June 18, 2018
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The debate goes on and that’s a good thing

By David Farmer

We like to imagine that every problem has a solution. You find the answer. You put it in place. You move on.

Public policy and government questions never really are settled.

They are like that argument you’ve been having with your wife for the past 12 years. There are breaks. Sometimes for months at a time. Maybe even a whole year. But the argument isn’t settled. Not by a long shot. Just try bringing it up. For fun. Tonight.

For a lot of conservatives, they thought the argument ended when they elected Gov. Paul LePage. “We won. Get over it. Do what he says. Do what we say.”

Some progressives would like to end today’s current political arguments in a different way.

In the wake of a number of decisions by Gov. LePage, including the one to remove a mural from the walls of the Maine Department of Labor, Rep. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth and others have begun an effort to allow voters to initiate a recall of an elected official.

Every good argument needs rules, and a recall would turn the rules in Maine on their heads.

Right now, there’s no opportunity for voters to remove a governor, short of impeachment. I certainly understand the frustration with the governor, but a recall would be bad for our state.

The satisfaction some on the left might feel from a recall of Gov. LePage, just a few months into his term, would be overwhelmed by the paralysis and harm it would cause.

Every governor, no matter the political party or the personality, could expect to face a recall. There will always be those angry enough to try.

While the online petition to create a recall has gained some momentum, such a change would undermine a political system in the state that has worked well. Energy would be better spent building a coalition that can successfully moderate the governor’s policies or produce election results in two years; not create a punishing cycle of elections and recalls.

Gov. LePage was elected with a plurality of votes, roughly the same percentage that re-elected Gov. John E. Baldacci to office for his second term.

Gov. LePage won, and he has earned his opportunity to try to govern.

But no election guarantees success.

With the proliferation of third-party and independent candidates in Maine, you can win an election with 38 percent, but if you don’t build a broader coalition, it’s very difficult — maybe impossible — to govern.

The governor and his followers cannot expect every Republican to follow along, as evidenced by the dissent voiced earlier this week by a group of state Senate Republicans, and he sure can’t expect the opposition to go along if he governs like 38 percent equals 98 percent.

The most conservative members of the Republican Party and the tea party are apoplectic about the mild scolding delivered by the senators, but majorities are built by bringing together diverse voices and convincing them that incremental, imperfect progress on your agenda is still progress.

The bold lines and ideological purity that can work for a minority party can destroy majorities.

On the left, we have our own blind spots. As someone who is pro-choice, I would like to believe the argument about abortion has been settled — at the ballot box and by the courts. But it has not.

Just as the right cannot expect opposition to their policies to go away, neither can the left.

We will continue to argue about abortion, taxes, guns, the size and role of government.

And then we’ll argue about it some more, just for good measure.

Our form of government is strong because it allows an outlet for political disagreement and does not cotton to edicts. It favors slow movement over revolution. Incremental change over upheaval.

And it gives everyone the opportunity for dissent.

When people disagree over politics, they aren’t whining or dead-enders. They haven’t missed the train, the bus or the plane. They aren’t babies. And they’re not going to get over it.

They’re just continuing an argument that started a long time ago, and that is critical for a healthy democracy.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas urged his father to fight death: “Do not go gentle into that good night … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

We can expect nothing less in politics, even if we might think the other side’s ideas are almost dead.

David Farmer is former deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci. A longtime journalist, he has been an editor and reporter in Maine, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. You may reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.

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