This is a story about two people from opposite sides of the political fence and how they built a bridge. We’re telling our story because in these partisan times we feel it’s important to at least have a dialogue.
We met by volunteering for a recount after the 2010 election. As you might guess, we were on opposite sides. During a recount one counts a stack of 50 votes, as does the volunteer from the other side, and then you switch and count each other’s pile. This goes on all day and is about as boring as you might think. Maybe being so bored got us to talking, and at the end of the day we agreed to meet for breakfast “sometime.”
That turned into a monthly event, and now, more than two years later, we still don’t agree on much politically, but a real friendship has developed and grown. We have a few suggestions for others who might be inclined toward improving the political discourse.
Get ready to have your expectations unmet. Whatever you think of a liberal or conservative is likely to be incorrect. We are more of a philosophy mix than you might expect. Things are not always black or white, and we can all stand to listen a little more. Again, we don’t agree on much.
One backs Republican Gov. Paul LePage for his support of smaller and less intrusive government; the other thinks he’s at best a shill for wealthy overlords. One supports people being able to do whatever they want with their own wealth without oppressive interference from the federal government, and the other feels there’s an inherent responsibility to society. One supports President Barack Obama, and the other believes him to be too divisive and incompetent at best.
So, what do we agree on? We both support individual responsibility, that parents should be more involved in their children’s lives, that Wall Street should pay for its mistakes and that if taxes need to go up to cover care for the mentally ill, so be it. We also think our elected representatives were elected to represent all of us and should find a way to sit down, break bread and find some common ground, however rare.
Whether it’s Augusta or Washington we’re facing dysfunctional attitudes and actions. We agree that if someone feels so strongly about a particular piece of legislation they should have to actually filibuster, not just say they will. We agree there’s too much money in politics, and campaigns go on too long. We disagree on how to fix it, but we’d start with shortening national campaigns to 90 days.
We don’t trade emails with clips of Fox News or MSNBC; neither thinks that would be particularly productive. We sometimes trade articles, but that happens in person. We talk about more than politics because we both think it’s unhealthy to obsess about all things political.
We suggest that each legislator in Augusta and Washington find someone on the other side and start listening. Remember why you were elected and begin representing everyone. If you can’t find agreement on at least one thing, maybe you should question whether you should be holding office. Elevate the discussion, and treat your opponent with the respect you feel you deserve.
You won’t agree on everything or even on much, but if push comes to shove, at least you’ll have someone from the other side to talk with. The answer is not always in the middle but the commitment to find answers that work may help find some solutions. If even two people take up our call to reach out and make an effort, it’s a start.
Democrat Phil Bailey is the major donor director for the Maine People’s Alliance and resides in Hancock. Republican Alan Groh served on the board of directors for the Eastern Area Agency on Aging and is currently a warden with the city of Ellsworth elections.