I Am Not From Maine, But If I Were...

By James Fallows

... I would be out this weekend stumping for Eliot Cutler, in his bid to become governor as an Independent. (Maine is one of the states where that is a plausible ambition. Two of the past five governors have been Independents.)

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The Atlantic's "stay out of politics" standards indicate that we should avoid direct political involvement -- which is a good rule -- but with an exception for family members, close friends, or others about whom no one would expect us to be "objective." I've used that chit a few times in the past -- for instance, in saying that I thought that my friends Jim Webb and Tom Geoghegan were very good candidates for office.

Eliot Cutler is in this category too. I have known him since we both worked as young policy-underlings in the Carter White House. His daughter, before she decided to go to medical school, was for several years a very popular and valuable member of the Atlantic staff; he and his wife were close friends of my wife's and mine when we were all living in China. Eliot was then running the Beijing office of a US law firm, and his wife Melanie was working as a doctor.

He is serious (but also funny), well experienced in politics and with a politician's natural affability, and extremely ambitious for his home state. Maine has all the natural endowments that tourists and residents of the rest of the country know about -- but also some very deep problems with its school systems, its economic base, and the general preparedness of its year-round population for modern global competition. I heard Eliot Cutler talk about this a lot while we were in China. Whatever new factory I'd visited or research project he'd learned about became the prelude for a discussion of what Maine would need to do to keep up. If you're not from Maine, a little of this can go a long way -- but for people of the state it's a good kind of obsession for a public figure to have.

I can't pretend to know anything about the internal politics of Maine right now. I do notice that Eliot Cutler has picked up the endorsements of the state's biggest newspapers as the best-prepared candidate, with the most carefully thought-out proposals and the greatest "vision" for office. And I have known him long enough to be sure that he is temperamentally and intellectually well suited to such a role. People of Maine, over to you.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/i-am-not-from-maine-but-if-i-were/65297/