It seems unkind to intrude upon your turkey dinner with politics, so let us look for something to be thankful for in these post-election days. Our Democratic brothers and sisters are now firmly in control of both the House and Senate in Augusta. It is always a cause for jubilation within a party when it shifts from minority to majority, as Democrats have in the Senate. There are many political ramifications, but majority status also brings a major upgrade in Augusta real estate.
The suite of offices for the Senate majority party is spacious, if not palatial. In keeping with the modest beauty of the State House, the offices are nicely appointed with historic portraits, fine woodwork and, in the Senate president’s office, a fireplace. They do not rival the stunning digs in bigger states, but they have dignity and history in equal measure.
What they have that makes the majority offices so prized is space. The president’s office has an anteroom with desks for staff, and an inner sanctum that can hold the entire majority caucus for morning meetings. There is an inner inner sanctum too, a small office off the main room, the door frame of which still bears the scratch marks of Governor Percival Baxter’s beloved Irish setter, Garry II.
There are offices for majority leadership and for the rank and file to have a bit of space to duck out of the public eye, work or make phone calls.
Life is a bit more spartan for the minority party. Their offices are smaller and their leadership office is barely big enough to host morning caucus meetings. It will be cold comfort that the reduction in minority numbers to just 14 seats means a little more breathing room in their HQ.
At the House end of the 3rd floor it is a similar situation. The Speaker’s office is big and comfy, with a warren of offices for members and staff located on the mid-level between the 2nd and 3rd floors. The less-spacious digs for the minority party will be less cramped with a minority head count around 55 (pending recounts), a big reduction from the 70 seats they held last session.
The luxury of space, even just a little more space, is a proxy for the mental space the majority party occupies and the relative ease and comfort in which the majority functions. Behind closed doors there will be plenty of exulting on the one side and lamenting on the other.
More important to the rest of us is how the majority performs in the leadership role. It is not much fun to be in the minority, relegated for the most part to being reactive rather than pressing forward on one’s own agenda. Sins against the minority pile up, and when the tide turns and that minority assumes power, the temptation to exact vengeance is almost irresistible.
Retiring Senate president Mike Thibodeau was an exception. Even then-minority Democrats could not fault him for his management of the body. He treated the minority with courtesy, striving for consensus whenever it could be found. Sad to say, his own party may not have appreciated it. His bid for governor was short-lived; he yielded to more ideological opponents before reaching the primary.
So here is a request of the new majority in the Senate, and of the expanded one in the House. We are longing for fair play and decency in government. The siren song of lording it over the vanquished is powerful. Resist it.
Just because the majority has the votes does not mean they should roll the minority at every opportunity. We have seen what happens when a majority pushes policy through without participation by the minority. It may be delicious in the moment, but it is a short-lived triumph.
Instead, work with the minority. Do your level best to reach consensus whenever you can and bring as many minority members along as is possible on the issues of the day. Yes, you have the votes to prevail and a governor likely to be less inclined to wield the veto pen. And yes, working toward consensus can be frustrating and time-consuming. But it’s worth it.
In the policy committees, the heart of the legislative process, legislators from both parties are face to face for long hours of work. It is the best opportunity to develop relationships across party lines and between chambers. Treating the minority with respect will yield dividends in public support and produce better legislation.
Remember that those minority members did what the majority did to get elected. They knocked on doors, listened to constituents, and developed as keen a sense of what is important to the voters as the majority did. Honor that perspective, and work as partners, not adversaries. We, the people, would be thankful.