Though I am better known as chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, by day I am an attorney representing Maine employees in workplace disputes. Some cases are resolved in formal mediation, and there is a well-known mediator in my field whose mantra is “best ideas win” – meaning that successful conflict resolution demands exploring every idea and choosing the best ones, no matter who thinks of the idea first.
It’s that mantra that I’m thinking about after reading a BDN editorial advising the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate how they should proceed in the 126th Legislature. The BDN urges Democrats “to engage with Republicans and achieve strong legislative consensus that could overturn vetoes. Their challenge is to outline specific economic policies to pursue and rebuild relationships with Republicans after the campaign.”
The BDN was not arguing that bipartisanship is more important than proposing sound bills, and I have no problem with “consensus.” But the overall idea of the need to get everyone to agree highlights a fundamental flaw in an increasingly popular political theory: that “consensus” and “bipartisanship” in government are more important than developing good policy. Democrats know better. We know that government isn’t about a political score card or achieving a unanimous vote on a bill. It’s about making people’s lives better.
We know that passing “bipartisan legislation” means nothing it if it doesn’t do anything to move Maine forward. And we know that our paramount goals as the new majority in the Legislature, whether they be achieved through consensus or not, have to be focused on getting our economy back on track, putting money in the pockets of working and middle class families, increasing access to affordable health care and ensuring each generation has more opportunities than the last.
It’s with that focus and spirit that Democrats will act in the 126th Legislature. We’ll let ideas, values and the voice of Maine people be our guide. If someone from another party comes up with a good idea, we’ll work on it because we know our challenges are too great right now to dismiss good ideas because of the source. The flip side of this is just as important, though. Bad ideas will be rejected, also regardless of source. And “coming together” will not be exalted over finding real solutions to our problems.
We have an opportunity right now to leave behind the tired emphasis on the business and process of politics. If we learned anything from voters this year, it’s that their primary concerns have nothing to do with partisanship or bipartisanship. Maine people care most about whether or not their government is doing something to advance the health and security of the citizenry.
Can the process be improved? Of course. To that end, Democrats will be courteous, listen to anyone willing to work with us and vote for good ideas. We will focus on developing reasonable and innovative solutions to our problems and then will work with anyone – from either party – on their enactment.
If the GOP offers a compromise that still preserves a core idea and still reflects our values, we’ll take it. But, if the GOP retrenches and offers only more of the same unpopular ideas that we saw last session, we’ll say no. Either way, we will stay disciplined about promoting reform and work with the people of Maine on the best approach.
In the end, Gov. Paul LePage and his allies might never agree to a Democratic idea. It will be interesting to see how what’s left of their legislative caucuses respond to this year’s defeat, but it truly would surprise no one if they preferred stalemate to progress.
If that happens, we owe it to Maine voters to not complain. The public simply doesn’t want to hear about under-the-dome problems. If a bill is a good idea that will help people – and the GOP won’t move, even to a middle ground position – we’ll work around them by engaging the people of Maine one door at a time and one conversation at a time, just like we did this election.
We’ll build popular support across the state, and, in the end, we’ll leave it to Maine voters to decide if a good idea fails or succeeds. So, here’s to the upcoming session. May the best ideas win.
Ben Grant is chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.