Former Maine Attorney General Jim Tierney visited the University of Maine on March 24 to discuss the 2010 election cycle and its implications for the future with a panel of four political science students.
Approximately 15 people in the Totman Room of Memorial Union listened to Tierney moderate the discussion panel and contribute his opinions on a list of topics ranging from federal and local government, to election strategies and the election of Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage.
The panel consisted of UMaine political science students Ross Wolland, Margaret Payne, Merideth Cherry and Kevin Price, who listened to Tierney’s thoughts and used them as talking points to fuel their discussion. All four students are members of the Political Science Honors Society Pi Sigma Alpha, as Tierney was during his years as an undergrad at UMaine.
Tierney focused first on the national stage, discussing the Republican resurgence and the strategy used by the GOP.
“Obama won the  election by a lot and he took states that really hadn’t been taken by Democrats,” Tierney said. “The Republican strategy, which I really think was brilliant, was to simply say that it didn’t make a difference. He didn’t really win.”
Tierney said that in order to question the legitimacy of Obama’s election, the Republican Party used attack strategies like claiming that he was not actually a U.S. citizen, and immigration reform is a state matter.
Tierney added that while this strategy worked, the biggest mistake in the GOP strategy was alienating Hispanic voters on the topic of immigration.
“There were some hiccups as well,” Tierney said. “The largest long-term mistake the Republican Party made was to earn the undying hatred — and hatred is not a word I use lightly — from America’s Hispanic community.”
Tierney pointed out that the Hispanic community is America’s fastest growing ethnic block and is a group that should vote Republican according to their cultural values. Tierney pointed out that both Bush administrations’ elections identified well with this community.
Tierney finished the discussion of politics on the national scene by making a prediction for the 2012 election.
“President Obama will clearly sweep to re-election,” Tierney said. “He is currently unopposed by any credible GOP candidate.”
Tierney said an improving economy as well as the spotlight moving away from Congress will only help Obama. Tierney added that the decisive moves that Obama recently made about Libya will help him also.
“You can’t go too wrong in American politics by attacking Muammar Gaddafi,” Tierney said and pointed out that even Sen. John McCain, Obama’s opponent in 2008, publicly approved of the president’s decision with regards to Libya.
Price disagreed with Tierney, saying if the Republicans can produce the right candidate, he or she could win the presidential election.
Tierney then moved on to discuss the Maine state government and the troubles the state faces moving forward.
“What will happen to Maine is not defined by who will be governor and not by who will be in the legislature but by who lives here,” Tierney said. “This is where Maine is in serious, serious trouble in the sense that Maine does not look like the rest of America.”
Tierney pointed out that Maine is the oldest state in the country and this demographic produces huge economic problems for the state of Maine, with one of the biggest issues caused by the age disparity coming from the need to replace retiring workers.
“When we have retirements, voluntary or involuntary, from the private sector or the public sector, Maine is really scrambling to find replacement workers,” Tierney said. “We don’t have them, so we find a situation where the status quo ends up making things even worse.”
Tierney said another issue in the state of Maine is one that no one wants to talk about —race. Tierney pointed out that Maine is the whitest state in the country and that this demographic generally produces smaller families. Tierney said the biggest growth nationally has come from minority groups and Maine has not followed this pattern.
Tierney then discussed the fact that Maine has too much government.
“This is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” Tierney said. “We have too much government to be sustainable.”
Tierney said that both LePage and Eliot Cutler very accurately pointed this out in their 2010 election bids.
Tierney said issues like school consolidations and public programs add up to unacceptable costs. He said wind power in Maine is a great example — while most citizens realize the need for it they do not want it near them.
After discussing these issues, Tierney moved on to Gov. LePage.
“Here we have a new governor who makes the kind of mistakes that a lot of newly elected officials make,” Tierney said. “I can assure you that newly elected officials say a lot of silly things all the time but when you are the governor of any state, words matter and they matter a lot.”
Wolland agreed with Tierney’s comments about LePage’s public face.
“When you take digs at the NAACP and you tell President Obama to ‘go to hell,’ what you are doing in a state that is generally pretty nice to each other and are not looking for a fight is sort of turning them against each other,” Wolland said.
Tierney said comments made by LePage, such as suggesting certain daily newspapers in Maine lie, are ill conceived and sends a message to the people that he does not want them to be informed.
He said comments like these may negatively — and invisibly — affect the state’s economy.
“This is serious because amongst the people who are listening are job makers,” said Tierney. “LePage doesn’t understand the extent to which his words are costing us jobs.”
Tierney said a governor who will not read the paper and whose actions cannot be predicted do not help make companies want to bring business to the state, but concluded his statement on a positive note.
“I think the governor will learn. I am optimistic that he will get it,” Tierney said. “He and the rest of us will have some rough spots, but he will grow.”