Universal Notebook: A declaration against independents

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The Second District congressional debate on WCSH was hard to watch, both because incumbent Bruce Poliquin was being an obnoxious twerp, talking right in challenger Jared Golden’s face like Trump hovering creepily behind Hillary, and because so much time was wasted having to listen to the two independents in the race.

Tiffany Bond, a Portland attorney, doesn’t even live in the Second District, but then neither does Bruce Poliquin. The law apparently doesn’t require residency in the district one represents. William Hoar is a special ed teacher from Southwest Harbor.

To qualify to run for Congress, Bond and Hoar simply had to be at least 25 years old and secure 2,000 signatures. You could get 2,000 signatures to nominate a dead cat. That’s no reason the rest of Maine should have to listen to your views. It was as if Poliquin and Golden had a televised debate and a couple of strangers wandered in off the street and butted in. I kept expecting WCSH moderator Pat Callaghan to ask Bond and Hoar to leave.

I’m obviously not a big fan of self-nominees. If you’re nominated by a political party, be it Republican, Democratic, Green, Socialist, Black Dog or Bull Moose, that at least demonstrates you have a constituency. To throw your hat in the ring on your own say-so suggests you have an exaggerated sense of self.

In the gubernatorial race, we have self-nominees Alan Caron and Terry Hayes, both erstwhile Democrats, vying with newly-minted Republican Shawn Moody and tried-and-true Democrat Janet Mills, Maine’s attorney-general. To me, Caron and Hayes disqualify themselves by virtue of not having enough common sense to realize they can’t win. Caron, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money on his quixotic quest, has promised to get out of the race before Nov. 6 if it becomes clear that he cannot win. It should have been clear months ago. It’s time, Alan. It’s time.

In the First District congressional race, we have incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree taking on Trump Republican Mark Holbrook and a self-nominee named Marty Grohman. Grohman has no chance and no name recognition. I only realized yesterday that I was confusing Marty Grohman with controversial Saco attorney Gary Prolman. I kind of wish Prolman were running.

I confess I did vote for one independent, Sen. Angus King, but Angus is a Democrat for all practical purposes. When you already have a public persona, as Angus King and Jim Longley did when they ran and won as independents, it makes a certain amount of sense to skip the primaries and go directly to the general election.

My guess is Angus could have made the team as a D. Eliot Cutler could not. That’s why his place in Maine history as the ultimate spoiler is assured and why Paul LePage owes Cutler his eternal gratitude.

Mainers seem to like to think of themselves as independent. That’s probably why they’re more unenrolled voters in Maine (376,422) than there are Democrats (328,393) and Republicans (276,162). Independent, unenrolled, whatever, I have come to believe that independent voters take a perverse pride in that meaningless distinction. But, dear Mr. & Mrs. Unenrolled, being an independent doesn’t mean you have a mind of your own. It just means you don’t have a say in who the candidates will be unless you enroll in one of two parties.

I often hear people complain that the Republicans and the Democrats have abandoned the middle ground, leaving nowhere for the moderate majority to stand. In an effort to remedy that situation, Maine voters adopted ranked choice voting. Somehow, ranking candidates in order of preference is supposed to keep extremists at bay. I don’t buy it. Come Nov. 6, RCV won’t apply to the governor’s race because the Maine Constitution specifies that a governor be chosen “by plurality of all of the votes returned,” not by a manufactured majority. RCV also won’t be a factor in either of the congressional races to which it does apply.

If we truly want to elect people who have broad popular appeal, we should drop RCV and take Alan Caron’s suggestion that we adopt open primaries. In an open primary all the party-affiliated, self-nominated and self-delusional candidates would duke it out in the June primary and the top two vote-getters would then go head-to-head in the general election.

This year we would have had seven Democrats, four Republicans and two independents in the open primary. Sure, we could have ended up with opponents from the same party in the November election, but most likely we would still have had Mills versus Moody. We just wouldn’t have had Caron and Hayes, or, for that matter, Bond, Hoar and Grohman.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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