August 17, 2018
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How Maine legislators are coming together to bring civility to Augusta

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN
By Roger Katz and Matthew Pouliot, Special to the BDN

Last month, the two major parties finalized the names of the candidates who will compete for party backing in the race for Maine governor. Those candidates will join independents on the ballot to determine who will lead our state moving forward.

While we don’t know yet who our next chief executive will be, we do know for certain that whoever becomes the next governor will find a more connected, more congenial State House.

Maine’s 186 legislators — Republicans, Democrats and independents — have strived to work together to improve this state.

Part of it is out of necessity. On many occasions, we have had to come together and find ways to get important legislation across the finish line.

But part of it is by design.

We have reached across the aisle to get know our colleagues, improve our communication, build bipartisan relationships, and find ways to work together. We did this with the help of the nonpartisan National Institute for Civil Discourse and the Maine Development Foundation. The two groups have partnered to sponsor workshops for lawmakers to sit down together behind closed doors, listen to each other, and learn more about our backgrounds and priorities.

All of us — Republicans, Democrats and independents — have welcomed the institute’s facilitators to Augusta for these workshops. It shouldn’t be so innovative, but the fact is that lawmakers have taken a groundbreaking step to try to build a functional, focused legislature where we can collaborate and get things done.

We’ve now had more than 100 legislators go through these trainings — that’s more than half of all lawmakers in the State House.

We don’t expect to agree on every issue. And we aren’t going to completely reverse our political beliefs.

But all of us have worked hard to build the right conditions for compromise, because all of us believe that progress for Maine is both important and possible.

The Maine Development Foundation and the National Institute for Civil Discourse haven’t stopped there. They’re working with the League of Women Voters of Maine to carry out a grass-roots campaign to get more Maine residents to embrace the kind of civility that we’re fostering in Augusta. They have held seminars throughout the state and made materials available online to allow Maine residents to host their own civil discussions and conversations.

The feedback they’ve received so far is that people are hungry to change the tone here in our state. In fact, this grass-roots campaign is one of a number of initiatives that have started to promote civic engagement and bring a more civil tone to politics and daily life, such as Craig Freshly with Makeshift Coffee House, the Maine Council of Churches’ Civil Discourse Covenant and Portland Public Library’s Choose Civility program.

These diverse and emerging civility initiatives are a great sign of more collaborative, congenial future for our great state. It’s an effort that can build a new capacity for civil discourse within communities and organizations and establish a tone of respect.

In Augusta, lawmakers are excited to advance the work of rekindling and reviving civility to ensure a more productive future. In January, House Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Michael Thibodeau convened another civility sitdown so that legislators could refresh their skills, discuss what’s working or needs review, and chart a path forward.

Maine lawmakers are eager to work with our next governor to create a more civil future.

Roger Katz, R-Augusta, represents Maine Senate District 15. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, represents House District 86.

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