The status quo ain’t so bad
For someone who is skeptical of the Occupy movement, claiming that anti-corporate agitators are "taking young people for a ride . . . [and] using them for political purposes," Jon Courtney is quite conscious of perceived elitism or sense of entitlement. The Maine Republican is especially sensitive to that of Chellie Pingree, the incumbent US Representative for the 1st District (Southern Maine), whose seat he is trying to snag. He criticizes her sizeable campaign coffers, her Washington DC connections, and the disadvantage at which they leave him.
"We're certainly the underdog," Courtney admitted in an interview at the Phoenix office last week. "We're running against the Washington elite. We're running against a newspaper." That last bit is referring to the fact that S. Donald Sussman, Pingree's billionaire beau since 2008 (and husband, as of 2011), is majority owner of MaineToday Media, which includes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel, and Coastal Journal in Bath.
He's also running against a popular progressive, whom the Washington Post has referred to as a "liberal darling" — "a favorite of national liberals and progressives." While Courtney paints himself as a "Main Street" candidate competing against an out-of-touch politician, Pingree disagrees with the portrayal. "Part of my job is to make sure I'm staying in touch with Maine people," she said at her office on the Portland waterfront.
Pingree, 57, is an islander (North Haven) and a College of the Atlantic alumna with a back-to-the-lander's past — when she moved to Maine in 1971, she lived off-the-grid and became involved with the organic farming movement. The Minnesota native has since started two businesses (a knitting company and an inn on North Haven), served as CEO of Common Cause, a nonprofit lobbying group focused on government accountability and campaign finance reform, and raised three children. She served in the Maine Senate from 1992 until 2000, ran unsuccessfully against Republican Susan Collins for her US Senate seat in 2002, and won a hard-fought race for the US Congress in 2008. An opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pingree serves on the House Armed Services Committee; she also sits on the Agriculture Committee and has been a leader on food and farming issues — a focus she intends to keep if she's re-elected. She supports eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the uber-wealthy and ending subsidies for big-oil, two positions that align her with many Southern Mainers. Recently, amid a lobster-pricing crisis, she made headlines by convincing two cruise-ship companies to purchase thousands of pounds of local lobsters for their passengers.
Her opponent, 46-year-old Courtney of Springvale, currently serves as Senate Majority Leader in Augusta. He'll be termed out this year. Born in Biddeford, raised in Wells, and currently running Courtney Cleaners, a dry-cleaning business with outposts in Sanford, Kennebunk, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Courtney is fond of saying that he is winning votes and raising money "one handshake at a time." He bills himself as a politician who likes to reach across the aisle to build bipartisan support, citing legislative successes such as welfare reform (over which Pingree has scuffled not with Courtney, but with Governor Paul LePage), regulatory reform, and investigations into both the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine Housing Authority. He does not support letting the Bush tax cuts expire, but does want to make sure that wealthy people cannot shelter their money in overseas accounts.
The fact is that this race isn't considered to be a nail-biter. The recent Pan Atlantic SMS Group Omnibus poll found Pingree way in the lead, 56.5 percent to Courtney's 24.2 (with a seven-point margin of error). National GOP operatives have not paid as much attention to this race as they have to the one in Maine's 2nd District.
: News Features
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