State of Maine: Just say no to negative campaigning

Having passed Election Day 2019, a ho-hum if ever there was one, we are now entering the countdown to the “real” election when the whole nine yards is on the table. The president, all members of Congress (the House, not the Senate) and all Maine legislators will be on the ballot.

The electorate is already being bludgeoned by the major campaigns, and will continue to be until November 2020 rolls around. Nothing we can say or do will persuade candidates to turn down the volume.

There is one tiny request we will send out, hoping it will fall on undead ears. Maine Democrats, stop with the “Moscow Mitch.” It went out in an email from the Maine Democratic Party in October. It isn’t funny; it’s juvenile.

Worse yet, it is an imitation of the man you love to hate, he-who-shall-not-be-named, the inventor of the inane nickname aimed at humiliating his opponents. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, is that really what you’re after? Geez, take the high road, could you?

Campaign research leads to all sorts of theories about what works and what doesn’t. Hey, people do that for a living and there is a lot at stake. Campaign advisors have to be good at their jobs, right?

Maybe at the national level one must resort to the messaging, the “oppo” research, the “fat cat” TV ads and the tearing down of opposing candidates, their families, their reputations.

What if, at the state level, we just said no? What if candidates simply went out and talked about their plans for our state’s future? Must they vilify their opponents to make the case for their own superiority?

Generally, the parties do the dirty work. We don’t hear House Speaker Sarah Gideon talking about Moscow Mitch, or Sen. Susan Collins mocking or belittling opponents. The bare-knuckle stuff comes out of party headquarters, leaving the candidate able to retain a little more dignity.

Utterances from the party are not necessarily coordinated with the candidates, and in recent elections in Maine more than one legislative candidate has been blindsided by party tactics at both the national and state level that left the candidates deeply disturbed.

To what extent do we share the responsibility for the use of low-minded tactics? We do like to be entertained, and though many are paying close attention to politics just now, is it for policy substance or for the spectacle?

At a local coffee shop last week two people had their heads together, downloading a local ballot so they could see what was up for a vote and think about how they would mark their ballots. That’s encouraging. But how many of us are doing that?

Since this has become a rant, here is another pet peeve. During the fracas going on in Washington, many times the press has reported anonymous comments from members of Congress. The reason for the anonymity, according to the media, was so those offering their opinions could “speak candidly.”

Think about that. What does that imply about what they say when their name is attached? Pardon the cynicism, but doesn’t that suggest they are being less than candid when they are speaking on the record? These are not any old people; they are the people we have elected to represent us. And these elected representatives will only speak candidly when they can do so anonymously. Holy cow.

What would happen if a candidate dared to run without handlers, managers and trainers? What if he or she simply said, “Here’s who I am and here’s what I think”? It was not all that long ago that legislative races in Maine, at least, were just like that. With the possible exception of the Portland area, politicking was a low-key affair.

It still could be. If candidates trusted their guts instead of their advisors, we might be able to get an unvarnished look at who we might elect. As long as the parties hold themselves out as the arbiters of how an election should be run, we are going to get the kind of pre-packaged campaigns that are driving us all nuts these days.

Look at the Maine Democratic Party website. You will find inspiring language about party ideals and values. But check out the online store and you will find a large proportion of negative merchandise aimed at defeating Sen. Collins. None of it says who we should vote for; instead, it only says who we should vote against.

Of course, the Dems can’t go positive until the primary is over. Couldn’t they do an “any of the above” promotion giving Democrats their options in the primary? Apparently not. “Defeat Collins” is the main theme and shall be for months to come. That’s not enough.

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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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