The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
The Bangor Daily News politics team recently put together a solid list of Maine politicians to keep an eye on heading into 2021. The list provides a good launching off point to discuss Maine politics as we slam the door shut on 2020. For us, it’s not only a matter of which political leaders we’ll be watching in the next year, but what we expect from them.
This editorial board, we should emphasize, operates separately from the rest of our paper’s newsroom, including political reporters and editors. So we didn’t play a role in creating that list, and the political team didn’t help write this editorial.
Our level of expectations for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, like her place on the 2021 list, is high. Collins has emerged from a bruising, obscenely expensive campaign as both a conquering hero to her Republican caucus and a potential source of bipartisan collaboration with the incoming Democratic administration of President-elect Joe Biden. She is poised to play a powerful dealmaking role in the Senate, regardless of which party controls the chamber after Georgia’s two closely watched runoff elections.
Collins touted her commitment to bipartisanship during the campaign, and it would seem to have been a winning argument with many Maine voters. It also helped her win this editorial board’s endorsement in the fall, and we plan to hold her to that commitment to cooperation and compromise heading into 2021. We also hope she’ll use her decisive victory to promote similar moderation among her Senate Republican colleagues and within the Maine Republican Party.
Encouragingly, both Collins and Maine’s other U.S. senator, independent Sen. Angus King, have recently shown their ability to lead from the center with their work as part of the so-called “908 Coaltion.” These Republican, Democratic and independent legislators negotiated the compromise COVID-19 relief package that set the framework for an eventual and critical deal. That additional round of relief, so obviously needed by small businesses, families, and many others for several months, may never have crossed the finish line if not for this group.
The final package, which President Donald Trump belatedly signed into law Sunday (Congress took its time, too), is an imperfect and incomplete response for the American people. It delivers few all-out “wins” for the country or for either political party, but it is a win for bipartisanship. With congressional leadership too often mired in toxic and divisive disagreements, both Collins and King should build on this rank and file-driven appeal to common sense dealmaking in 2021.
Closer to home in Augusta, we expect Gov. Janet Mills to stay “so singularly focused on trying to save lives” rather than spending much time thinking about a “likely” reelection campaign in 2022. Mills is right to prioritize the health of Maine people over her own political prognosis. State lawmakers and would-be candidates from both parties should have the same mentality.
While so many Maine people have responded admirably during the pandemic and shown remarkable togetherness, the bipartisan collaboration in Augusta has been uneven at best in 2020. The Legislature’s inability to find agreement on reconvening for a special session this summer was a particular low point.
Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, a Democrat representing northern Aroostook County, wasn’t on the BDN politics team’s list of politicians to watch next year. But he struck the right chord in a recent meeting with the BDN editorial board.
“Now we’ve got a new Legislature — 130th — it’s time to reset the clock and start working on these issues,” Jackson said. “I think it’s too important for us to get caught up in [partisan] bickering and I certainly don’t want to.”
The key word there is “reset.” The new Legislature is staring down enough problems in the coming year without rehashing the squabbles and finger pointing that have boiled over at times during the past nine months.
One of the most low key politicians on the BDN’s 2021 list is also one of the most important, given the budget challenges facing state government and the imperative to make informed decisions rather than politically expedient ones. Rep. Sawin Millett, an 83-year old Republican from Waterford, isn’t known for fiery rhetoric or making headlines. What he is known for, as a budget commissioner under former Gov. Paul LePage and someone who has served in four different administrations, is his detailed institutional knowledge of the state budget process.
It’s Millet’s experienced, understated kind of legislating — not the invariable political sparring — that should guide the tough decisions to come in Augusta.
We don’t expect or want unanimity from Maine politicians in 2021, or in any year for that matter. We do expect political leaders at the state and federal level to prioritize getting things done for the people they represent over gamesmanship. It’s time for a reset, in both Augusta and Washington.