Down East 2013 ©
Maine has a long history of legislators switching parties or dropping their affiliation to become unenrolled. In 2006, Maine House member Barbara Merrill left the Democrats, tying the parties and threating Democratic control of the chamber. The issue was only resolved when another switcher, Rep. Joanne Twomey, rejoined the Democratic caucus to give them a majority.
With an electorate that values independence, changing party affiliation doesn't seem to hurt these politicians much. Merrill went on to run for governor, winning a respectable 21% of the vote, and Twomey defeated two city councilors last year to become mayor of Biddeford. Another recent party switcher, Rep. Tom Saviello of Wilton, has been elected to the House as both a Democrat and an Independent and is now running for State Senate as a Republican.
Despite the prevalence of party switching, it's still news when a Maine legislator decides to change their registration, and the decision of Republican Representative James Campbell to leave his party last month got some national attention. Politico  and Talking Points Memo  both noted that Campbell made his decision to drop his registration on the issue of health care and viewed the switch from a national perspective. According to Ben Smith , it was "a sign of the potential risks for senators from left-leaning states who oppose ."
For Campbell, however, the decision was a deeply personal one. The reasons he cares enough about the issue of health care to make the switch all come from his own experiences.
"I was born and raised in a three-decker cold-water flat," said Campbell when I reached him by phone at the statehouse last week. "My dad drove a truck, did part-time jobs, died in that cold-water flat, never owning his own home, so I never forgot when I came from."
"I've got a bum arm, if I see you some time I'll show it to you. It was set in a hospital when I broke it and it wasn't growing and they had to bring a specialist up from Boston to operate on the arm and I think that's why my dad never went anywhere and never had anything. He paid all his life for this arm."
Later in life, a battle with Blue Cross/Blue Shield where Campbell and his wife had to sue the insurance company to get them to pay for her needed back surgery further cemented his opinion that the current health care system has to change.
"I'm for a public option big time," he told Politico.
Health care isn't the only issue where Campbell disagreed with his former party. According to the veteran lawmaker, now in his fourth and final term, he has disagreed with core tenets of the Republican party for a long time. "They're against gays, they're against a woman's rights, they're against a minimum wage and they're against health care for everybody. I'm not," said Campbell.
Despite his ideological positions, Campbell said he always felt at home in the GOP, until recently, when he says the party became much more ideological.
"These young Republicans, these young conservatives who call themselves Ronald Reagan Republicans, they don't know who the hell Ronald Reagan was," explained Campbell. "He always said the party had a big tent."
You may be wondering why, with such broad ideological differences, Campbell ever joined the GOP. According to him, it was a decision based on class and social situation.
"Back in my early days working in a printing business, I worked my way up very rapidly through the system," said Campbell. "And I became a Republican, belonged to the country club, lived in a pretty fancy house with an in-ground swimming pool. And the people I associated with were all Republicans."
Campbell says he's always been an independent at heart and even as a Republican he maintained close relationships with Democrats like Governor Baldacci and Congressman Mike Michaud.
In the end, he says he just couldn't take it any more.
"I got sick of the Republicans lying about health care in Augusta and lying about it in Washington and 'death squads' and everything. Why are the Republicans so scared of everyone having health insurance?"
Campbell is currently the only unenrolled member in the House. There are now 95 Democrats and 55 Republicans.