Encouraging Signs of Autumn in Maine
In Maine you never know what to expect, and there was a while not long ago when I reckoned the world was about to end. I can't recall why now. But as I look outside it seems that the world is still a going concern and the fall colors in the woods out back seem, if anything, a little better than average this year. Call that Item 1.
Item 2. Olympia Snowe just proved (again) that Mainers are a cussed and unpredictable lot by defying her party leadership to cast the lone Republican vote in favor of health care reform. It was just a committee vote, there was no public option, and we've got miles to go before we put this thing to bed. But still.
Now on top of that, Susan Collins, our other senator, has begun hinting that she too might come on board. But she has reservations, and it's not at all clear what she's actually in favor of — prompting one prominent blogger to title a recent post "What Does Susan Collins Want?" Nonetheless, we have the remarkable circumstance of two Republican senators from the same small New England state behaving like grownups. Take that, teabaggers.
Item 3. It's the middle of October, and as yet there has been no frost at my place in Lincolnville. I've got a bachelor's button, Centaurea montana, in bloom outside the back door. The plant was a gift from — bear with me, please — the gardening mom of the young man who is not, repeat not, my daughter's boyfriend, so probably it has a special significance to me, though I am a little confused about this. The flower is an unusually vibrant purple so it must be some special variety whose name I do not know. As the years go by, you tend to acquire any number of plants like this — nameless individuals that you can identify only by reference to their unique provenance — and as such things go, "Lynn's centaurea" has a much nicer ring than "that hydrangea that was on sale at Home Depot."
The weather forecast looks especially benign right now, so I assume we'll have a freak blizzard tomorrow night. So it goes.
Item 4. The good news keeps coming: a recent survey by an independent pollster shows Mainers in support of marriage equality for gays and lesbians by a margin of about 52 percent, compared to 43 opposed and 5 undecided. This came, I must say, as a surprise to me, and also apparently to the pollster himself, Patrick Murphy of the Pan Atlantic SMS Group of Portland. According to Murphy, there's been "a bit of a shift to the 'no' vote." (If that's confusing, bear in mind that a "yes" vote on Question 1 this year means you favor overturning the marriage-equality law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Baldacci. A "no" vote means rejecting the so-called people's veto and allowing the law to stand.
It's way too early to celebrate. Turnout is typically low in these off-year elections and everything turns on which side can get its supporters to the polls. You might say it comes down to emotion. As I've noted before, the Yes on 1 side is waging a campaign based almost exclusively on fear, and fear can easily override reason if it manages to take hold.
On the marriage-equality side, the emotional equation is less clear. Certainly passions are running high in the gay community, but there just aren't that many of us. It makes for an interesting hometown dynamic. Driving from my house to Lincolnville Center yesterday — a distance of about five miles — I counted 15 "Yes on 1" signs compared to only three "Nos." These people are my neighbors.
For a fascinating take on this, check out a recent post on Daily Kos by the popular blogger Bill Harnsberger, who writes as "Bill in Portland Maine." He's usually quite funny, but his account of the struggle for gay rights in Maine is blunt and heartrending:
"The 1998 referendum passed. The fundies won.... It's one thing to feel disappointment when your favorite candidate loses. It's quite another when you are the one being voted on by your neighbors, and a majority of them agree that, yes, it should be legal for a Maine business owner to pull you aside and say, 'I don’t want no faggots workin' here. You're fired.' It took another seven years to finally make that against the law."
All that said, it's been a beautiful autumn so far. Let's hope it lasts until November.