The Legislature You Deserve

Just after Christmas last year, I made a rather classic mistake for a political pundit.  I made predictions.

These predictions were my thoughts about what would happen in the coming year in Maine politics, many of which were tied to Tuesday’s election.  We won’t know just how good I was at forecasting until they are over, but at first glance it seems I may have done at least a halfway decent job.

In addition to saying that Paul LePage would have a better year in 2012 than he did in 2011 (he did) and that the legislature would do some big things (they did), I predicted, for example, that President Obama would win Maine by seven points.  As election day approaches, I would bet that is probably close to the final tally.

I also said that I believed same-sex marriage would be passed by the voters of Maine, and while I don’t exactly trust polls all that much this election cycle, if they are right than it seems a better than fifty percent chance that the voters will indeed approve the measure.

One of the predictions I made, however, deserves to be at least partially wrong.  I claimed that the Republicans would retain the Maine Senate, and would lose the Maine House.

I suppose it would be expected for me, being a Republican, to suggest that I wanted a Republican legislature.  It is true, I have a sharp partisan lean, I work in professional politics for the Republican party, and in a vacuum you would always expect me to stump for the GOP.

State legislatures, though, are a different and strange animal.  Partisanship still matters, to be sure, but a lot less than most people think.  I myself have routinely voted for Democratic or unenrolled candidates at the state legislative level more than once, and proudly so.

One’s party affiliation tells you very little about them at the local level.  If you were to take a Democrat from the beautiful people suburbs of southern Maine, and compared them to a Democrat from the north woods of Maine, you would likely have trouble identifying how they were at all similar.

Take a Republican from the mountains of western Maine and compare them to a Republican from a metropolitan area and you would likely be just as confused.

Just as an example from my own experience, in 2004 I had the distinct honor to run for the state House seat in Old Town, a race I lost handily.  My opponent that year was a Democrat named Dick Blanchard, who served three cycles in the legislature.

When, in May of 2009 the original gay marriage bill came up for a vote in the Maine House, Blanchard was one of eleven Democrats who voted against the measure.  I, a Republican, would have voted in favor.

The divergence is hardly a factor of social policy.  What matters to you?  Economic development?  Taxes?  Spending?  Guns?  You will find wildly divergent opinions on all of them, depending on who you are talking about, and where.

Privately in 2010, before it became clear the Republicans would take over the House, the GOP leadership was planning to forge a “working majority” of Republicans and conservative Democrats who may align themselves formally as Democratic for leadership purposes, but who would pass a fairly conservative agenda.

This year, if Democrats fail to recapture the House, it is likely they would have a very similar strategy in reverse.

As a voter, you must resist the temptation to apply a one size fits all attitude to the partisanship of the legislative candidates that will be on your ballot.  Spend some time in the next few days to do some research, and get to know them.  State House candidates represent an area of only about 8,000 voters, so you could not possibly be “closer” to an elected leader in this country.

Take advantage of that.  Call or email them.  Read their literature.  Talk to them if they stop by your house and knock.  Listen.  And ignore all the partisan rancor that would make either a Republican or Democrat guilty by association in your eyes.

At the end of the day, the people that are currently in the legislature have done an excellent job.  They have been independent, rational, reasonable and thoughtful.  They have tackled big problems, and done so responsibly.

Most of them deserve to stay.  And that, and that alone, is why the legislature should continue to be Republican.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.