Avoiding the label of ‘crazy uncle’

In anticipation of the next U.S. Senate race, one political pundit already has stepped up to frame Angus King as a “talented salesman” with a “carefully crafted image” and a “very successful personal brand.”

Here we go.

It will be difficult to frame an attack on the thoughtful, amiable King. Critics had better pace themselves. It is a long way to November 2018.

Sen. King has been pilloried for calling himself an independent but caucusing with the Democrats. Unfortunately, that’s the way Washington works. At the state level, it is possible to walk a line that engages Republicans on some issues and Democrats on others, as King did when he was governor. In D.C., there is no path to productive service that does not go through the party structure.

King won broad support for his second gubernatorial term by virtue of his performance in his first. And he was a shoo-in for U.S. Senate after two terms in the Blaine House. After 12 years of constant public scrutiny, Mainers haven’t yet found a reason to turn their backs on King.

He has given thoughtful consideration to the challenging issues facing our country today. He has made himself available to his constituents, not just to talk but to listen. With one challenger already declared, there is a race on. But opponents to King will have to come up with more than the fact that he used to be a Democrat.

It is a sad commentary on political life that an elected official who tries to simply focus on the problems facing our state or country is considered a masquerading phony and a practitioner of “political fakery.” Who will be willing to run for office given this level of vituperation? The egomaniacal and the obtuse, that’s who.

Maine Sen. Mike Thibodeau, now in his third year as Senate president, has modeled the kind of behavior we long for in our elected officials. At least we say we do. He has been fair-minded, treating his Democratic colleagues in the Senate with respect. He recently called out his own party members for their vitriolic attacks on Democrats at a time when “we’ve got problems to solve.”

Thibodeau recently was reported to have said his party ought not to be “trying to convince the public that this place is full of corruption and people who aren’t honest brokers,” but instead “making sure we deliver the best state government we can with the limited resources we have … .” He urged his party to forego the inflammatory and divisive rhetoric that is an obstacle to problem solving.

It is up to Maine voters to decide whether to reward the efforts of legislative leaders like Thibodeau who are trying to bridge legitimate policy differences in a civil and productive fashion, or to celebrate those who would sooner resort to headline-catching rhetoric that makes it impossible for the parties to collaborate.

Speaking of headline-catching, how about Rep. Larry Lockman’s bill to “Protect Political Speech and Prevent Climate Change Policy Profiling?” Huh? The bill would purportedly protect an individual from discrimination “with regard to grants, contracts and employment” due to that person’s “climate change policy preferences.”

Translation: if you disagree with the entire universe of reputable scientists and think that climate change is not real or not caused by humans, you cannot be “discriminated against.” Interesting as far as it goes. But what about those who think the earth is flat or believe in the tooth fairy? Shouldn’t they be protected as well?

What if that denier was your child’s teacher? As a parent hoping your child will be prepared to function in the 21st century, how would you feel about raising a family in Maine? If a handful of climate change deniers must be accommodated to provide “balance” on what we teach our kids, why teach the scientific method?

Creating a hypothesis and testing it, analyzing data and drawing conclusions is the basis on which we advance knowledge. This is not the same as bringing a snowball to the U.S. Senate as proof that climate change is not real.

Yes, one senator really did that.

The Associated Press story about Lockman’s bill was picked up by media outlets around the country and abroad. Never mind our clean air and water, our safe streets and beautiful environment. Maine is a hotbed of protozoan thinking, a nice place to visit but … .

Our campaign to attract young people to live and work in Maine is fighting a losing battle in a state with a reputation for peculiar thinking. There are plenty of obstacles to basing a hot, new start-up in Maine without adding a Luddite mentality to the mix.

An increasingly immobilizing degree of political rancor and a penchant for thinking reminiscent of the Dark Ages are not the ingredients from which we can bake a new Maine. Google the bill and see who’s getting a chuckle as this petition to add climate change disbelievers to those in need of civil rights protections is debated. Has Maine become the crazy uncle of the United States? Not good, people, not good.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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