June 24, 2018
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A compromise worth praise

By David Farmer

Earlier this week, Democrats and Republicans beat their swords into plowshares and came to an agreement on a redistricting compromise that should satisfy all but the most partisan.

State Sen. Chris Rector called the compromise “an answered prayer.”

While I certainly understand Sen. Rector’s meaning and don’t believe he’s referring to direct divine intervention, I still think he’s selling himself and his colleagues short.

This deal is a demonstration that men and women — fragile, prone to error, competitive and imperfect — can still find a way to work together.

It refutes the notion, which is gaining more traction than it deserves, that our form of government is broken and hopelessly deadlocked between two outdated and ill-willed political parties.

And it demonstrates that Democrats and Republicans can find solutions to the problems of the day, even when they are embroiled in high-stakes politics and under tremendous pressure from forces outside the state.

The battle to redraw Maine’s congressional districts has been a partisan street fight, with the outcome reaching toward control of Congress and the White House.

But the compromise, which confines changes in the two districts to Kennebec County, is reasonable and fair. Waterville and Winslow move from Rep. Mike Michaud’s 2nd District to Rep. Chellie Pingree’s 1st District. Sidney, Monmouth, Belgrade, Mount Vernon, Rome, Vienna, Albion, Unity Township, Randolph, Gardiner and West Gardiner move the other direction.

The 2nd District picks up around 2,500 Republicans, getting a little more conservative, while Pingree’s hometown of North Haven stays in the 1st District and her seat gets a little safer.

The plan also keeps Lewiston in the 2nd District and out of the shadow of nearby Portland.

All and all, both sides can be satisfied with the outcome.

But the deal did not fall from the sky. It took hard work and open minds on both sides of the aisle.

Democrats made it clear that they could not and would not accept the more radical Republican plan that proposed to shift 360,000 Mainers from one district to the other and left Pingree exiled from her hometown and the place where she started her political career. But they also stayed at the table and continued to work.

Republicans, meanwhile, could have muscled through the vote with a simple majority and let the partisan chips fall where they might. But instead, they exercised restraint. They took some of what they wanted but pulled back on the brink of a classic overreach.

That took poise and maturity, and deserves credit.

The consequences of forcing through their plan would have left the State House in shambles. It’s hard to imagine anything short of open warfare had they moved forward, which would have soured relationships for the foreseeable future.

There will be those who say that the partisan fighting and the back-and-forth were unnecessary and a waste of time, energy and goodwill. But sometimes in negotiations over public policy, folks have to go all the way to the edge and peek over the cliff before they can find a workable solution.

From what I’ve been told, the trust that developed between Rep. John Martin and Rep. Ken Fredette and the close relationships between Speaker of the House Bob Nutting, House Minority Leader Emily Cain, Senate President Kevin Raye and Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins kept the lines of communication open even as it appeared that an impasse was likely.

And the frontline negotiators, Sen. Seth Goodall and Sen. Debra Plowman, articulated the vision and priorities of their colleagues and slugged it out in public, making the best arguments for their positions.

Perhaps there were other leaders with calm heads working behind the scenes who helped cut the final deal. If so, they too deserve credit for helping to accomplish what many had written off as impossible.

The two-party system of government can look ugly and it can seize up, like it has in Washington. But I’ve yet to see a system that works better or creates stronger political leaders.

It’s fashionable to cast a curse at both parties, but I tend to agree with Bismark: “Politics is the art of the possible.” And often what is possible is slow and incremental change for the better. And the redistricting compromise is a good example of just that.

David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He is former deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. He is currently working on the Yes on 1 campaign. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.

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