Mark and Violet Willis at their farm in MaineIt’s going to become more difficult for pols to simply trample food rights, and then walk away as if nothing happened. 


A classic case in point is emerging in Maine. There, the state’s Republican governor, thought to be supportive of small farmers and favorably inclined toward legislation legalizing raw milk sales by unlicensed farmers selling directly to customers, at the last minute came up with a lame excuse to veto the bill. He said while he supported the legislation’s intent, he objected to it because it allowed sales at farmers markets. 


The governor, Paul LePage, must be second-guessing himself since that fateful decision in early July, presumably made to avoid endangering Big Ag and Big Pharma contributions to his budding re-election campaign. Practically from the time he put pen to veto message, LePage has been hearing catcalls over the raw milk veto. 


As a result, his political allies have been making noises about introducing similar legislation in the next legislative session, supposedly addressing the governor’s concerns. 


But all the hemming and hawing hasn’t been enough to head off a serious revolt from within Maine’s Republican party, lead by two activists who have been commentators on this blog–Viola Willis (a member of the Maine Republican Committee) and Mark Willis (a member of the National Republican Committee)–who had also organized on behalf of promoting greater attention to food rights within Maine. 

These budding Downeast Republicans got a taste of political reality when they sought to convince the national Republican party to recognize considerable support in the state for Ron Paul during the 2012 Presidential campaign. The backers of Mitt Romney ran roughshod over the newbies, both during the primary season, and at the party’s convention in Tampa. 


The new activists were further peeved about the national GOP positions on a number of issues, notably the recent controversy over perceived over-reach by the National Security Agency (NSA) revealed by Edward Snowden’s disclosures that the agency monitors all phone records and accesses at least some emails.  Finally, last week, 13 Maine Republicans (including the Violet and Mark Willis) formally bolted from their official posts, and from any official party involvement. In a lengthy statement about their upset, they noted: “However, the straw that broke the camel’s back for many of us was the veto of LD 1282 (the ‘Raw Milk Bill’) and those who voted to sustain it; a sad day indeed for the small farmers of Maine.” 


In the meantime, Maine food rights proponents are pushing ahead to extend food sovereignty ordinances to additional towns beyond the ten that have approved them over the last couple of years. This despite a state judge ruling in favor of the state and against the two-cow dairy run by Dan Brown a few months ago in one of the towns with an ordinance. Indeed, the Maine food sovereignty activists are pushing to encourage more activists outside Maine to take up the cause; an unknown number of towns around the country have passed ordinances. 


For me, the message is straightforward: Food rights should be a non-ideological matter. It remains a political problem for both Republicans and Democrats because both parties depend heavily on support from major corporations, including those that comprise Big Ag. I disagree with the Maine Republicans on a number of issues that upset them, such as immigration reform and gun control, but I appreciate their willingness to sacrifice budding political careers as Republicans for the sake of food rights. 


Indeed, the idea that we have the right to determine what foods we’ll put into our bodies and the bodies of our children is too fundamental to leave in the hands of political manipulators.  In Maine, a simple disdainful veto by a calculating governor has done much to communicate that idea.  When politicians finally learn there is a price to pay for trampling food rights, the politicians will become more respectful of those rights.