Well that was much ado about nothing.
Republicans caved on redistricting and abandoned their ambitious, if controversial, “Western Maine” plan. The new congressional lines will look an awful lot like the old congressional lines with only a bit of lipstick applied to make the 2nd District a tad more attractive to the GOP. For all that talk about forcing through the change with a simple majority vote, at the end of the day a compromise was reached, a showdown was avoided and it seems everyone is happy. Hooray bipartisanship.
Well, I’m not all that happy. I like bold and confrontational — maybe sometimes even (gasp) controversial — leadership, and I was really hoping to see the map altered substantially. But this is Maine where compromise and congeniality rule, so a deal was made and little was changed.
What bothers me the most about this capitulation is that I simply can’t make heads or tails out of what kind of lawmakers are in Maine’s new Republican majority. Ask me one week and I will tell you that they are bold, visionary libertarian reformers set to reverse the course of 40 years of creeping statism in Augusta. Ask me the next, and I’ll tell you they are soft allodoxaphobes (they fear opinion, for those without a dictionary nearby) who defer to consensus and the status quo rather than fight for radically needed changes.
Maine Republicans aggressively spearheaded the fight to reform the health care industry in Maine and risked a lot to do it. They dealt head-on with entitlements like welfare, and in one session managed to deal with the lurking budgetary nuclear bomb that was the unfunded pension liability, showing no fear.
They crafted a visionary budget which actually lowered taxes — in Maine! — and soberly dealt with the structural problems that the state faced. They even raised the speed limit on I-95 between Old Town and Houlton and killed off the fireworks ban, two actions that were both needed but took political courage to do given the cries of apocalypse from the nanny-staters. And of course, they took an incredible risk by deleting the words “same” and “day” before “voter registration” in Maine law.
Yet just as often, the GOP lions have roared loudly only to later meagerly squeak out a meow.
Take Gov. Paul LePage’s defiant declaration that Maine Republicans were “going after right-to-work” and that the Wisconsin labor protests would come to Maine. This one piece of legislation could have done more for job creators in the state than almost any other law, yet after relatively minor protestations and almost no fight at all, the bill was put on the shelf to be “considered later.”
Then there was the “voter ID” law, arguably a much more important and popular election reform than the same-day registration repeal. Despite having a much better rhetorical case for its passage, Republicans decided to shy away from a voter ID law, putting it on hold. This was always more than a little curious, especially considering voter fraud was supposedly the big concern in Augusta.
There are, of course, a number of other examples of the new Maine Republican majority backing down and turning over on their own ideas and instead groping for a “middle way” to appease the weak and disorganized Maine Democratic minority.
I suppose one bit of good news in all this compromise and watering down of audacious, radical reform ideas is that the logic behind Eliot Cutler’s “OneMaine” group has been completely obliterated in the process. I’ve had all I can stomach of sanctimonious nonpartisan belly-aching, myself.
But for Maine Republicans I have a message: decide. Either be radical reformers or conciliatory collaborators. Pick one.
I say be bold. Stop being afraid of governing. Stop acting like you are still the minority party in Augusta. Be visionary. Risk. Lead.
If you do, you might lose everything you have gained, but in the process you can make some long-lasting, important and needed changes to the state you love. And you know what? By being weak and surrendering to an even weaker minority, you’re probably going to lose everything anyway. Mainers like guts. Prove that you have them and maybe you might just stick around for a while.
Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.