History of Maine (12)

MAINE POLITICS TODAY. With only rare lapses, the Republican Party dominated Maine politics for a full century, from the birth of the GOP in 1854 until the election of Edmund S. Muskie as governor in 1954.

Muskie and a small band of young progressives broadened the base of Democratic strength and began to convert Maine into a genuine two-party state.

Muskie was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958. He became an early leader in the fight for a clean environment and also distinguished himself as an expert in urban legislation and budget control. In 1968 he was the Democratic nominee for vice president on a ticket headed by Hubert Humphrey, and four years later was a major contender for the presidential nomination.

Muskie was appointed secretary of state by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. He was succeeded by George J. Mitchell of Waterville, who went on to serve as Senate majority leader from 1988 until his retirement from Congress in 1994.

Margaret Chase Smith of Skowhegan achieved fame as the first American woman elected to both houses of Congress. She was first elected to the Senate in 1949 after nearly a decade in the House of Representatives. Noted for her political courage, integrity and independence. Smith was the first Republican senator to speak out openly against the excesses of McCarthyism in the 1950s. In 1964, her name was placed in nomination for president at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco.

Perhaps the most important political phenomenon of modern Maine is the emergence of independent voters as a dominating force. Independents outnumber both enrolled Democrats and Republicans and provide the swing vote in most elections today.

In 1974, they helped elect the nation's only independent governor, James B. Longley of Lewiston. Longley was succeeded first by a Democrat and then a Republican, but in 1994 Maine elected another independent governor, Angus S. King, Jr. of Brunswick.