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Maverick Maine charts its own course on key issues

State has become the nation's top reform lab

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Folks in Maine take great pride in bucking conventional wisdom - in taking feisty and independent stances on everything from war to politics to health care. And even breakfast food.

Back in 1839, for instance, Maine risked losing a big chunk of territory to the British. So it took the unusual step of declaring war on Britain. It's the only time a state has threatened to attack a foreign power.

Maine was also the first state to elect an independent governor - and to send one woman to both houses of Congress. As for food, Yankees here still consider apple pie a perfectly nutritious breakfast item. (Try explaining that to Californians.)

Now this independent streak is leading to big policy differences with the Bush administration, differences that symbolize growing gaps between Washington and many states.

• Maine recently became the first state to pass a law to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. It's quite different from President Bush's approach to the issue.

• It was the first state to seek a waiver from Mr. Bush's No Child Left Behind education policy - and is now part of a

wider rebellion on the issue.

• Prompted by federal inaction, Maine recently passed a first-in-the-nation plan to provide affordable health insurance to every resident within five years - a costly idea at a time of big state budget crises. The plan is called Dirigo Health after Maine's Latin motto, which means, "I lead."

"It's a kind of cranky independence," says former Gov. Angus King of Mainers' approach to life. He served two terms as Maine's second independent governor.

A century of solitude

Mr. King observes that for nearly 100 years, almost every worker was either a fisherman, farmer, or logger. "Those are more or less solitary pursuits," he says. That forges individualism and inventiveness - and even an affinity for duct tape. Last year two Maine teens used the stuff to make a tux and gown for their prom.

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