Three cheers for integrity

Several weeks ago, I was sitting in a room filled with about 30 conservative activists when a phone rang.

The phone belonged to Eric Lusk, the chairman of the Cumberland County Republican Committee, who had been addressing the room. A rather dull hush fell over the former chatter as Eric listened to somebody speak on the other end. Occasionally, he would hold up a finger to indicate he would just be a minute. It took a little while.

After a couple minutes, he hung up and announced to the room that Cathy Manchester had defeated Cathy Breen in the Maine Senate District 25 recount held that day and that Maine Republicans would now have a 21st senator.

The room erupted into applause raising the already high spirits of everyone there.

That celebration, however, would be short lived. Cathy Breen refused to accept the results of the recount, which sent the decision to the Maine Senate, which would then be tasked with declaring a winner in the race itself.

The Senate president has broad authority in such cases, and with Republicans sweeping to a large majority in the 2014 election, it would have been very easy for them to simply declare the recount settled, seat Manchester as the winner of the election and move on.

There was certainly a great deal of pressure to do so. An extra Republican senator would mean the largest majority for the GOP since 1978 and a lot of extra legislative breathing room. There is also more than enough precedent to do so with how frequently Democrats have strong-armed Republicans given their own majorities in the past.

Add to that a lurking sense of well-earned political vengeance. In 2002, Democrat Christopher Hall was seated over Republican Les Fossel while a recount was in dispute. And of course, many in the GOP still harbor anger over the 1992 election-stealing shenanigans by the Democrats in former House District 82, when 600 ballots went “missing” and an aide to Democratic Speaker of the House John Martin would end up pleading guilty to burglary.

Indeed, when was the last time a Republican ended up on the winning side of a hotly contested recount after a Democrat won on Election Day? When was the last time ballots miraculously appeared as if from nowhere to the benefit of a Republican candidate? It seems the Democrats always win these fights, and they almost never feel fair.

So, needless to say, the impulse to simply thrust a mighty fist pump into the air, tell the Democrats to sit down, declare that Manchester had won and move on was great. Yet, that isn’t what Senate President Mike Thibodeau and the new GOP majority did.

There were reports of irregularities in the recount, so they appointed a special committee chaired by one of the most bipartisan members of the Senate, Roger Katz, to fully investigate what happened — something they didn’t have to do.

And it is a good thing they did, too, because the Democrats were working very hard to preemptively cast a cloud over these election results in the event Manchester was declared the winner.

Liberal blogger and former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cynthia Dill suggested the fix may have been in from the state police, rhetorically asking, “Will Cathy Manchester, a former stock car racer and the first woman Chief of Police in Maine, question the possibility of misconduct by the brotherhood of Maine State Police?”

BDN columnist Amy Fried argued that “if there was malfeasance in Long Island, it would be due to election fraud.”

Liberal columnist Mike Tipping opined, “This result seems on its face to be rather shady, and it’s easy to imagine theories of election fraud. In fact, what has me stumped is trying to think of a probable scenario where these ballots are legitimate.”

Democrats went out of their way to use the words “fraud” in connection to this election, pushing a narrative of “materializing ballots” and waxing poetically about “ballot stuffing” and other sinister electioneering, while Thibodeau and others preached patience and caution while promising fairness.

And in the end, a simple miscalculation was uncovered whereby the 21 ballots in question were counted twice.

Occam’s razor was, as it nearly always is, proven correct.

The truth was uncovered by a fair, transparent hearing set up by a leadership that ultimately handed power to the hands of its political adversaries. A very rare, refreshing event, indeed.

Perhaps next time we can spend a little less time speculating about villains who twirl their mustaches in incredibly unlikely scenarios and ultimately wait for the truth to come out.

Perhaps now our friends on the left will recognize the need to take ballot security and election integrity as seriously as the right takes it.

And perhaps, at some future date when the shoe is on the other foot, the integrity shown by the Senate Republicans here might just rub off on future lawmakers.

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.