After the Republican demolition derby crashed and smashed its way from 17 candidates to five, we’re now left with three angry guys who share the same common-core language of yelling and calling each other liars; one sleepy surgeon who always appears to be slightly lost, and a seemingly nice man from Ohio who has more actual civic accomplishments than all of the other GOP candidates combined.
It’s been a bizarre and disturbing presidential election cycle, with still more than eight months and hundreds of hours of crazy to go.
It would be wasted space and redundant to recite the long list of campaign crimes, misdemeanors, insults, fabrications, and damage done to the core of our democratic process by Trump, Cruz and the other merry pranksters of the political “right,” where personal destruction, public fear-mongering and reckless demagoguery are the currencies of the realm.
Gov. Paul LePage was, and continues to be, the noisy and clumsy canary in Maine’s coal mine when it comes to extreme political and governmental dysfunction. It’s a shaft that is now proving to be much larger and darker than anyone thought. (Hard to imagine that anyone will ever challenge LePage’s low-tide levels here in Maine for political thuggery.)
As a registered Democrat who grew up in the shadow of Kennedy’s Camelot, I sought solace from the political party of my youth.
So last week I joined approximately 20 of my Yarmouthian neighbors and friends for an hour at the town’s log cabin to hear our left-leaning Maine legislators – Sen. Cathy Breen, to whom I lost an election in 2014, and Rep. Janice Cooper – talk about their hopes and desires to help more Mainers attain more things (education, health care, tax relief, jobs, etc.)
To the extent that I know Cooper and Breen, they both seem like nice people, each with an abundant concern for their constituents, and each with dedication to their own flavor of civic engagement. It is a shared brand, infused with empathy – yet seemingly unburdened and unbridled from any root understanding of economics (i.e. how do we pay for those things?); just the head-tilting, voice-raising, sad-eyed, passionate righteousness that now passes for “I-care” politics.
This assessment is less a criticism than an observation born from thousands of political interactions over the last decade. The majority of today’s electorate has drifted away from imposing any meaningful criteria linked to civic competency for their elected officials, in favor of seeking out and electing surrogates who mirror their own anger, fear, hope, generosity, etc.
Maine’s serious problems were not born from an emotive deficit that can be remedied by politicians who simply “care,” but instead, from the collective failure to recognize basic math and structural weakness. These challenges can only be solved through a series of tectonic policy shifts that are being ignored; our Legislature needs to be much smaller, tax policy needs to incent population density, and the current tax barriers for economic growth need to be removed for capital to flow into our state.
Maine supports a huge “old economy” infrastructure (35,000 square miles, 488 municipalities, 1.3 million residents) that is wildly inefficient, while trying to adapt to new economy realities that demand and reward population density as critical keys for improved educational results, better health care, and effective job-creation hubs.
A couple days later I attended a Cumberland County Democratic Committee meeting that featured state Sen. Justin Alfond, who is the former president of the state Senate and a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2018. The Alfond part of the show was promoted as, “What will the 2016 Senate campaign look like in Cumberland County?” and “What’s at stake and what’s ahead?”
For 32-partisian-grueling minutes, Alfond sat before a group of 15 party leaders droning on about how Maine’s Democrats are approaching upcoming elections with a renewed focus and vigor. How knocking on doors, engaging social media, and “putting up signs” were important keys to success.
When Alfond concluded by declaring all of Maine’s Democratic incumbents and candidates are “phenomenal,” the political bobble-heads in the room all shook their heads in blind partisan agreement.
In reality, the vast majority of Maine’s elected officials, on every level, are sincere, caring and well-intentioned, but far too many lack the critical thinking and experience to solve our serious challenges. They succeed at elections because the two-party political party system forces team/party alliances in support of “winning” – more so than solving actual problems and needs.
While I’ll always be passionate about public service and civic engagement, my disdain for party politics led me to Yarmouth Town hall last week, where I “unenrolled” from the Democratic Party and joined Maine’s largest and fastest-growing voter group – the independents. And with today’s column I’m asking each and every registered voter to consider doing the same.
If you’re a registered Republican tired of divisive politics and crazy political positions, then please visit the clerk at your local town or city hall this week and unenroll from the party.
If you’re a registered Democrat and you’re fed up with a political machine so fixated on “helping” every single person or voter while ignoring our crushing debt, paralyzing bureaucracy, and growing economic hurdles, then please unenroll today.
Stay conservative. Stay liberal. Stay green. You can still maintain your own views and personal convictions on the entire menu of political issues. But let’s stop fueling these two self-serving partisan machines that are perpetuating a spiral that is taking us further into an abyss.
By starving the political parties of oxygen – voter registration – their grip on the entire governmental system will loosen. Better candidates and better voting options, free from party linkage, will emerge. So will meaningful solutions, unencumbered by blind party loyalty or dogma.
The party(s) should be over. Let’s all unenroll before they turn out the lights.
Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.
State Rep. Janice Cooper, left, and state Sen. Cathy Breen, right, meet with constituents recently at the log cabin in Yarmouth.