By Leif Parsell
This is the first in a series of profiles of Maine businesses, civic organizations, and grassroots political activists.
Gordon Colby, a lifetime Mainer who works as a manager for Allen’s Blueberries at a regional distribution center in Union, has been involved in politics for less than two years. On a Christmas vacation in Idaho with his family in 2009, he recalls sitting on the porch with his son-in-law talking politics and, “about the situation that the county is in (…) and I remember just saying to (him) that I couldn’t just talk about this anymore and I have to do something. So I came home and didn’t know what to do, and eventually I decided that I wanted to be part of the Tea Party. However there wasn’t anything in the area, so I decided to form one.”
Colby spent several months putting up signs and advertising. On May 1st, 2010, more than 120 people attended the first meeting, and the Knox and Lincoln County Tea Party (KLTP) was born. Today the group has regular attendance of more than 100 people at its meetings, and Colby is considered one of the key figures in Maine conservative politics.
When asked what animates him, Colby says, “The big thing is the fiscal issues (…) This country is on the verge of bankruptcy, and no one seems to know it.” He is a strong supporter of Governor LePage, and hosted him at a KLTP event, attended by 225 people, at the Union Town Office in the summer of 2010. Colby believes that LePage is already making a difference in Maine, and credits what Colby calls the Governor’s “realistic approach” and “his willingness to take on the hard issues” ” for LePage’s rising approval ratings. “He is not all about getting reelected, he is about doing the job right, so he is not pandering to anyone.”
Colby believes that Maine’s economic problems, including high levels of welfare use, lack of good-paying employment, and repeated listing in Forbes magazine as one of the worst states to do business, can be traced to progressive policies adopted over the last century by the two parties. He believes these policies to be damaging on the national level as well.
“I think it started a long, long time ago. Some people look at Woodrow Wilson, but I think it started even before that. In some ways, it started back at the time of the American and French revolutions and the different courses that they took. Basically there are two schools of thought. One that the government saves us, and one that we save ourselves from government. I think what has happened is that over the years, there has been a progressive movement in the nation and in the state that has been trying to bring about a centralized government and suggesting that government is the answer to all our problems.”
Despite his feeling that both Republicans and Democrats have been to blame for these progressive policies, Colby believes that the KLTP must remain involved in the two-party system rather than starting a third party. This doesn’t mean blind allegiance to the GOP, though – he says the Tea Party has worked diligently to hold Republicans accountable and to elect hard-working, hard-campaigning conservatives. According to Colby, this has caused problems with some Republicans in the state who are uncomfortable with the Tea Party’s influence. “There are some people in the Republican Party who have a real issue with the Tea Party. (…) I think what happened was, with the Tea Party and people being involved, we basically started holding some senators and representatives feet to the fire. (…) They basically had a group of people back home that just believed that they got them elected and that they were doing the right thing, so when these representatives came back and told them what great things they had been done, no one ever questioned it. I think with the Tea Party movement, that has all changed. Local citizens began to question what was going on, and some elected officials didn’t like that. They felt they were elected, they could do what they want.”
Colby believes that voter turnout in Maine has not reached its apex, and hopes to work in the coming election to get Maine youth engaged. He believes the reason so many leave, and so many businesses shy away from Maine, is our out-of-control regulatory burden. Colby hopes that the KLTP can help Maine youth to stay in the state, work to revitalize the Maine economy, and vote to reorganize the government. “This is why we are reaching out to service people, we are trying to help these people, and we need to have contact with these servicemen so that when they come home, maybe they will come into the Tea Party.”
Colby warns that, because it took more than a century for progressive policies to slowly gain traction and eventually become predominate in both parties, Tea Party activists must be patient. “I think that we are making inroads, but there is a long way to go. When you stop to think, it has taken forever for us to get here. That is one of the problems I have with the Tea Party – people want to see instant results, and people get discouraged. If you think of the State of Maine, the Democratic Party had control for a long time, lets say 40 years, and the way the progressives created the current situation was in small bites. With that in mind, I think we have come a hell of a long way. We are on the right track, and we need to concentrate on this upcoming election. We need to get conservatives elected, and that is what we are working on now.”
For more information on the KLTP, contact Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org