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Steve Woods: Switching parties, considering bid for Blaine House

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Left to Right: Cynthia Dill, Andrew Dodge, Angus King, Charlie Summers and Steve Woods line the Gracie stage on the Husson University campus on Wednesday Oct. 17, 2012.
By Stephen M. Woods, Special to the BDN

It was an honor and privilege to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate seat here in Maine. And it’s from that same sense of honor that I enrolled earlier this week as a registered Democrat. While I certainly do not agree with every element of the Democratic Party doctrine, I am steadfast in my convictions and principles that put the equal rights, liberties and freedoms of all Americans first and I am proud to now (re)identify myself as a Democrat.

For me, the decision to rejoin the Democratic Party will not subordinate my beliefs to party doctrine or platform. Much like a boat tied to a mooring, my core principles will be anchored to those shared by Democrats across Maine and America. But I will also support policies and practices that serve the best interests of Mainers and Americans, above the interests of any partisan agenda.

As an example, I believe that we need to be more aggressive in getting our fiscal house in order, so current and future generations are not unfairly burdened by oppressive debt and economic stagnation. But, we shouldn’t accept fiscal plans that cripple growth or put our most vulnerable citizens in jeopardy of losing health benefits. We can, and must, be smarter in how we fulfill our social contract to the architects and builders of our great society: our seniors. We must work collectively across every political aisle and party to engineer a new paradigm to protect our shared economic future.

What I couldn’t answer decades ago as a teenage Democrat I can answer now by paraphrasing my boyhood hero President John F. Kennedy. I am dedicating my political life to not asking what my country can do for me (or who can be blamed), but instead to what I can do for my country and for fellow Mainers.

Based upon the support and encouragement I received during my U.S. Senate campaign, I am in the process of forming an exploratory committee in regard to entering the 2014 gubernatorial race here in Maine. Over the coming weeks and months I will be meeting with political leaders from every party all across our state to determine if such a course is in the best interest of my family, my party and the good people of Maine.

Consistent with my recent core campaign message, I passionately believe that our great democracy demands participation from each and every one of us in any number of forms. For me, I believe in the profound honor of public service. It is my hope that in the coming months I will continue to hear and see support and encouragement from so many Mainers. My personal honor in this regard? That in 2014, I will have the opportunity to earn your trust and respect as you and other voters decide who will be the next governor of Maine.

My political engagement began here in Maine. Before moving here, I followed politics, and I voted, but I had never considered elected office. For me, starting a family ignited a sense of greater purpose in regard to community service and civic duty.

During my recent U.S. Senate campaign, I wrote and spoke about my core principles and how they applied to various issues that were covered during numerous debates and media interviews. I believe in women’s rights across the spectrum, human and equality rights of every kind and also the rights of organized labor. I also publicly supported and continue to support President Barack Obama. I also recognize science, math and legal principles as holding more positive societal value than any combination of fear, denial and Fox News.

In short, my core principles were and are consistent with Democratic Party dogma, despite my “unenrolled” status. This duality was justified by my belief that as an independent, I could function politically above the fray of partisan politics. In many ways, I was wrong. After six months of campaigning, I learned that the partisan fray is unavoidable, as it is not exclusive to any political party or institution, but instead is exacerbated by many politicians themselves. And for some, their allegiance and loyalty is bound less by tenets of party affiliation and more by the pull and strength of personal opportunity.

U.S. Sen.-elect Angus King announced this week that he will caucus with the Democratic Party despite running as an independent. Given the committee assignments at stake, which represent a key component of a Senator’s effectiveness, I applaud his decision to put practicality before idealism in his representation of Maine. I’m confident King will represent all Mainers with great honor, integrity and wisdom.

While the process of running for Sen. Olympia Snowe’s soon-to-be vacated seat was one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of my life, it was also an eye-opening lesson in how the shifting lens of partisan politics now brings focus (some positive and some negative) to the role of being an “independent” during this period of partisan gridlock.

Growing up in Massachusetts in the1960s, my earliest political memories involve the Kennedy family. The blinding promise and crushing pain associated with John F. Kennedy’s life and death, the eternal optimism and stoic courage of Bobby and the curious tragedy of Teddy at Chappaquiddick, are all memories marked by iconic black and white images and emotions indelible despite the passage of time.

As an Irish Catholic kid growing up in a Boston suburb, my political affiliation was preordained. Like the Kennedys, I was a Democrat. As with many young adults who follow in the steps of their family’s political affiliation, I at first had no answer for the question of why I was a Democrat. But, I remained a Democrat for decades following – right up to, and even beyond Mike Dukakis, Democratic nominee for president, and his infamous tank-ride into political oblivion.

More than 10 years ago I moved to Maine for the love of a Maine girl. And when I registered to vote, I elected to not enroll in either political party, preferring the flexibility and neutrality of being unenrolled – also known as independent.

Somewhere along the line, though, the unenrolled non-party of “independent” became something like a party itself. Characterized by its own vast political canvas, this “non-party” party now provides ample opportunity for virtually any political candidate to design and define their own independent brand — with any flavor or political bent. Disgruntled Republicans, disenfranchised Democrats, liberated Libertarians and hung-over tea party supporters have all recently sought political asylum beneath this independent tent.

For me, being part of the independent tent of differing opinions and stark contrasts was ideal as a “voter” but less comfortable to me as a “candidate.” As is the case for all voters, I was able to participate in our democracy one issue, one vote at a time. But as a candidate or elected official, the practical reality of governance requires a longer view with more dependency on systems, structure and coalitions (not necessarily partisanship) of common principles to be effective in service to the people.

Stephen M. Woods lives in Yarmouth with his wife and their three children. Woods is currently the chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council and the owner and CEO of TideSmart Global.

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