Politics

November 3, 2012

Maine's liberty movement pours efforts into grass roots

A group that began as Ron Paul and tea party supporters evolves into a libertarian political action committee focused on grooming local candidates.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — After Maine's Ron Paul delegation was denied seats at the Republican National Convention in August, supporters of the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman's presidential campaign had no other choice but to go home.

click image to enlarge

Ron Paul talks to supporters in Portland on Feb. 11 after coming in second to Mitt Romney in the Maine Republican presidential caucuses. The "liberty movement," combining elements of the leftover Paul network in Maine with new supporters, has been focusing its efforts on boosting candidates in legislative and local races.

2012 File Photo/Gordon Chibroski

"I think the federal government, they're not fixable," said Pete Harring of Auburn, founder of the Maine tea party movement and a Paul delegate at the convention. "We need to take care of our own backyards."

Though members of the "liberty movement" haven't been out front for higher-profile federal candidates here, there's been a focused effort to boost candidates in legislative and local races, combining elements of the leftover Paul network here with new supporters.

While many in the movement praise some of those unique candidates and the movement's energy, some wonder whether that energy can be harnessed for future political success.

'WE GOT PUSHED AROUND'

After Paul supporters took over the state Republican convention in May, they successfully voted in 20 of 24 Maine delegates to the national convention.

But supporters of Mitt Romney, now the Republican nominee for the presidency, challenged the 20 Paul delegates, saying rules were violated at the state convention. Party leadership put forward a compromise that would split the 20 delegates between Romney and Paul, but Paul supporters rejected it.

Challenges in Tampa, Fla., leading up to and during the convention went nowhere.

"I was at the convention and I saw what happened," said Siobhan Kumm of Waterville, a Paul supporter and frequent legislative campaign volunteer. "The delegates did everything they could -- from staying on the floor, from reading a speech into a microphone that had been turned off."

"We got pushed around," Kumm said. "Going back to the grass roots showed we weren't going to be pushed around anymore."

In June, Paul supporters registered Defense of Liberty, or Dolpac, a state political action committee, and launched fundraising efforts in Maine.

Chaired by Eric Brakey, Paul's state director in the presidential campaign and a Paul delegate, Dolpac aims to get liberty-minded candidates into the Maine Legislature and endorse legislation that promotes libertarian ideals.

"Beginning at the grass roots is kind of a time-honored entree," said Ronald Schmidt, a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine. "If you're thinking in terms of developing constituencies and developing an identity for your movement and a more institutionalized base, that could be a good move. It's too early to say."

With nearly $58,000 in contributions, Dolpac has endorsed 17 legislative candidates, including six first-term incumbents and seven challengers in Portland, South Portland and Falmouth. They've made nearly $6,000 in contributions to many of those candidates and endorsed and donated to two municipal council candidates, in Hallowell and Old Orchard Beach.

Their success won't be measured just this year, the group says: They're committing to building a grass-roots network.

"You're building the bench for future federal races," Brakey said. "We want to get that going right now. We want to really make a change in the state government."

ENDORSING FRESH FACES

Many of the candidates Dolpac has endorsed are young fiscal hawks who don't much care for what they see as the Republican Party's misguided focus on social issues.

"I'm very encouraged with the younger people coming in," Harring said. "I'm realizing that the Republican population is very old."

John Logan Jones, a 26-year-old Air Force veteran running for a House seat in Falmouth, may be one of the movement's best chances for a legislative gain. He said he was struck by Paul's anti-war message while he served.

"When I was in the Air Force, I was watching the (2008 presidential) debates," he said. "Congressman Paul was the only person telling the truth about the wars."

(Continued on page 2)

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