State of Maine: Dem platform bites off more than they can chew

Last weekend, Democrats held their state convention, featuring a parade of candidates for congressional and state offices lengthy enough that they were hard-pressed to get them all on stage in a single weekend.

Between the open gubernatorial seat and their consuming desire to win back the 2nd Congressional District, the Democrats’ energy was running high. Their draft party platform going into the event left no stone unturned.

Ten “policies and principles” covered the waterfront from “economic, racial and social justice” to “affordable health care,” from “quality public education” to accountable government, individual liberties, human and civil rights, climate change, global peace, support for veterans, a “fair, progressive system of taxes” and “sustainable economic growth and job creation.” The Democrats were out to get it all.

For nine abundantly detailed pages, Democrats enumerated what they support, though not necessarily how to achieve it. Some of the goals are broad (“safe, sanitary, affordable housing”) and some are narrow (“giving priority to pension obligations at full value in corporate bankruptcy settlements”).

Some were longstanding goals (universal health care), some of them raised new intentions (“prohibition of television advertising of prescription drugs”). Some were vague (“the state has a primary role in subsidizing the cost of higher education”) and some were specific (honoring the “state budgetary commitment to pay 55 percent of all public school education costs”).

The platform supports a “state constitutional amendment that provides a procedure by which voters can remove a governor from office,” lengthening legislative term limits, medical use of marijuana, citizens’ rights to privacy, habeas corpus, full constitutional equality for women, the dignity of immigrants, renewable energy, public transportation, the Gulf of Maine habitat, woodlands and farmlands, and increased gun safety.

The Democrats oppose torture (May we suggest they begin with a shorter platform?), “right to work” laws, “censorship and control of the media,” “corporate personhood and money as speech,” institutional racism, “predatory economic speculation and lending practices,” airborne pollution, out-of-state waste and “oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Maine.”

To say the platform is ambitious is an understatement. By page 7, even the most devoted reader is gasping for breath. But keep reading. The party is about to enumerate its goals for “global peace, security and justice.”

Peace in the world, national security and a strong United Nations are part of the agenda. Maine Democrats will be keeping an eye on the U.S. defense force and the intelligence service (no undeclared or pre-emptive wars, please). Not only do the Dems want to end terrorism and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, their platform is granular enough to support a “mutually agreed upon two state solution between Israel and Palestine.”

Mind you, many of the “policies and principles” in the Democratic platform might be widely, if not universally supported. (That’s “many,” not “all.”) But holy cow! The exhaustive (and exhausting) list leaves one wondering how serious the Democrats are about actually making progress. It’s just too much.

Swimming! They want to make state waters safe for swimming! Swimmers of Maine will rejoice, for sure, but a far shorter list might have left the reader with a sense that Democrats know what they are about and stand a chance of accomplishing some of it. As it stands, faith in the Democrats’ ability to deliver dwindles with each passing page.

The party had scheduled adoption of the platform for last Saturday morning. By the end of the weekend, there was no report on whether Democrats adopted the platform as drafted, debated it or revised it. Though there are occasional floor fights over platform planks, most of the time, adoption of the platform is a big ho-hum.

It is the candidate speeches that generate the excitement, but there doesn’t seem to be too much of that, either. The D’s have fielded a good crop of wannabes, with history and style more than policy being their distinguishing features. Democrats will be able to choose between left-ish and left-er on June 12.

Will they put all their eggs in the liberal basket and hope that the much ballyhooed “Democratic wave” will float them into office? Or will they nominate a candidate who can lay claim to the middle ground, hoping to draw sufficient votes statewide to seize the day?

There are some indications that Democrats don’t get it. At the federal level, the oft-repeated desire to “give the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi” is a cardinal sign. Pelosi is 110 years old (give or take), and though she was a competent speaker, a canny politician and a superb fundraiser, she is “then.” This is “now.” If the Democratic Party cannot become more forward-looking, including promoting new — and young — leadership, they will squander the opportunity presented by the current political angst. The ranks of those dropping out of the party system are growing. Parties, take heed.

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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