State of Maine: Legislature not the only place to serve Maine’s interests

Not every citizen who wants to serve the state is destined to be elected. Some of them do not have the right stuff. Whether it is the charisma to be elected — or the money — or the ability to compete with better known or better loved candidates, not all who are called are chosen.

For anyone pondering a run for office, there is a chasm between the service they anticipate and the reality of being in office. Despite the best intentions there are many obstacles to fulfilling a would-be office-holder’s dreams.

Most candidates have a suite of issues they hope to address, or debates to which they want to contribute. The reality is that the time they hoped to devote to those causes is soon hoovered up by constituents or leadership, committee assignments they did not want or lengthy floor debates about which they do not give a fig.

Their fierce passion for early childhood education or tax relief or access to health care is diluted by the need to make decisions about possessing wildlife in captivity or peer-to-peer car sharing insurance or the length of semi-trailers.

Does anyone run for office because of a desire to amend the qualifications for the state nuclear safety inspector? To prohibit door-to-door marketing of retail energy supply? Unlikely. Yet these issues have a way of presenting themselves to unsuspecting legislators and before they know it their dreams of promoting local agriculture have been overcome by 2 a.m. worries about the qualifications for the state nuclear safety inspector.

A change agent working outside elected office has the great advantage of being able to pick and choose where he or she wants to focus energy and take aim at a particular problem, forsaking all others. This singularity of effort may produce greater results than the collective hopes of an entire Legislature.

Evidence of this comes in the form of Shawn Moody, who made two unsuccessful bids for governor, in 2010 as an independent and in 2018 as a Republican. An unassuming fellow, he captured a chunk of Maine hearts as a plain-spoken, down-to-earth sort who sounded more like a neighbor than a politician.

This likeability factor did not translate into votes, but Moody has gone on to prove that his aspirations for his home state were more than skin deep. He has created the Blue Collar Scholarship Foundation to support students and instructors in the manufacturing trades. The website says they are “challenging the persistent belief that a traditional college degree is the only answer for our youth.”

Moody should know. He has a made-in-Maine backstory, starting an auto body shop in Gorham as a high school senior that grew into a flourishing, multi-location operation with hundreds of employees.

This month his foundation joined forces with the Maine Manufacturers Association to ramp up the program. The effort addresses the difficulty manufacturers describe in finding skilled workers and provides opportunities for Mainers to prepare for technical jobs at a living wage. These are workers Moody has described as “good people that want to work with their hands and want to develop their technical skills and ability…”

This is just the sort of endeavor any governor would be proud to point to as evidence of their ability to do good, but all too often initiatives like these get mired down in political battles or funding fights. If a Shawn Moody is willing to tackle it, help to fund it and enlist other private partners, the program can be up and running in less time than it takes to run it through a legislative cycle.

As a teenager, Shawn Moody took notice of the fact that people’s cars broke down and needed to be fixed. He knew how to do that. The courage to try as well as determination, persistence and yes, likeability, were essential. Perhaps above all was clarity of purpose.

In contrast, legislation is often vague and conceptual. Under consideration this year in Augusta is LD 1812, An Act to Make Necessary Changes to State Law. The bill, like its LD number, is an overture — a “concept draft.” The concept is “state law” and the title covers the entire body of state statute. It seems that if changes are “necessary,” one or two of them might have been enumerated, no?

LD 1814 proposes to “amend the laws regarding the Legislature.” Another concept draft, one might well ask “What laws?” The proposal simply says “certain laws.” Does the sponsor know which laws he intends to amend, or is he just planning to rummage around until he finds laws that are amendment-worthy?

As an agent of change, Shawn Moody may be able to do a lot more for Maine outside of state government than he could have from within.

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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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