Hancock County Sen. Brian Langley took a quiet moment at his restaurant early in the morning to sit down and talk. Later in the day, the place would be hopping, but at the moment, there was just the whisper of the Union River going by at the edge of the lawn.
“I don’t like it when people say they are going to Augusta to fight,” he said. “I go there to work. Not to fight.” He cited as mentors legislators known for their efforts at consensus: Kevin Raye, Chris Rector, Tom Saviello and Pat Flood.
A Republican, Langley said a number of his closest friends in Augusta are those with whom he disagrees the most. Those are the people he seeks out to hear the other side of each debate, quoting a speaker he once heard say “you have to farm for dissent,” that is, to actively look for it and work toward resolution.
Like other colleagues, Langley also has turned to the nation’s founding documents to better understand the appropriate role of government. Much has changed since those early days. But in one way, it is the same. “There may not have been an internet then,” said Langley, “but they nailed human nature.”
Langley has experience in two areas on which Maine’s future heavily depends. He was a teacher for several decades. And he now owns and operates a small business, the Union River Lobster Pot restaurant. He has lived the challenges inherent in each occupation.
He credited his service on the Marine Resources Committee for inspiring an “ecosystem” approach to his work. “I look out at the river now, and I have some understanding of the part each species plays: stripers, seals, osprey, cormorants, ducks, alewives.”
He learned a hard lesson early in his service when he put a bill forward with insufficient feedback from fishermen. “I got killed,” he recalled. Now he has a “kitchen cabinet” of constituents, his “hometown lobbyists” with whom he talks frequently, well before he begins to develop new legislation.
He worries about the health of fish stocks and factors such as warming ocean water temperatures that could impact Maine’s fisheries negatively. The lobster fishery looks really healthy right now,” he said, “but it tanked in southern New England. We should be thinking about a plan in case stocks start to decline here.”
His other policy area has been education. He has served on that committee since he entered the Senate. Thinking well beyond the immediate problem is a hallmark of Langley’s approach to his work. He has delved into programs all over the country to seek models that could be useful here.
With his years of experience in the classroom, Langley has been an advocate for creative approaches. His work, focused on student success, is his “quiet way to try to rebuild the middle class” by preparing all Maine kids for high-wage, high-demand jobs.
The driving force behind the Bridge Year program, Langley has gotten rewarding feedback from students able to obtain 30 college credits at about one third of the cost before they graduated from high school. That first Bridge Year class is now entering the workforce. Said one graduate, “I have a degree, no debt and a dream job.”
Part of the success of Bridge Year is its reliance on a “cohort” approach. The students in each year’s class spend formal and informal time together and come to rely on each other. Some of them even get together to study. All this, Langley believes, has positive consequences. “These cohorts of kids helping each other toward specific education and work goals are less likely to be susceptible to drug abuse and other negative behaviors.”
He has adopted an incremental theory on breeding success. “You have to get one in the win column before you can have two in the win column,” said Langley. Start with something simple and meet the standard of excellence. Then step it up. True pride and confidence come from this.
Langley would like to slow the pace of innovation in education. New legislators bring new ideas, but teachers are being overwhelmed by successive waves of educational initiatives before the previous one has been fully implemented. “Steady the course,” he said, “and let teachers teach.”
As he contemplates the possibility of a fourth and final term, Langley is making a bid for leadership, a position he thinks would enable him to be more of a change agent. He would like to see better communication within his caucus and to provide more help to new legislators with “how to run a committee and where the landmines are.”
When his time in Augusta is over, he would like to see a “functioning organization that is smoother, better and more efficient.” He is persuaded that all progress in the legislature comes one step at a time. “Twenty small bills can get more done than one big, splashy policy proposal with a million moving parts.”
His overall goal for his time in the legislature is simple, he said. It’s to “leave it better than I found it.”