AUBURN — Eating lunch at Rolly's Diner on Wednesday, Sandy Nyberg didn't seem impressed to learn that Paul LePage will be the first Franco governor in more than 100 years.
The last, and until now, the only, Franco governor was Alonzo Garcelon of Lewiston, who was governor in 1879.
Nyberg gets her Franco heritage from both parents. “You can't get much more French than that,” she said. But she was less concerned with heritage and more concerned about what kind of governor LePage will be.
“With his business background, he might do well,” she said. “But he has a temper.”
Others were excited about having a Franco-American governor.
Lewiston voters traditionally support Democrats, but Tuesday they cast more votes for LePage than for independent Eliot Cutler or Democrat Libby Mitchell.
LePage benefited from Lewiston's Franco vote, said retired Bates College political science professor and Republican activist Douglas Hodgkin.
Being a Franco, speaking French and being a Lewiston native helped LePage carry Lewiston, Hodgkin said Wednesday. Conversing in French to Francos “makes a personal connection,” he said. “That is important in politics. Certainly, the likability factor is the sense that the candidate is one of us.”
Rita Dube, executive director of the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston, said having a Franco governor was overdue.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, made history by being the first Franco sent to Washington. He is a source of pride for Maine Francos, Dube said.
“Paul LePage was born right here on Oxford Street in Little Canada," Dube said. "Certainly, you don't get more Franco than that. I hope he makes us proud as our new governor."
He will help raise the Franco visibility in Maine, she said.
Winning Lewiston is essential to the success of any statewide candidate, Dube said.
“Whoever wins Lewiston is usually sent to Augusta," she said. "The French vote has been indicative of who the new elected officials will be.”
Dyke Hendrickson, a former Maine journalist who has written two books about Franco-Americans in Maine and New England, said LePage's win was “very exciting” to Franco-American groups. “It's long overdue,” Hendrickson said.
Being Franco won't make a difference in big policies at the governor's level, Hendrickson predicted. But it will make differences in a small and meaningful ways to Francos, he said.
For example, each year there's a Franco day at the State House. LePage will probably speak the language and talk about the history on that day, Hendrickson said. Two years ago, proposed legislation to include Franco history in Maine textbooks failed by a couple of votes. With a Franco governor, that kind of legislation may pass, Hendrickson said.
LePage is an unusual Franco candidate in that he's a Republican, Hendrickson said. Most are Democrats. That likely cost LePage some Franco votes. He still captured many because “he has a narrative a lot of Franco-Americans and many Maine voters could relate to," Hendrickson said. "He's one of 18 kids, a self-made guy; he put himself through school and worked his way up.”
Daryel Duhaime, a Franco-American from Hebron, was not excited that Maine's next governor shares his heritage.
“I don't think it's a big deal,” Duhaime said. “I don't think your nationality means anything.”