The 2010s were marked by major change in Maine.
Same-sex marriage was legalized. So was recreational marijuana.
Politics became more combative and divided, in no small thanks to former Gov. Paul LePage.
The state’s coastal waters warmed rapidly toward an ecological catastrophe.
Policymakers confronted an opioid epidemic that has threatened an entire generation.
And the state wrestled with demographic challenges posed by the age of its citizens and an increase in the number of new Mainers settling here from other countries.
The former governor defined the past decade in Maine politics.
Mostly unknown outside Waterville, where he served as mayor, LePage surprised everyone by winning a seven-way Republican primary for governor in 2010 and then defeating Democrat Libby Mitchell and independent Eliot Cutler that November.
Despite his combative style – or maybe because of it – he was elected to a second term in 2014, besting former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Cutler.
His two terms were defined by shrinking government, especially social services, and easing regulations, but he might be remembered more for his confrontational acts and statements, including leaving a profanity-laced voicemail on a lawmaker’s phone.
LePage’s tenure was a precursor to the divisive politics that ushered President Trump into office in 2016. He rarely sought consensus and exhibited the same bullying behavior toward opponents as Trump.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins was among the Republicans who repudiated Trump, and she has been under more scrutiny than ever as she tries to navigate a party now fully controlled by Trump. Although she easily won a fourth term in 2014, her vote to support the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh ignited ferocious criticism from Democrats that has eroded her support among women and set the stage for a much closer election in 2020.
The divided nature of politics has led to dramatic electoral swings, particularly in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. In 2012, when President Barack Obama won re-election, he carried the Oxford County town of Mexico with 67 percent of the vote. In 2016, Trump won in Mexico.
The threats of global climate change grew, and the waters off Maine emerged as a hot spot.
Scientists discovered that the Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest-warming bodies of water on the planet. The impact on oceanic species, and various fishing industries, has been dire.
Little was done during the LePage era to combat the effects of climate change, but the administration of Gov. Janet Mills has made it a priority.
One of the biggest social changes of the past decade has been to allow same-sex couples to marry, and Maine was a leader.
Just prior to the 2010s, Maine lawmakers approved a law legalizing same-sex marriage, only to see voters overturn it in November 2009. Three years later, though, Maine became the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage through voter referendum. Three years after that, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans.
The matter is mostly settled, although social conservatives in Maine and elsewhere have turned their sights to transgender rights and abortion.
The seeds of the opioid crisis were planted earlier with the rise in prescription painkillers across Maine. That gave way to heroin and, more recently, fentanyl. The results have been devastating.
Nearly 2,300 died from drug overdoses during the 2010s and that doesn’t include totals for 2019.
Maine was slow to expand treatment and also to expand access to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, which compounded the problem.
The crisis infiltrated so many other areas – criminal justice, incarceration, the child protective system – that the state will feel its effects well into the next decade.
For much of the 2010s, Maine held the distinction of being the oldest state in the country. That’s not likely to change into the next decade. When you combine age with the state’s rural nature, it creates a host of social and financial challenges.
In contrast, Maine also has increasingly become a place of (mostly) welcome for immigrants, which economists say will have a dramatic impact on the state’s workforce. Yet there are still resentments, including some driven by racism and xenophobia, that have made this a challenge, to say nothing of the initial financial impact of welcoming so many who can’t work right away.
How the state navigates these two populations will figure prominently in the 2020s.
One of the more drawn-out debates during much of the 2010s was over legalizing marijuana in the face of shifting social attitudes. Lawmakers decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2009, but during the next decade they repeatedly rejected proposals to legalize recreational use – even though medical marijuana has been legal in Maine since 1999.
Maine voters finally approved through referendum in 2016 a law allowing the use, retail sale and taxation of recreational marijuana.
Less than three months later, lawmakers enacted a moratorium on parts of that law, and it has been mired in legislative and regulatory purgatory since.
Only recently has the state begun to accept applications for retail marijuana shops and, in the meantime, nearby Massachusetts has passed its own legalization bill and begun collecting millions in tax revenue.