Former California congressman Dana Rohrabacher has bought this house on Seabury Road in York. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

YORK — One of the most colorful and controversial recent figures in Congress is now a Maine resident.

Dana Rohrabacher, “Putin’s favorite congressman,” is a 72-year-old surfer and cannabis legalization champion who wrote speeches for President Ronald Reagan, embedded with Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and once arm-wrestled a young Vladimir Putin in a D.C. pub.

He later became a prominent ally of the Russian leader and other authoritarian figures like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif, left, in 2014 Lauren Victoria Burke/ Associated Press, file

Rohrabacher left the U.S. House a year ago after losing his bid for a 16th term representing Orange County, California, and, to everyone’s surprise, announced a month later that he and his family would be moving to Maine.

Now Rohrabacher is here, having bought an $849,000, four-bedroom, 1910 Victorian on a 3-acre riverside lot in York in June, where he, his wife and 13-year-old triplets spent Christmas.

“Today the Rohrabacher family is especially grateful for our health and our new location in York, Maine,” he posted Dec. 25 on Facebook, with a picture of his family in front of Cape Neddick lighthouse. “We feel blessed to have spent most of our lives in OC immersed in SoCal surf culture, but now we are feeling very much at home here in southern coastal Maine.”

York, he noted, was settled in 1624. It has “a much more traditional lifestyle with its colonial/patriot culture and raw natural beauty still intact,” he added. “We left California with no regrets and look forward to our life, liberty and happiness here in a place where the earliest Americans came seeking refuge and freedom.”

It’s not otherwise clear why Rohrabacher chose Maine, where he does not appear to have any prior family, business or personal ties. The former congressman did not respond to interview requests, and former congressional staffers who worked with him said they had no idea either.

“They said they like the surf here and brought about 20 boards up,” says David Boyer, former state political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, who spoke with Rohrabacher at a Dec. 22 fundraiser for 2nd District Republican congressional candidate Eric Brakey that they both attended in New Gloucester. “They said what they like is not particularly about political projects.”

Brakey said Rohrabacher had served as a mentor to him since he ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 but that he also didn’t know for sure why the former congressman had chosen Maine. “There’s the obvious reason: Who wouldn’t want to live in Maine?” he speculated. “It’s magical.”

At the fundraiser – also attended by former 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin – Rohrabacher endorsed Brakey, who is running in a three-way primary against Gov. Paul LePage’s longtime spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett and former state legislator Dale Crafts of Lisbon Falls. The winner will face off against incumbent Democrat Jared Golden in November.

“He gave me some advice at the party. He said: ‘Eric, I spent my whole life trying to save the world and waited a little long to settle down and have a family,” Brakey, 31, recalled. “He said if he hadn’t taken the time to focus on family when he still had a chance, where would he be now that he is out of politics? That’s the thing that matters: When politics doesn’t go your way, you want to make sure you have family there.”

Rohrabacher was born in the Southern California beach resort town of Coronado and raised in Palo Verdes Estates, a wealthy seaside enclave outside Los Angeles. He graduated in 1969 from California State College in Long Beach, where he became co-chairman of the ultraconservative Young Americans for Freedom, only to lose the position because of his libertarianism.

According to his unpublished autobiography, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Surfing,” he became a hippie, learned how to drink tequila from John Wayne (Sauza, lime and an ice cube in a small glass), and wrote libertarian song lyrics. “You can’t legislate my morals, Or anything I do,” he wrote in one of several compositions later published by the Los Angeles Times. “I can have my pot, or have my girl, because I’m not screwing you.” Friends from that era said he smoked marijuana and hashish and did LSD at Disneyland in 1970, claims he didn’t deny.

“I don’t think any mistake I made in my personal life as a young person is anybody’s business but my own,” he told a reporter in 1990.

In the late 1970s, he became an editorial writer for the Orange County Register and later worked as assistant press secretary for Reagan’s 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns. He took a job as his speechwriter and special assistant after Reagan won the Oval Office.

Rohrabacher won a seat in Congress for Orange County in 1988. Weeks before being sworn in, he took off on a personal visit to Afghanistan, where he donned Afghan attire and joined a mujahideen infantry unit besieging a Soviet position. (“I didn’t carry a gun – most of the time,” he later told Mother Jones magazine.) He had wanted to restore Afghanistan’s monarchy and was disturbed when the Taliban instead took control after the Soviet withdrawal.

He championed cannabis decriminalization and spearheaded an amendment to the 2014 omnibus spending bill that prevents federal law enforcement from pursuing medical marijuana users and providers.

“That was a monumental event,” says Paul McCarrier, president of Legalize Maine, the advocacy group that successfully pushed for the legalization of commercial cannabis. “It gives me hope that Republicans in this state might one day see medical cannabis as a healthy alternative to other drugs that also helps Maine’s economy.”

In the early 2010s, Rohrabacher surprised many allies by emerging as a champion of Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. He presided over a hearing on Hungary’s well-documented descent into authoritarianism in which he claimed the regime was the victim of “malicious untruths and lies” by gay marriage and abortion rights supporters.

In the 1990s, Rohrabacher famously lost a beer-fueled arm-wrestling match to Putin – then the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg – in Kelly’s Irish Times, a D.C. dive bar. By the mid-2010s, he was championing the former KGB officer’s positions, opposing the expansion of NATO and economic sanctions for the murder of Russian corruption investigator Gregory Magnitsky, and even countering criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which he said was partly caused by U.S. meddling.

Rohrabacher, an enthusiastic ally of President Trump, lost re-election in November 2018 and announced, a few weeks later, that he would move to Maine. In May 2019, he joined the board of BudTrader.com, a national advertising platform for cannabis, and later became a special adviser to PharmaCielo, a Canadian cannabis oil manufacturer.

Despite his interest in cannabis, McCarrier and Boyce both said they have not seen any indication that Rohrabacher intends to get involved in the industry or industry policy in Maine.

As for his other passion, Rohrabacher isn’t dissatisfied with southern Maine.

“We were pleasantly surprised to find two fun surf breaks within 5 minutes of our home and have found the water temperature to be similar to coastal OC during the Summer and Fall months,” he said in his Christmas Day Facebook post. “Now that it’s winter, however, we expect to take up snowboarding nearby.”


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