Thu, Sep 18, 2014 ●
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The Universal Notebook: Phil & Ethan & Hannah & Roger

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: Phil & Ethan & Hannah & Roger

Amid all the partisanship and polarization that characterizes the political life of Maine and the nation these days, it’s refreshing to see Republicans and Democrats who can get along in public.

Phil Harriman and Ethan Strimling and Hannah Pingree and Roger Katz seem to have carved out point-counterpoint pundit perches for themselves by virtue of being willing to agree to disagree, not to mention being photogenic.

Phil Harriman and Ethan Strimling are ubiquitous these days with their “Agree to Disagree” online, newspaper and television commentary. Styling themselves as “brothers from other mothers,” the two men obviously like one another, even when taking potshots across the partisan divide.

Harriman, a moderate Republican (or at least a reasonable one), and Strimling, a liberal Democrat, are both former state senators. Strimling ran unsuccessfully in a Democratic congressional primary and for mayor of Portland. Harriman chaired Charlie Summers’ unsuccessful congressional campaign and lead an unsuccessful tax cap effort. So both men have plenty of political experience, winning and losing.

Former Speaker of the Maine House Hannah Pingree, a liberal Democrat, and current state Sen. Roger Katz, a moderate Republican (or at least a reasonable one) co-host “Pingree & Katz: The Maine Event” on Time-Warner Channel 9. Pingree is a daughter of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Katz is the son of the late Bennett Katz, who served in the Legislature from 1962 to 1980, with several terms as senate majority leader. (Remember when Maine was blessed with progressive Republican leaders like Bennett Katz, Joseph Sewall, Harrison Richardson and Horace Hildreth? I sure do.)

Where Harriman and Strimling analyze, comment, debate and disagree, Pingree and Katz put on a more produced show, albeit one with far less exposure. (Have you watched Channel 9 lately?) There is something awkward and old-fashioned, but also entertaining about the way the co-hosts hold the microphones out for their guests to speak. Pingree questions Republican guests and Katz quizzes Democrats. Usually they have two of each on the show, each program devoted to a specific public affairs topic – medicaid reform, welfare reform, legalizing marijuana, charter schools, legislative wrap-up, etc.

Pingree and Katz advocate and editorialize as they co-host, but they also stand by politely holding the mike while people express opinions with which they disagree. The show is produced in Augusta by Andy Collar of Digital Spirit Media. It is taped in a green room, such that everything you see other than the hosts and their guests is chroma-keyed in after the fact. The last show of the season airs June 24, but all of the half-hour shows are available on the Pingree & Katz Facebook page, and taping will resume in the fall.

I’m guessing that all four politicos have unannounced political ambitions that are furthered by their media presences. I hope I get a chance to vote for Hannah Pingree to become Maine’s first female governor. In fact, I could get a whole lot more excited about the governor’s race this year were she the Democratic candidate. But what I like about Harriman & Strimling and Pingree & Katz is that they model a way of disputing issues and ideas without demonizing the opposition. Criticizing ideas, not people is a central tenet of civil debate.

Some folks might find that last statement surprising coming from a columnist who regularly pillories conservatives, but I actually get along very well with a lot of people with whom I disagree in principle and in print. Phil Harriman, for instance, is an old friend. He’s one of the few Republicans I have ever voted for. Our kids went to school together in Yarmouth, we go to the same church, and we used to play basketball together on Sunday afternoons. In other words, we have a lot more in common than not.

So while I may be guilty of throwing verbal bombs from time to time, I do value cooperation over competition, communication over conflict. That’s why I enjoy Phil & Ethan & Hannah & Roger and their good-natured back and forth.

On the other hand, just imagine if Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills co-hosted a political talk show. Now that really would be The Main Event.