What happened to kindness in Maine’s politics?
Maine used to be known as a kind, neighborly, decent state. We used to be known for the integrity of our elected officials, regardless of political party. We still are those things, and we still elect those people, but there is a long and dark shadow hanging over us these past seven years that makes it hard to see.
Something bad happened to us. Paul LePage happened to us. Winning on a split-ticket minority vote, suddenly we became represented by the type of vulgar extremist that would have Margaret Chase Smith spinning in her grave. And he quickly set to poisoning our politics and our political discourse to the point that nowadays Maine is barely recognizable.
Luckily, Maine has held on to enough of it’s identity to send Governor LePage a legislature that keeps him from carrying out his worst ideas, and manages to pass the most urgent legislation over his relentless vetoes. Democrats, independents and a few brave Republicans have stood up to him and done what they can to prevent Maine from sliding backwards, and even move us forward a little bit against the odds.
LePage’s hatred for this legislature is no secret. Rather than accepting compromise as part of his job of governing, he has refused to accept anything less than everything he wants, issuing a record number of vetoes, resulting in gridlock. He has aggressively attacked Democratic leaders, going so far as to use the power of his office to interfere in the outside employment of the Democratic Speaker of the House. He also attacks Republicans who occasionally disagree with him, or act in a bipartisan spirit to pass needed legislation over his vetoes. He has openly stated that he is now focused on the November election, trying to defeat those legislators that have crossed him and elect more party-line Republicans who will vote in lockstep with him.
I got a taste of this recently while reading my usually amiable and enjoyable local paper. Our State Senator, Chris Johnson, writes a weekly column updating his constituents on what’s going on in the legislature. Senator Johnson is the kind of hard-working public representative who does things like that. He also holds weekly open sessions at local cafes to make himself available to constituents. He is soft-spoken, respectful, incredibly thorough and knowledgeable, and therefore well liked in his district. He is currently serving his third term, and running for a fourth.
Apparently, he is also the kind of legislator that Governor LePage has set his sights on. For the past two issues of our local paper, Governor LePage has personally submitted long, angry letters-to-the-editor attacking Senator Johnson. It seems odd and a tad inappropriate for a Governor to be attacking a local legislator, even of the other party on such a personal and hyperbolic way. Usually governors take a more dignified approach of helping their preferred candidate if they get involved in local campaigning at all, rather than leveling these kinds of personal attacks against the candidate they oppose. Leave it to Governor LePage to lower the bar again.
The content of the letters also diminishes our discourse. It seems ironic that the state that once boasted the only Senator brave enough to stand up to the bullying, accusatory scourge of McCarthyism, now has a Governor who embodies it. You may have noticed how Governor LePage has recently begun peppering his attacks on opponents with the label “socialist.” In his first letter attacking Senator Johnson, he uses it no less than four times. Rather than engaging in a respectful debate about policy disagreements, LePage prefers to misuse the word “socialist” and stigmatize his opponents with slanderous, intellectually dishonest rhetoric.
Above and beyond that, the tone of the letters is angry and sarcastic, with numerous direct insults and character smears. It saddens me that Maine’s political discourse has sunk to this new low. I hope it saddens other Mainers too, regardless of party. And I hope we don’t grant Governor LePage his wish of a rubber-stamp legislature for his extreme agenda. Less than two years, Maine, and we can go back to being the kind, neighborly, decent state we used to be. In the mean time, let’s hang on to our kind, neighborly, decent legislators as a bulwark against this shameful onslaught of unkindness and indecency.
Photo via Andi Parkinson.
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