So much for “Dirigo.” Instead of demonstrating how a legislative body can function well despite deep philosophical differences, it seems the Maine Legislature is striving to become Washington, D.C.’s mini-me.
The usual partisan huffing and puffing takes on a more ominous tone in the aftermath of the debacle at the U.S. Capitol, and draws out more dangerous rhetoric from the edges. Can’t we just get along? Disagree, sure, but get along?
Where is Mike Thibodeau when we need him? Thibodeau, you may remember, served in the state Senate for eight years (2010-18) and was Senate president from 2014-2018. A Republican from Winterport, Thibodeau dared to be a level-headed, fair-minded leader, refusing to yield to petty partisanship. The reward for his effort was to be labelled a RINO and scorned by many in his party. He lost a primary bid for governor after he was termed out of the Senate.
If we do not want to live in a country where it takes 25,000 armed guards to secure an inauguration, Thibodeau is just the kind of leader we should support, not disparage. In a recent news interview Thibodeau said the “challenge for every elected official, all across this country, at any level, is finding ways to restore trust of the general public.” Amen, brother.
It is unlikely the trust of the general public will be restored by politicians or their supporters issuing demands and counter-demands, thinly veiled or overt threats or incessant finger-pointing about who did what, when.
Republicans were irate that the Legislature had not met since March. Days into the new year, a group of Republican senators assembled at the State House to demand action. But here are some headlines from the summer: “Republicans in Maine refuse to participate in poll to determine special session” (News Center Maine). “Republicans stall efforts to reconvene Maine Legislature” (AP News). “Republican lawmakers again reject call for special session” (Press Herald).
All the while, Democrats, with a leadership trifecta in Augusta, stood peaceably by, arms wide open, urging their colleagues to break legislative bread with them in love and harmony. Or not. The words “political stunt” were uttered. Likewise, “cheap political points.” Then there were the “Trump/Collins” political signs that bloomed around the state during election season.
As for Democratic Governor Janet Mills, party notwithstanding, one must admit she has had her hands full in her second year in office. By nature, she is more inclined to focus on a problem than on the noise around it, but when pressed she can dish it out with the best of them and oh, was she pressed.
With an absolute absence of leadership at the federal level, Mills and the other Northeastern governors of both parties scrambled to regionalize efforts to combat the coronavirus. Plenty of Mainers fought her every step of the way. The heart of the battle is incomprehensible. A significant number of people insisted that some notion of “rights” and “freedom” superseded the lethal risks to their fellow Mainers and went merrily about their business unmasked.
Frustrated with the lack of federal response to the pandemic, Mills let fly after President Donald Trump’s visit to Maine last spring. “I have spent the better part of my career listening to loud men talk tough to disguise their weakness,” she said in a statement. She stuck to her course, keeping restrictions in place despite tremendous pushback from financially wounded businesses.
Strange that a battle over a deadly disease can break along partisan lines, but indeed it did. The Maine GOP put out the following on Twitter on Martin Luther King Jr. Day: “As Americans, we are all striving to follow in his footsteps & peacefully come together around a common American goal of freedom & opportunity for all.” When the sun came up the following day, peacefully coming together was in the rear–view mirror.
Too much energy is spent on sniping at each other and not enough on problem-solving. How often do we hear an actual policy debate rather than a list of grievances from one party against the other? It is said that when one does not have a case to make on the merits, attack the other person’s character, ability or intent.
Of the assault on the nation’s Capitol, Mike Thibodeau said: “If that isn’t the wake-up call, then what is it going to take?” Good question. Unfortunately, Republicans seem no more willing to follow Mike Thibodeau’s example now than they were when he was in office. Democrats are not above blame either.
The 130th Maine Legislature and its leaders have a choice. They can continue the downward spiral of partisan animosity that, in Washington, culminated in disaster. Or they can take their own words about bipartisanship and peaceful cooperation and show there is another way forward.
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.