In a recent column I suggested that, despite popular and widespread delusions and political mythology, our government is not “broken” and instead it is, We the People, who are broken.
I believe that truth, and I’ll try to explain it below. But to start, let me confess why I’m broken.
I love Maine. Growing up in the Boston suburb of Needham, some of my fondest memories involve experiences connected to the Pine Tree State. In high school, I vividly remember midnight road trips with my buddies, John, Zeke and Jeff, to L.L. Bean in a ’73 Ford Maverick.
I don’t ever recall buying anything at Bean during one of those visits, but that wasn’t the point. Bean was a mythical destination (The store never closes! They guarantee the boots forever!), glorified through the ubiquitous catalogs born in Maine.
The beauty of those trips and the memories are rooted in the utter absence of purpose, coupled with the pure joy of process. Just driving to Freeport, wandering around the store for an hour, jumping back in the Mav with AM radio blaring, stopping at a Howard Johnson’s for coffee and blueberry toasties, and returning to Needham at sunrise, was high adventure.
A few years later, my favorite uncle moved to Ogunquit. Frequent visits followed, along with a fondness for the Lobster Pound restaurant and a deeper love for the singularity of Maine – a love that was cemented in 2001 when I moved here from Atlanta, with my Bangor-born wife and our family.
My love for Maine is what inspired those teenage midnight trips, the profound calling to move here with my family 13 years ago, and the decision to build a business here. Finally, it was the catalyst for my entry into public service: former chairman of the Yarmouth Planning Board, three-year chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council, U.S. Senate candidate in 2012, and most recently, state Senate candidate.
Now, I’ve left politics. More accurately, politics left me. And while my love for Maine is intact, my hatred of Maine politics is now casting a long shadow, beyond anything seen by Punxsutawney Phil. (To be clear, I said “politics,” not government or public service.)
For years, I lied to myself through the delusional belief that “competency” in government should matter most, that a basic understanding of legal principles, economics, health care, public policy, energy, social services, environmental issues, labor, etc., should be required staples of civic leadership.
To the vast majority of Maine’s 958,440 registered voters today, blind partisanship, party-ism and anger-alignment traits are stronger voting influences than competency. The dangerous superficiality of this truth represents the state of our current political operating system; a system that party politicians (Democrats and Republicans) obscenely exploit for their own benefit.
Conversely, in 1776, John Adams, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others crafted and implemented our Declaration of Independence, which gave birth to our great nation. These brilliant leaders and visionaries were not randomly chosen, or selected based upon petty partisanship. They were recognized and chosen for their wisdom and character – a phenomenon that seems archaic in today’s world of partisan myopia.
With life and liberty on the line, the instinct to recognize and engage competency was primal back then. Not today.
As an example, imagine that you fall down some stairs, resulting in your tibia protruding through your leg. After a loud impulsive scream, your next reaction might be to seek help. Would you rush over on a skateboard to a local Dunkin’ Donuts for assistance? No.
In the Portland area you would probably want “competent” transportation (ambulance) to take to you a competent institution (Maine Medical Center) followed by a desire to have the most competent people (orthopedic surgeon, anesthesiologist, etc.) help you.
Why? Because your life would depend upon that approach. And while a visit to Dunkin’ Donuts might satiate a personal interest or appetite, they couldn’t save your life with a glazed cruller.
We as voters and owners of this great democracy must evolve beyond our personal pettiness and recognize that much of government policy created and applied by our political leaders is “life or death” for many, and that our electoral considerations should reflect that urgency.
And we must stop allowing either of our two major political parties to “select” who we “elect.” Both parties practice this dark political art, but my friends in Maine’s Democratic Party took it to a dangerous and destructive level this year.
Once the majority of Mainers recognize and demand “competency” as the key standard for elected officials, we’ll get more competent candidates running for office, which will lead to better and more effective policy, and then better outcomes for all of Maine.
Later today I’m heading over to L.L. Bean. Not for boots, but for hope.