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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.
We need a commission to commission new commissions, I think. After all, it seems as if we are in commission season.
The so-called “1/6 Commission” is the drama du jour in Washington. Last week, the proposal failed to reach 60 votes in the Senate as presently configured.
The investigation into the happenings in the Capitol on Jan. 6 were always going to be politically fraught. Matters weren’t helped when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s opening proposal suggested seven Democrats and four Republicans would be appointed. It was a brazenly partisan gambit.
However, cooler heads reached a reasonable solution; a commission evenly split between donkeys and elephants. It was based on the 9/11 Commission. Sen. Susan Collins had a legitimate concern with the House-enacted draft, which gave the Democratic chair the power to hire staff. Her suggested change would require the chair and GOP-appointed vice chair to concur on staff appointments.
Republicans can push to ensure that this effort completes its work far in advance of the next election, but then should support it. It is easy to deride commissions and committees, but — run well — they can do excellent work.
Then, Congress can turn its attention to another crisis calling for a commission: the coronavirus’ origins.
Walking the line between reasoned — if uncomfortable — discourse and facile, racist tropes is difficult on a good day. The internet hasn’t made it easier.
A year ago, President Donald Trump would routinely refer to the coronavirus as the “China virus.” This coincided with a rise in anti-Asian harassment. It made a mess of the public discourse.
Which meant that, when others made the uncomfortable suggestion that the coronavirus might have originated in a Chinese virology lab in Wuhan, they were quickly attacked as “conspiracy theorists” peddling a “fringe theory” equal to “good old-fashioned racists.”
Now, the “lab leak” theory has reached a degree of plausibility. Even the head of the National Institutes of Health — appointed by President Barack Obama — thinks it should be considered and assessed. The idea has come a long way from being a racist trope.
But we are a year behind in this process because racism and reason got entangled in a sticky mess. Politics tainted the ability to have difficult, necessary conversations because they quickly devolved into accusations of racism or expressions of racist ideas.
This is where a commission could come into play. It needn’t be a collection of retired politicians. However, finding the best evidence on the origin of the coronavirus is essential to both understand where we have been as well as prepare for what could happen in the future.
By ensuring we have a diverse group, not subject to imminent electoral pressure, without inherent partisan imbalances, we might develop useful information from which we can make better decisions. That holds true whether we are exploring Jan. 6 or COVID-19.
And it holds true when it comes to municipal charters.
The other commission which might impact Mainers is the upcoming election of the Charter Commission for the city of Portland. Groups affiliated with Progressive Portland, political activists, Democratic Socialists and former Mayor Ethan Strimling are spending money to push preordained “slates” of candidates favoring preconceived, shrink-wrapped “solutions” to what they perceive as Portland’s problems.
The “support” of Strimling and the Democratic Socialists has become so toxic that some candidates are fleeing from their erstwhile allies.
If you are going to join a commission with the answer already in hand, you shouldn’t be on the commission. The 9/11 Commission was a success because the members worked together, in good faith, without attempting to reach some preconceived conclusion. That required bipartisanship, trust, and the ability to ask hard questions.
We need to do that when it comes to the investigation of Jan. 6. And the coronavirus’ origins. And how Portland’s charter should change, if at all.
Hopefully Washington will take heed, as will Portland voters. Because if we are going to commission commissions, they have to follow where the evidence takes them.