Political Pundit Hails

A Book Review by Juliana L’Heureux

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Maine's political guru Christian P. Potholm's newest book is fresh off the press with two chapters dedicated to the important Franco-American voter. "The Delights of Democracy: The Triumph of American Politics" is mostly about Maine politics. Potholm, a Bowdoin College professor in Brunswick, is often heard on mornings after elections speaking on Maine Public Radio discussing what happened to the ballot winners and the losers. He's the author of several books including "An Insider's Guide to Maine Politics" and "Just Do It", a primer about how to win referenda and candidate elections.

As an academic, Potholm has studied the Franco-American voter for 30 years. "Why aren't people talking about Franco-American candidates?" asks Potholm. Since 1972, Franco-Americans have become the most important voting group in Maine. Their choices usually determine which candidates win statewide, and which ballot measures or referendum questions will pass or fail. Potholm writes passionately about Maine's Franco-American political personalities. He names State Senator Lloyd LaFountain III from Biddeford, State Representative Paul Tessier of Fairfield, or Judy Paradis of Frenchville, calling for statewide attention to these candidates.

"It's important for Franco-Americans to recognize the power they have in the ballot box and the greater power they could have if they united," says Potholm.

Francos compose about 18 percent of the electorate. Although they're the most important ethnic group in the state in terms of determining the outcome of elections, Francos rarely get the nominations for their party in major offices. Someone who is currently turning the tide on this trend is Franco-American State Senator Mike Michaud, from East Millinocket, currently running for Second District Congressman. Although first district voters in York County will not be voting for Michaud, the Franco-American voters will be interested in the outcome of his election race.

"Mike is an extraordinary guy and a terrific Franco-American candidate because his background bridges the divide between two ethnic factions," said Potholm in a recent telephone interview. "Michaud has family ties to both the Quebecois Francos and the Acadians from the St. John Valley, giving him credibility with both groups. Also, Michaud is an example of the great American success story. He's a blue collar worker from East Millinocket who is the contender for a US Congressional seat," says Potholm.

Bridging the ethnic divide between the Quebecois, meaning those with ancestral roots to the Province of Quebec, and those with Acadian heritage who settled the St. John Valley, is the biggest obstacle to Francos supporting their own in elections. "Someone needs to step up and lead the Francos by example," explains Potholm. Perhaps former Speaker of the House John Martin from Eagle Lake could unite Francos from Sanford to Westbrook to Fort Kent, he says.

Although Francos are divided when supporting their own, their vote was crucial to the 1972 victory of William Cohen, when he first ran for Congress. Also, the Franco-American vote was absolutely essential to the defeat of the 2000 Maine physician assisted suicide referendum question.

"I've always noted that while the Franco-Americans are largely registered as Democrats and they usually vote that way, many share Republican values like emphasis on small business and seeing government as part of the problem rather than the solution," writes Potholm. Consequently, Franco-Americans are an important swing group.

Franco-Americans are just one of many interesting and often times humorous subjects Potholm describes in "The Delights of Democracy", writing from his extensive personal history observing Maine voting patterns.

The Delights of Democracy was written by Christian P. Potholm and published by * Cooper Square Press; ISBN: 0815412169; 1st cooper edition (October 2002) . Available new and used at Amazon.com.

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Copyright 1994-2002, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux