BAR HARBOR — “People sometimes stop me, like in the aisle at Walmart,” State Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock) told a group at College of the Atlantic Tuesday night, “and say, ‘I’m glad to know that you’re down [in Augusta] fighting for us.’
“But ‘fighting’ is absolutely the wrong word,” he said. “We’re there to work. And if you don’t have allies across the aisle, you don’t have much chance of getting good policy across the finish line.”
The event was moderated by Professor Jamie McKown and presented as part of the college’s Thoreau Environmental Leaders Initiative. Langley and Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) were there to discuss the benefits of bipartisan cooperation. The two legislators, known in Augusta for their strong working relationship, have brokered policy breakthroughs on issues like education funding, charter schools and graduation requirements. And it’s not just horse trading, Hubbell was quick to point out. The finished policy product is always better for the careful study and compromise that goes into it, he said.
“This is a relationship business that we’re in,” Langley said. “We’re kinda like peace negotiators.”
For him, that means respectful, cooperative relationships with fellow legislators in both parties and in both the House and Senate. But it also means knowing and being connected with the communities he serves and listening to what matters to people there.
Remembering that each of his colleagues has those relationships, Hubbell said, helps him keep disagreements in perspective.
“It might be easy to say, if I don’t agree with Brian’s position on something, ‘Well, he’s an idiot,’” Hubbell said. “But then I would have to think that all the people who voted for him were wrong.”
Given the strong independent streak in Maine culture, McKown asked, why bother aligning with one of the two major political parties at all?
It may seem counterintuitive, but being clear about one’s values and priorities as articulated by a political party can actually make it easier to work across those lines, the legislators said.
“I remember one of the first times I met Brian [Hubbell],” Langley said, “here in Bar Harbor. We were talking outside of the chamber of commerce office, and he said ‘I’m a Democrat’s Democrat.’ I found that really helpful. It was helpful to have a sense of where he’s going to come at things from.”
Hubbell said he and Langley each enjoy a large measure of trust from state party leaders, even as they sometimes break ranks on their own votes.
“I think it would be a different challenge if we were independent actors,” Hubbell said. “There’s some utility in the process” of parties’ internal struggles to define their values and positions, he said.