The recent deaths of two former Republican Maine congressmen, Peter Garland and Stanley Tupper, provide an occasion to remember their place in Maine history.

Both were once young, magnetic personalities who simultaneously helped usher in an early-1960s interlude of GOP political dominance after a period when the Republicans had been beleaguered by a series of Democratic victories in the early years of the Muskie era.

Both glided by older and more weary-eyed political figures.

During this same era, Murray Kempton wrote of Republican Congressman John Lindsay’s campaign to be mayor of New York, “He is fresh, and everyone else is tired.” The same could have been said of the early impressions generated by Lindsay’s fellow GOP congressmen, Garland and Tupper.

No Maine political contest better illustrated this new-against-old clash as did Garland’s successful 1960 campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat James “Big Jim” Oliver in the state’s 1st Congressional District. At 37, Garland, the crew-cut former Saco mayor, was charming and telegenic. Imparting an image akin to that of the then-popular Mercury astronauts, he was welcomed to the living rooms of southern Maine by the new technology of television.

Garland’s opponent, the tall, athletic 65-year-old Oliver was a formidable 1-on-1 campaigner with an overpowering and engaging demeanor that had also made him a successful insurance and real estate deal maker in the Portland area. He was a stump speaker with an ability to engage in detailed and passionate advocacy of Democratic ideals out in the union and grange hall ham-and-beans dinner circuit.

But what had worked for Oliver in an off-and-on congressional career dating back to the 1930s made him look like a long-winded, old-school politician in 1960. His heated flights of rhetoric were not readily adapted to the cooler style that the “home screen” ordinarily demanded.

To be sure, Garland’s 54 percent victory over Oliver was driven in part by coattails from a statewide GOP resurgence that also saw top of the ticket Republicans such as Vice President Nixon run ahead of John F. Kennedy in Maine and Sen. Margaret Chase Smith win a commanding re-election over Lucia Cormier. But the odds of unseating an incumbent congressman such as Oliver were so steep that Garland was the only Republican willing to step up to the challenge.

Garland’s win was thus also a testament to personal voter preference for the more relaxed contemporary image that he projected in this, one of the first TV oriented elections in Maine.

That same year another fresh face was sent to Washington by the Pine Tree State: Stanley Tupper. Unlike Garland, Tupper had to contend with a competitive GOP primary before he could claim the right to run in a 2nd Congressional District. It was an open seat after incumbent Democrat Frank Coffin moved up to seek the governorship.

The 39-year-old Tupper had served a single term in the Maine House from Boothbay Harbor before putting in time as Sea and Shore Fisheries Commissioner. He was tall and pleasant, able to showcase his good looks with a genuine but not blinding smile.

Tupper’s GOP opponent was no less a legend than former state Sen. Roy Sinclair, sponsor of the landmark 1957 Sinclair Act, the law that set up the framework for consolidated school districts. A Cianchette Co. executive who had served four terms in the Legislature, the 58-year-old Sinclair was short, stocky and serious. Despite a hefty Cianchette-backed campaign war chest and a thicker legislative resume, Sinclair garnered only 43 percent of the vote in losing to Tupper, who went on to win the November election over Bates government professor John Donovan.

Though Garland and Tupper served simultaneously as freshmen GOP congressmen from the same state, they allied themselves with opposing elements within the party. For Garland, this meant affiliation with conservatives personified by Sen. Barry Goldwater, while for Tupper the result was an identification with liberal causes espoused by New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Garland and Tupper did represent separate districts, however, and they had a congenial working relationship in promoting Maine’s common constituent interests in the nation’s capital. It seemed unlikely that they would be brought into direct confrontation.

Then came the bombshell: Loss of one of our seats in Congress. In 1961, final tabulations from the 1960 census resulted in a reapportionment to be effective with the 1962 elections that left the state with two instead of three representatives in the U.S. House. As a result, Tupper’s coastal end of the mid-state 2nd District was amputated and annexed to Garland’s 1st, placing the two in the same district.

With two-thirds of the new district’s people living on Garland’s turf, this realignment offered up such a clear advantage to the Saco Republican that the geographically orphaned Tupper initially refused to run. A few days before the April 1 filing deadline, a second bombshell struck: Garland and his wife announced a separation, with Mrs. Garland publicly complaining that her husband was in a “nervous crisis from overwork.”

Though Garland’s ideology was popular with GOP conservatives, his domestic life caused them unrest. Tupper then changed course, accepting a draft from party leaders, and set out to run just in time to make the filing deadline. Despite the hurried and last minute nature of the challenge, Tupper wound up defeating Garland with 62 percent of the vote in the June primary, the only one in Maine in the last 100 years where two sitting incumbent congressmen have opposed each other for rights to the same U.S. House seat on Capital Hill.

More on Garland, Tupper and how their times shaped much of what we experience today in a future column.

Paul H. Mills is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of Maine’s political scene. He can be reached by e-mail: [email protected]

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