In yet another sign that this is not a typical election year, there’s a Republican walking around Portland’s ultra-liberal West End saying things the residents agree with. Here’s a dramatic reenactment:
Knock, knock. “Hi, I’m Kevin Casey. I’m a Republican running for the State House seat vacated by Jon Hinck, and I’m pro-choice.”
“Right on! So am I.”
“I also enthusiastically support gay marriage.”
“My partner and I do too!”
“And I’m for the legalization and sale of marijuana for recreational use.”
“Sounds good to me. Wait, you said you’re a Republican? You must have some crazy position on taxes.”
“I want to get rid of both the state income tax and the sales tax …”
“There you go.”
“… and replace that lost revenue with taxes on marijuana and hemp products.”
“Can I have a campaign sign for my apartment window?”
As you can see, the real reason lefty Portlanders can agree with this Republican is the fact he’s really a Ron Paul-style Libertarian. There’s even a picture of Rep. Paul wearing a Casey campaign shirt atop Casey’s campaign Facebook page.
Casey’s campaign materials wisely avoid the R-word. Instead, his blue signs, shirts and cards urge you to “vote Casey for freedom.” Behind the message is an anchor with a severed rope. (Casey works at a scuba-diving shop on the waterfront.)
Everyone likes freedom, but aside from the freedom to get stoned and marry someone of the same gender, what oppression is Casey promising to liberate us from?
Well, for starters, there’s the tyranny of mandatory dental hygiene. Portlanders are being “forcibly medicated through the Portland Water District with fluoride,” Casey told me during a recent interview.
Casey’s also a proponent of food freedom. “Are you able to buy non-genetically modified corn?” he asked rhetorically. “That’s one way our choice has been removed.”
School choice is another plank in his platform, though Casey admits he fumbled the wording of his position on this issue on the 5,000 palm cards he recently had printed. The cards say he wants to “ensure that all families in Maine have a choice in the education of their children, and that the public school system in Maine is both efficient and competitive.”
“Choice,” “efficient” and “competitive” are conservative code words for policies that shift public money away from public schools and into vouchers and other schemes that benefit charter and religious schools. Casey said he wants parents to have more choice as to which public school their kids attend, and to broaden the choice of classes offered at public schools to include those focused on science, technology, trades, math, and subjects like philosophy and logic.
That sounds better, but does Casey really have a chance to win in District 118, which includes not only the posh/poor West End, but also the blighted St. John Valley neighborhood along St. John Street, and Libbytown, a pocket of houses and businesses along outer Congress Street severed from downtown by Interstate 295?
The short answer is yes. Like fellow Libertarian/Republican Gwen Tuttle, who’s running in District 119 (Bayside and Parkside), Casey stands to benefit from the possibility his two liberal opponents will split the lefty vote, leaving him with enough scraps to cobble together a victory.
And unlike Tuttle’s race, there’s no incumbent in District 118. Casey, who’s 32, is facing two other young, idealistic guys: Green Independent candidate Tom MacMillan and Democrat Matt Moonen.
The Greens and Dems have battled over this district for the past decade, since John Eder won here in 2002, becoming the first Green in the country elected to a state legislature. Democrat Hinck bested Eder in 2006 and easily held onto the seat until he decided to make his ill-fated Senate run this year. Hinck has dutifully endorsed Moonen, but the incumbent’s imprimatur is not likely to be a big factor — Portland Democrats, like those elsewhere in Maine, chose Cynthia Dill over Hinck by a large margin in this year’s primary.
Casey’s Libertarian liberalism will be competing against the garden-variety liberalism of his opponents. And he’ll have to overcome the disadvantage of having that scarlet letter R next to his name on the ballot.
But with a lot of hustle and a little luck, he just might earn a trip to Augusta next month. And then the fluoridated foes of freedom will experience the pure, unadulterated taste of defeat.
Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. His column appears here weekly.