All Maine Matters

March 2006



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The Token Conservative
By Jon Reisman

The resurrection of All Maine Matters and the opportunity to pen a monthly column herein is cause for optimism and good cheer. A column is a great chance to think and talk about Maine politics and policy. It’s a chance to influence the agenda, educate and pontificate. For a conservative academic wordsmith, what’s not to like?

In the (hopefully hugely profitable) issues to come, I will write about national and state politics and policy, global warming, the culture war, intellectual pluralism, entrepreneurship, blue, red and purple America, and more. House Republican leader David Bowles once introduced me as the University of Maine System’s token conservative, and with a gentle jab at the “native conservative” SAM’s George Smith, I’ve adopted that phrase for my column. It’s pithy and accurate, a standard I will strive for. Here’s where I’m coming from:

I was born in Buffalo, NY 50 years ago. I grew up in Philadelphia. My family summered in the early 60’s on Long Lake in Naples, and I spent a total of 10 summers as a camper and counselor at a camp there. I first traveled to Washington County as a 13 year old canoeist in 1969, and the beauty, wilderness and poverty I saw those many years ago haunts me still. I went to college at Colby (majoring in both environmental studies and economics, a combination that raised some eyebrows thirty years ago). I studied economics in graduate school, married a Maine girl and moved to Washington County in 1984 when the University of Maine at Machias offered me a job. I was a moderate to conservative Democrat at the time. In 1988 I was Washington County chair for another moderate to conservative Democrat…Al Gore. People change.

In 1994 I helped Angus King get elected Governor. I advised him to oppose car-testing and his decision to do so was decisive. I worked for Angus for almost a year. When I returned home to Washington County, I made a fateful decision to publicly oppose the Atlantic salmon endangered species listing. That decision moved me rightward out of the moderate middle. As a conservative, I would never have been hired or tenured by a public university. My rightward shift and vocal opposition to the endangered species listing alienated the environmental left and many of my academic colleagues.

In 1998 I ran for Congress against John Baldacci and was soundly thrashed. In 1999 I led the opposition to the $50 million lands bond, hacking a watermelon (green on the outside, red on the inside) with a machete in the Hall of Flags. The lands bond passed overwhelmingly, although almost 100 small communities in northern and eastern Maine voted against it (we could see the target on our backs). Since then 20% of the money ($10 million) has been spent converting Washington County salmon watershed habitat from private to public ownership and control. The environmental left has successfully used public money to damage and collectivize the rural economy. They have not, however, done the salmon or the people one bit of good.

I believe in capitalism and the constitution, which puts me at odds with environmentalists, who generally believe in neither. I believe environmentalism is essentially Maine’s state religion, and I long for a little more separation of church and state. I want an environmental policy based on capitalism, science and facts instead of socialism, religion and fear.

I think our public universities believe in every kind of diversity except intellectual diversity. Our campuses have become hostile environments for conservatives of either secular or religious stripe, and no Republican legislator should support more funding for the University until and unless this is honestly addressed. Before it can be addressed, the university needs to get past denial.

I live in a red County in a blue state. It’s interesting that the two poorest Counties, Washington and Piscataquis, are red- kind of difficult to explain from a Marxist perspective. But the reality is a mosaic of reds and blues that at a distance is really purple.

Red Maine is pretty disenfranchised these days, but with a spirited GOP gubernatorial primary and a resurrected All Maine Matters, maybe things are looking up.

Jon Reisman eats greens for lunch. He can be contacted at

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