Here is a parable for the new year: There is trouble among the fruit. Fruit are being mean, ganging up on each other. The action escalates: “The banana got hypnotized and killed the lime. The apples were not happy about that. But they did not do anything. They were too wise. The moral is, don’t make bad worse.”
This fable, spun by a 9-year-old and complete with crayon drawings of deceased limes and mournful apples, gives us something to think about in these fractious political times. How easy it is to make bad worse.
With the holidays behind us, the political campaigns of 2018 will blossom forth. Gubernatorial primaries are a mere six months away. Candidates who have been dipping toes into the water will now plunge in. Ads will showcase adorable families and patriotic images. Pleas for money will multiply.
Democrats and Republicans have a plethora of choices, 12 for the Democrats and five for the Republicans. Unfortunately, the primaries are designed for the party base, those who are the most ideologically steeped in their party’s values. If only the partisans would think more about general election electability, but no. They will convince themselves that the party’s darling will overpower the field next November. They will make bad worse.
Members of the major parties would do well to remember that there are more registered independent (unenrolled) voters than there are D’s or R’s, and the average independent is not looking for a candidate who toes the party line. Not only that, there are some party members who are in the market for a candidate other than “same old same old.”
Yet the outcome of a primary election is most likely to be a candidate sanctioned by party leadership, and the sanctioned candidate is most likely to be someone who has already served time under the party label, probably in the legislature. The trouble is that, having done time in the system, those candidates tend to be perpetuators of that system, a system that many in our country have begun to reject.
The clichéd rhetoric, the tired imagery, the nonstop ads, the round-the-clock fundraising all seems so over. We are longing for something fresh, something dynamic, something energizing. Something different. Three of the six Republicans running for governor have served in the legislature, and five of the 12 Democrats have. Good people all, but most of them do not have records that indicate an ability to reshape our state’s future. At least three candidates, all native Mainers, hold promise.
Republican Mike Thibodeau shows signs of having something unique to offer as governor. As president of the Maine Senate for two terms while the House was under Democratic control and the chief executive was an unpredictable and often unpleasant adversary, Thibodeau exhibited strength and integrity in leadership.
He was praised by his Democratic colleagues in the Senate for his respectful and straightforward treatment of the minority party during his first term as president. He pressed toward compromise that enabled passage of a state budget. He rebuked his own party for personal attacks on Democrats, and Republican Gov. Paul LePage for “inappropriate comments” that “damage our public institutions.”
Thibodeau has shown both a willingness and an ability to tread a different path in legislative leadership. There is no doubt that he values his party’s principles, but he also values accomplishment and worked hard to achieve it. He was pragmatic and patient and made the most of what was a challenging era in Augusta. If he were to exert the same leadership as governor that he has as Senate president, his inside knowledge of the legislature would be an asset.
Another candidate who could turn legislative experience to an advantage is independent Terry Hayes. Hayes dropped her Democratic affiliation just after she termed out of office. She was nominated by Republicans to be state treasurer and defeated the incumbent Democrat in a rare bipartisan vote for the post. She is the first independent treasurer to serve in Maine’s history. With a focus on civility, bipartisanship and problem-solving, and a track record in government and education, Hayes will appeal to voters looking for a qualified candidate with a new approach.
A Democrat bringing something new to the table is Adam Cote of Sanford. A veteran of three active duty deployments, Cote was seasoned by a run against the solidly popular Rep. Chellie Pingree in 2008, distinguishing himself in the race though he lost the primary. His focus is on jobs. One commentator who saw Cote in action in the military said this: “If the Democrats are smart, and if they want to win a race, this might just be the way they want to lean.” Amen, brother.
You remember the definition of insanity, right? The one about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Don’t make bad worse. There are choices to be made in the primary elections that could offer us a slate of general election candidates that would really excite us. Do us all a favor and investigate the candidates with something different to offer.