State of Maine: Candidate charts his own path

Another candidate has entered the election for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, and this one brings something new to the party — the Republican Party. The candidate is John Hiatt, currently serving as treasurer of Penobscot County. He is the fourth Republican to enter the primary against Democratic incumbent Jared Golden, and a self-described “underdog.”

Two of his opponents indeed have a leg up when it comes to name recognition. Adrienne Bennett was the long-suffering spokeswoman for former Governor Paul LePage, maintaining an unshakable calm in the maelstrom that surrounded public appearances by her boss. She anticipated support from the Governor for her 2nd CD bid, but a statement to that effect has not been forthcoming.

Former state senator Eric Brakey is also in the race. Brakey has ventured down the road not taken, at least by those who hope to succeed in politics. In a whiplash-inducing about-face for his district, he succeeded Sen. John Cleveland, a soft-spoken, earnest, and particularly industrious legislator.

Brakey was state director for Rand Paul’s presidential campaign and head of Liberty PAC, a libertarian political action committee. He served two terms in the Maine Senate, his first Senate race marked by a tempest in a tea party when footage of a commercial in which Brakey appeared dancing in what is variously described as a “Brazilian bikini” or “underwear” went viral. Meh. He won anyway.

He next made a bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), which did not go well. King was the majority winner in a three-way race; Brakey won just 35 percent of the vote.

Another candidate, Dale Crafts, is not exactly a household name. Crafts is a businessman and four-term state legislator from Lisbon Falls who plays up his similarities to President Donald Trump. Gun rights, abortion restrictions and opposition to Medicaid expansion are among his policy positions. But probably the biggest thing he has going for him is the support of Governor LePage. Like Bennett, he claimed that support when he announced, but in this instance the Governor came through.

Now comes John Hiatt, who is taking a different approach. He has taken on his party and his opponents for their unqualified support of President Trump. He adheres to most Republican values but says the 2005 audio of the President’s comments about women were a bridge too far, persuading him to vote for the Democrat in the race.

This is different. Now we have a conservative Republican with the integrity to draw a line in the sand about how far he will go with another politician’s moral proclivities. Does it seem like a small thing? It is not. It is a really, really big thing.

For the most part, Republicans have stuck with the President despite — well, you know. There are all sorts of acrobatics performed by those who believe there are some good economic outcomes from the current administration, and they are willing to explain away or overlook the President’s other behaviors.

Now comes John Hiatt, an avowed conservative who dares to assert that his political views can be separated from an individual he considers not worthy of blind devotion. He is a “proud Republican.” He is an anti-abortion Catholic. He is also in favor of universal health care and background checks for gun owners.

In other words, he is a man who has decided to think for himself. Is that a fatal flaw in the current political climate? Could be. Especially when he had the generosity to call his opponent an individual of “great integrity.”

His policy positions may put him beyond the pale for Democrats, but at the very least he deserves our respect for being willing to bring some nuance to the race. “Here is what I believe” followed by “Here I will not go.”

He is late to the race and underfunded. He bested a three-term incumbent in the race for his current position with the county, and in the same election won a seat on the Bangor School Committee. Hiatt is also public about his autism, an attribute that many of his constituents share.

Underlying his campaign is his decision to reflect in his campaign the values and opinions he holds in his private life. It is tragic that this is a novelty in public discourse. Whether or not John Hiatt gets your vote, surely he can command your respect.

Differences between the two major political parties can be the subject of honest debate. Neither has a corner on what is best for America. But the unquestioning adherence to party dogma, regardless of the actions of those elected to represent it, is hard to swallow for many voters. A candidate like John Hiatt who is willing to speak his own mind is worthy of consideration by the electorate.

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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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