Short Relief: Don't count out the Republican Party

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The media is full of pronouncements about the demise of the Republican Party.

It’s not diverse enough. Doesn’t offer much to young people. It’s against women and can’t speak to them. It’s just a bunch of old, white guys, clutching their guns in fear of change. It’s fractured by splinter groups and consuming itself in an internecine struggle.

In 1988, it was the other way around. The Democrats had just lost three presidential elections in a row by wide margins and were riddled with dissension. They thought that the Iran-Contra affair created an opportunity to win back the White House. Even after Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo and Bill Clinton ruled themselves out, at least a dozen candidates thought they could win.

But Joe Biden’s campaign imploded when he was caught plagiarizing British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. Gary Hart’s candidacy was undone by “Monkey Business” with Donna Rice. The rest attacked each other. The nominee, Michael Dukakis, seemed a prisoner of political correctness. Liberal was a bad word. Ultimately, George H.W. Bush won handily. The pundits pronounced the end of the Democratic Party.

Later this month, Maine Republicans will begin our biannual process of organizing the party by caucusing by municipality. Municipalities in Cumberland County, including Portland, will caucus collectively on Feb. 22 at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center.

The basic work of these caucuses is to reaffirm our membership and bylaws, and to elect officers and delegates who will govern the party for the coming two years. In the process, candidates will speak and issues will get aired. In May, the delegates to the state convention will convene for more of the same and to adopt a platform.

The last time Mainers convened, in 2012, went less than smoothly. Delegates arrived at the state convention feeling aggrieved by the statewide, presidential straw poll that the party conducted. There was infighting from the start, over the most basic matters, such as voting procedure and the election of convention officers. It continued to the end, with a platform that was passed without the participation of many delegates who were discouraged by the acrimony.

I was put off by it. I am a member of the GOP’s moderate wing, and I find that my party is to the right of me with regard to several issues.

I understand that law is different from other forms of expression. But law, including the constitutions of the United States and the State of Maine, however well conceived and written, is still human. It is the imperfect expression of ideals and principles. It requires interpretation to apply to the infinite variety of human behavior.

I support gun control in the interest of safety, including background checks and waiting periods to ensure that felons and mentally ill persons do not get guns.

I believe that one of the essential functions of government is to provide its citizens with the opportunity for a good, basic education. Maine should consolidate schools at higher levels in order to make delivering that education more efficient.

I say that no matter how bleak the world may appear or how short of our aspirations our involvements may fall, we must stay engaged in places like the Middle East, for our own good and the good of others.

I believe in democracy. That compromise is the basic operative principle of democracy. It is the way you build the majorities needed to govern. Political parties play an essential role in that process by allowing people to resolve their differences as they move up the ladder from citizen to activist to elected official. It is too late to wait until you are in office to learn to compromise and to establish the relationships necessary to govern.

In these regards and others, I find myself disagreeing with a significant element of my party. Nevertheless, I have remained in the party and I have supported its candidates, if not all of its positions.

Why? Because notwithstanding our differences, I still have more in common politically with my fellow Republicans than I do with the opposition.

We believe that people are happiest and healthiest when they provide for themselves as much as possible, because they know better than government what they want, and they can get it more efficiently than government can provide it. That includes good health.

We think that government is a poor substitute for a functional family and a decent job. We believe in limited government that provides the ground rules and basics that make it possible for people to maximize their potential, and that provides a safety net for those that are not able to provide for themselves.

Because of these beliefs, and despite our disagreements, on Feb. 22 I will caucus with my fellow Maine Republicans and demonstrate that reports of the GOP demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Sidebar Elements

Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.