U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin let me down last week.
He was one of seven Republicans who initially had voted in support of the amendment, but who changed their votes at the last minute after party leaders stalked the House aisles to find the weakest links. Poliquin proved to be that link when the amendment failed by only one vote — Poliquin’s vote, which was widely covered by the Maine press corps.
It’s insulting to know that 213 members of Congress believe it is OK for me to be fired from my job simply because of who I am. But even more troubling is that Poliquin refuses to give us the real reason he switched his vote. In a Facebook post, he suggests that the vote was to protect the rights of religious organizations — but it’s difficult to buy that he reached that epiphany just minutes after casting his initial vote and leaving the House floor. (Poliquin also voted in support of a nearly identical amendment last year, apparently not at all concerned about the same religious rights argument then).
Party leaders tried to conceal the identities of the seven who changed their votes. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer asked how the vote tally could have changed when “no one came, or no one had the courage to come, into the well to change their vote.” This gang of seven plainly lacked the courage of their newfound convictions.
Poliquin also has failed to be straight with voters on other issues — consistently evading questions about his support for the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, but then disclosing to a right-wing organization that Trump would personally ask him to help implement policy. In the same conversation, Poliquin admitted that “Trump is not a policy guy. I don’t know what half his policies are.”
Sadly, this kind of bait-and-switch politics is not confined to Washington, D.C. Some Maine legislative Republicans have proven just as evasive as Poliquin.
On April 14, 2016, 14 Republicans joined Democrats and independents to pass a bill that would have created hundreds of clean-energy jobs and dramatically expanded the use of solar power in the state. Unsurprisingly, Gov. Paul LePage, who has an inexplicable aversion to clean energy, vetoed the bill. When the vote to override the veto came to the floor, six Republicans who were in the building refused to do their job and vote on behalf of their constituents. By “ taking a walk” they ensured failure of the bill without publicly casting a vote. Five of them — Mike Timmons of Cumberland, Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford, Mary Anne Kinney of Knox, John Picchiotti of Fairfield and Brian Hobart of Bowdoinham — had voted for the bill when it had passed two weeks earlier. The sixth, Timothy Theriault of China, reportedly said that he would reverse his previous “no” vote.
The attempt to override the governor’s veto failed by only three votes. Last week, the Portland Press Herald reported that, as a result of the bill’s death, several Maine municipalities have shelved planned solar projects.
If you genuinely oppose solar energy or believe that workers should be fired from their jobs for being gay, then own it. At least the people you represent will know where you stand. But if you decide to change your vote to fall in line with instructions from leadership, then own that, too. Don’t “take a walk” or avoid the well or post disingenuous excuses on Facebook after the fact. When party leaders ask you to reverse your position, do you stand up for your principles or buckle under the pressure? The people of Maine deserve to know.
Phil Bartlett is the chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.