Why is the ongoing saga of the state Senate District 25 race between Republican Cathleen Manchester and Democrat Catherine Breen so historic?
It’s true that the drama is fascinating, and exciting, to political observers. Perhaps “exciting” isn’t the word the candidates would use, but to many of us on the outside looking in, this is about as good as it gets in local politics.
It’s also true that Republicans have not enjoyed a 21-seat majority in the state Senate since 1977; if Manchester is ultimately declared the winner, Republicans will find themselves in that position once again.
If Breen holds the seat, Democrats – with a total of 94 Democratic legislators in the House and Senate – would be able to select Maine’s constitutional officers without help from any of the four independent legislators.
According to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, unofficial results following the election initially showed Breen as the winner by a 32-vote margin. During a recount, a bundle of 25 votes from Long Island were discovered that hadn’t been counted on Election Day, and Manchester seemed to be the winner by 11 votes. However, nine of those votes are in dispute, and Breen did not accept the results.
As of Nov. 20, Dunlap’s office confirmed that based on a 2002 state Supreme Judicial Court ruling that was used as the basis to determine the outcome of the 2006 battle in then-House District 102 between Michael Shaw and Gary Moore, Breen will be provisionally seated on Dec. 3. The outcome of the election will then be examined by a committee appointed by Senate President-elect Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and ultimately voted on by the full Senate, Dunlap’s office said.
Political excitement and intrigue aside, what shouldn’t be lost in all of this is the fact that the rules matter. Thibodeau, who was victorious (twice) in a recount of his own race this month, said the District 25 recount “was conducted with strict, bipartisan oversight, and all Maine state statutes were followed.” Breen has also been quoted as saying, “I think it’s really important for the integrity of the process to be validated,” and Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage said “it is important to count every vote and do everything carefully to make sure all the votes are counted.”
It’s heartening to hear people from both sides of the aisle lauding the importance of following the rules. Indeed, many may remember the contentious time following the Republican Party 2012 state convention, where the delegates chosen were challenged by their fellow members because of the chaos at the convention. Jan Staples, then the state party’s Republican national committeewoman, had stated at the time, “I know the rules very, very well, and all (Republican National Committee) members have an obligation to know these rules, to respect them and follow them.”
Staples was correct. That convention was an example of the rules being thrown out the window, and basically mob rule taking over. But why is all of this so important? Whether on a macro or micro level, law and order is the foundation of a Constitutional Republic, which is what we in fact (are supposed to) have.
We are not a democracy, as you will hear many people – including our Harvard Law School graduate of a president – say. The emphasis on the rule of law in our republic is the basis upon which everything else rests. I would venture a guess that few people were actually required to study the Federalist Papers in school in the past 40 years, but it is by the rule of law that we are governed, not the potential mob rule of a true democracy.
James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property.” John Locke is credited with saying, “For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be, where there is no law.”
So as the secretary of state has worked with the state Senate and the state attorney general’s office, and looked to precedence in the law to resolve the District 25 election, I, for one, applaud all efforts to follow the law, regardless of the outcome.
Julie McDonald-Smith lives in North Yarmouth. She is a registered nurse, former Capitol Hill staffer and former chairwoman of the Cape Elizabeth Republican Committee. Her column appears every other week.