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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.
Phil: What is going on in Portland? Just last week, one 15-year school board veteran dropped out of her reelection campaign and a brand new member of the same body resigned effective immediately. And these two are on the heels of three incumbent city councilors deciding not to stand for re-election this fall. Is anyone going to be left holding elected office?
Ethan: Certainly. Lot’s of young people are stepping up. But you are correct, it is a remarkable changing of the guard. On top of what you mention, within the past year, two longtime city council incumbents were replaced by progressive newcomers, almost every establishment candidate was defeated for our charter commission, and many expect our elections this fall will yield similar results.
Phil: “The Times They Are a Changin.”
Ethan: “Come Councilors, school board members
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block City Hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be she who has stalled
The elections outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls…”
Phil: My apologies to the Bard for your attempt at a rewrite, but is all this change this fast really good for your city? Whichever ideological side you are on, it sure seems like someone is going to fall through the cracks if you aren’t careful.
Ethan: I think it only feels fast to those who have been in power for the past century. But this movement has been happening for 30 years. Remember, we first tried to get rid of the city manager form of government in 1997. We got crushed then, but a generation later, over 70 percent voted with us. We are finally on the precipice.
Phil: On the precipice of what, is the question. Far be it from me to be aligned with the progressives, but you can’t preach inclusion and be so virulent against opposing views. I don’t think anyone should simply take their ball and go home if they don’t get their way, as some in Portland politics seem to be doing. But, having served in both the majority and the minority, I know how important it is for those in power to respect the views of those who are not.
Ethan: Except, you have it backward. The intolerance is coming from those in power. The mayor is calling us “unhinged” and columnist Bill Nemitz publicly attacked a Latino city council candidate for privately calling out racism. And that was just last weekend! All because those who have been excluded for so long are actually winning.
Phil: They haven’t been excluded. They were unsuccessful at earning the votes needed to win elections or to implement a progressive agenda.
Ethan: Not any more.
Phil: Unfortunately, your recent so-called success may be at the expense of the utopia you seek. We are citizens of Maine and America first. Party philosophy must be second. You seem to have reversed this mantra.
Ethan: Just the opposite. We are far from “party first.” “People First” is the movement.
Phil: Well, your win-at-any-cost approach seems to me to be the reason Portland is so politically toxic.
Ethan: Win at any cost? We are literally winning by changing hearts and minds at the ballot box, not by storming the Capitol, as one party’s disciples chose for their path. But every time a movement demands change, those in power call it toxic. They did it to women demanding the right to vote. They did it to migrant workers demanding better pay. And currently they are doing it to Black Lives Matter.
Phil: Just remember, once you get power, use it well. As Bob Dylan’s final line said, “The first one now, will later be last.”