This year’s presidential election has me thinking about factions, and by association, beer.
I’m not troubled that there are two teetotalers topping the tickets. That’s unusual, but not a threat. After all, one owns a winery and the other drank a Buckler, a non-alcoholic lager made by Heineken, at President Obama’s 2009 “Beer Summit,” so at least he appreciates the taste. (Vice President Pence is also said to have an affinity for “near-beer” — he knocks back an O’Doul’s “every Friday night,” according to his wife).
No, what troubles me are the Prohibitionists. They’ve been eerily quiet lately.
Sure, it’s been a century since they plunged America into a dystopian nightmare, turning the cities over to mobsters while virtuous, hard-working citizens were denied an honest pint. And the Prohibition Party isn’t on the ballot in Maine this year, but our state has a long association with the temperance movement.
In 1976 and 1980, the Prohibition Party’s presidential nominee was Ben Bubar, a God-fearing son of Blaine, Maine (a speck of a town in Aroostook County), who’d earlier become the youngest person ever elected to the Maine Legislature, at the age of 21. In ’76, Bubar was on the ballot in nine states and garnered 15,932 votes, including those of nearly 3,500 Mainers who preferred him to Ford and Carter. That was 50 percent more votes than former Portland Mayor Neal Dow — the self-righteous popinjay who made Maine a pioneer of prohibition in 1851 — earned as the Prohibitionists’ presidential candidate in 1880.
This year, the Prohibition Party’s candidate for president is Phil Collins (no, not that Phil Collins). What troubles me about this is that Collins is on the ballot in four states. Mississippi and Arkansas don’t vex me much, at least as far as beer is concerned. But Colorado and Vermont? If the Prohibitionists can get a foothold in those two bastions of brewing, we must ask ourselves: Could it happen here, again?
Sure, Maine has 155 breweries that, combined, generated more than $2 billion in economic activity and accounted for more than 15,000 jobs before COVID-19 knocked them sideways. But we’re only as safe as the next election, and stranger things have happened (remember 2016?). The two major parties won’t necessarily protect us. Where were the Republicans and Democrats the last time the Prohibitionists got the upper hand? Can we ever trust them again?
We do have some allies on the inside, like Rep. Mattie Daughtry, co-owner of Moderation Brewing, in Brunswick, who’s running for the Maine Senate this year. And state Senator Heather Sanborn, co-owner of Portland’s Rising Tide Brewing, is running for re-election unopposed.
In 2019, Daughtry and Sanborn released a beer with Gov. Janet Mills to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Mills made sure she worked that brew into her address to the 2020 New England Beer Summit. Meanwhile, former (and possibly future) Gov. Paul LePage has been tending bar at McSeagull’s Restaurant, in Boothbay Harbor.
But are our brewer-lawmakers prepared to take on a resurgent Prohibition Party? Possibly not.
“I don’t feel like an industry representative in the Legislature at all,” Sanborn told me. “I actually don’t serve on the committee that hears bills related to beer issues.”
Well, what about the Maine Brewers’ Guild? In addition to lobbying power, the Guild has a political action committee that’s handed out about $25,000, spread diplomatically between Republicans and Democrats, over the past seven years. But campaign finance filings reveal the Guild’s PAC has only $638 in its “war chest” these days, and hasn’t made any political contributions in 2020.
James Madison was cool enough to consider establishing a national brewery, and wise enough to reject the idea. He also understood that political factionalism is undesirable, but believed a multiplicity of parties would prevent the formation of a permanent majority inclined to suppress the rights of the minority. (And being a slave owner, Madison knew something about suppressing the rights of others.)
Four years from now, an electorate completely alienated by our dysfunctional national politics might think it’d be a hoot to put “that guy from Genesis” in the White House. And we’ll realize the Beastie Boys were right all along: you really do have to fight for your right to party.