The withdrawal of Senate President Mike Thibodeau from the gubernatorial race weakens the Republican field and diminishes the contest. The remaining four Republicans in the primary race, if not cut from the LePage cloth, are all seeking to win favor with Gov. Paul LePage’s base.
Thibodeau was different. Though he may well have been aligned with the governor on many policy issues, he was radically different in style. In today’s political climate, that may have spelled his doom for the primaries, but what have we lost with Thibodeau’s withdrawal?
Though tagged as a conservative, Thibodeau exercised the type of leadership that is otherwise sorely lacking in state politics, and certainly on the national scene. A pragmatist, Thibodeau knew he had to work with a Democratic majority in the House. To make this possible, he established a respectful relationship with the Senate minority, giving Democrats a fair say in Senate proceedings.
He resisted the governor’s most polarizing positions, and most importantly, he rejected, by his example, the governor’s bomb-throwing style. He conducted the operation of the Senate with dignity, acknowledging his party’s majority status but mindful of the minority point of view.
For all that we say we wish our state and federal legislative bodies would cooperate more, compromise more and get more done, we do enjoy rallying to a firebrand. Thibodeau’s style may not have been that which gets people into the streets, but it has been the type of leadership that kept the lid on through many a challenging day and averted catastrophe when the chips were down.
Candidate evaluation by the electorate usually has to do with issues. Where is a candidate on gun safety? Tax reform? Abortion? Clean energy? Given that no candidate will reflect every last one of our concerns, maybe we should put more emphasis on traits like character and leadership skills.
Thibodeau attributed his withdrawal from the contest to his other responsibilities, including his role as Senate president, his business and his family. Those are surely considerations, but he also had to be aware that he was far from being heir to the LePage legacy.
So now we have nothing left on the Republican side except those heirs. Mary Mayhew, a Democrat until 2014, is touting her conservative bona fides after slashing away at the Health and Human Services budget, leaving many vulnerable Mainers without services, and opening the state to charges of misallocating federal funds.
Ken Fredette was the head of the “stand by your man” coalition in the House of Representatives, persuading his caucus members to flip votes and sustain gubernatorial vetoes time and again, after voting in favor of those same bills just days before.
After running for governor in 2010 as an independent, Shawn Moody has been picked up by LePage staff and turned into a right-wing conservative in the LePage style. He went from an appealing “man of the people” to a shill for LePage policies.
State Sen. Garrett Mason is the only Republican candidate for governor running as a publicly funded Clean Elections candidate, despite his efforts to eliminate those public funds from the budget in 2017. Mason also sponsored a measure to abolish the requirement to report major campaign spending in the last two weeks of a campaign, screening that spending from public view until the election was over.
The governor, with whom all four Republican candidates are now aligning themselves, is reaching the climax of his gubernatorial fireworks show. There were pops and bangs and whizzes all along, with accompanying “eeks” and ohhhs” and “egads” from the crowd. Now we have reached the finale, and it is a constant barrage of thunderous, ear-shattering explosions.
He lambasted the legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee by mail and followed up with a vitriolic personal appearance during which he called committee claims “fictional and outrageous.” He snapped at a committee member, calling him a “hypocrite” for welcoming the governor to the committee meeting. He called comments from the committee “disrespectful” and “disgusting” and demanded of one member: “Are you calling me a liar?”
In a winning bid for another 15 minutes of fame in the national spotlight, LePage called a federal judge an “imbecile” for allowing a lawsuit to proceed in which our governor’s stay at a Trump-owned hotel in Washington, D.C., is being used as evidence of the president using his office to enhance profit at his business.
So let us mourn the passing of Thibodeau’s candidacy. He pursued Republican policy with a leadership style rooted in respect and consideration for various points of view, and a willingness to compromise to move his agenda forward. Is that what we want, or would we rather fight?