed senator voting no. And, barring a political miracle, that will be the last word, since the Maine constitution has a provision similar to the one in the U.S. Constitution that says that the legislative branch of government is the judge of its own members. "The obscenity continues," outgoing Republican Senate President Richard Bennett said. "We just had our organizational day, they elected a Senate President, and passed some orders with their fictitious majority. A committee of four Democrats and three Republicans will review the contested race, and the Democrat who wasn’t really elected continues to vote."

And what would those 44 votes show if counted? "There are 11 ballots which were marked in blue or black pen, rather than in the required pencil," notes veteran political consultant Rich Galen in his electronic newsletter Mullings. "There is no other dispute over these ballots. They break for the Republican 8 to 3. Ballots which were marked with red pen-but which broke evenly-were allowed." Galen also pointed out that there are seven other ballots in the uncounted 44 "on which the voters circled or underlined their choices. The all-important intent of the voter is not in dispute. These break for the Republican 6 to 1."

‘Rev. Sharpton, Call Your Office!’

So the scandalous history of ham-handed Democratic majorities overruling the voters continues. U.S. House Democrats refused, in both 1960 and ’84, to seat Republican victors from Indiana who won more votes than their opponents and a subsequent recount that turned the losers into winners. In 1974, majority Democrats in the Senate declared that the New Hampshire seat was vacant and a new election was to be held instead of the seating of Republican and top vote-getter Louis Wyman. Illinois Democrats denied a state legislative seat to Republican Jerry Weller in 1986 despite his getting more votes than the Democratic incumbent (Weller, of course, went on to win the seat two years later and serves in Congress today). And now Maine.

Strange. When Republicans have held the majority in legislative bodies, they have usually refused to engage in protracted warfare over disputed elections. Just after winning a majority in the U.S. House in 1994, for example, Republicans permitted the seating of Democratic Rep. Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut after he had overcome Republican Ed Munster by a questionable two votes and the loser was hotly disputing the outcome in state court. Six years ago, in striking contrast to the Democrats’ handling of the 1974 New Hampshire contest, Senate Republicans under Majority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) okayed the seating of Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu in spite of serious questions about illegal donations and get-out-the-vote tactics on her behalf that were raised by Republican Woody Jenkins.

"That is why what is happening in Maine is critical and of importance to the rest of the nation," says Weyrich. "Since Jackson and Sharpton won’t shout outrage, all of us must take their place and be sure everyone in the media from one end of the country to the other hears our anger. We just might save our political process in the meantime."

Back to the Future, Hawaiian Style

With the inauguration of Linda Lingle last week as the first Republican governor of Hawaii in four decades, there is greater than usual interest in the race to replace late Democratic Rep. (1959-76, 1990-2002) Patsy Mink in the 2nd District.

Mink died in September, but her name remained on the November ballot and she was "re-elected" by 56% to 40% over Republican State Rep. Bob McDermott. Shortly thereafter, the House seat was declared vacant and the stage was set for two special elections (at an estimated cost of $2 million to Aloha State voters).

In the November 30 contest to fill the remaining month of Mink’s term, former gubernatorial candidate Ed Case topped a 37-candidate field with 51% of the vote. His nearest rival (36%) was John Mink, the late congresswoman’s husband, who had already declared that he would not run in the January 4 race for the full two-year term she won this year.

But there will be no shortage of well-known opponents to Case (the cousin of AOL-Time Warner Chairman Steve Case) in the party-label-free, winner-take-all field of 44 candidates in January. The best-known Democrat, for example, is State Sen. Matt Matsunaga, son of the late Sen. (1976-90) Spark Matsunaga (D.-Hawaii) and losing nominee for lieutenant governor this year.

Although ’02 GOP nominee McDermott is running again, there is another Republican on the ballot who is perhaps better known than other candidate regardless of party: Frank Fasi, mayor of Honolulu from 1968-81 and again from 1984-92. A Hartford, Conn., native who was the first Democrat to lose a U.S. Senate race in Hawaii (following statehood in 1959), Fasi went on to run for governor five times as a Democrat, an Independent, and a Republican. At 83, having come back in various political incarnations and having survived a sensational trial for corruption while mayor, Fasi still maintains a fiercely devoted following that could work to his benefit in this crowded race.

Dropping the Pilot

A month after the national elections, there have been key changes in Republican Party control in various states.

Raising Kane: Bob Ehrlich, Maryland’s first Republican governor-elect in 36 years, has just named Montgomery County businessman and moderate GOPer John Kane as state party chairman. . .

Winning Posthumus-ly: Although conservative Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus failed to win the governorship of Michigan, a Posthumus nonetheless appears poised to emerge triumphant next year. Heather Posthumus, one of Dick’s five children, is the favorite to be elected third vice-chairman (for youth) of the state Republican Party at their convention next month. Former state party chairman and stalwart conservative Betsy DeVos, a close ally of fellow Grand Rapids resident Posthumus, appears to have wrapped up election to her old position. . .

Move to the Middle: That’s what is apparently happening to the Illinois Republican Party in the wake of an election that left all but one statewide office in Democratic hands and the GOP the minority party in both houses of the state legislature. (Sharp-eyed reader and onetime HUMAN EVENTS intern Mark Burke, now a lawyer in the Prairie State, caught me on my earlier claim that this was only the third time since World War II that Democrats have won the governorship. It was actually the fourth time, the earlier Democratic governors being Adlai Stevenson in 1948, Otto Kerner in 1960, and Daniel Walker in 1972.) State Party Chairman Gary MacDougal, a strong conservative, has been replaced by the lone GOP statewide office-holder, State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, a moderate Republican, who proclaimed, "It’s time for a new way of thinking." Topinka was reportedly recruited for the chairmanship by White House political operative Karl Rove. At the same time, state house Republicans picked moderate-to-liberal State Rep. Tom Cross of Oswego as their new leader. Cross defeated conservative State Rep. Art Tenhouse of Liberty. . . .

The Son Also Rises: Just as Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) was preparing to become chairman of the Appropriations Committee and president pro tem of the Senate in January, his son was also moving up. Republicans in Anchorage last week elected State Sen. Ben Stevens as their new majority leader.