The civility and common ground among the candidates at the forums we hold before each election make us wonder: what goes wrong when the winners arrive in Augusta?
The agreement on several issues was particularly notable at the most recent forum.
There was general agreement on:
· Concern about Question 1 and its funding mechanism, despite a desire to help people remain in their homes as they age.
· The importance of public prekindergarten and other forms of early childhood education.
· Opposition to negative campaign tactics and agreement to refrain from such tactics and speak against the use of such tactics on their behalf.
There was crossover in other areas, if not full agreement.
For example, we didn’t hear anyone say the state shouldn’t fulfill its obligation under the law to fund 55 percent of public education, although we heard a desire from some candidates to make changes to the formula that governs the distribution of these funds.
We didn’t hear anyone deny or dismiss climate change, but we heard different ideas about how to combat it.
A few days in a room with this group of candidates and we could resolve several problems that plague our state election after election. No joke!
So what goes wrong when the winners get to Augusta?
We believe their genuine desire to solve problems runs into three roadblocks: the party apparatus, lobbyists, and a governor who repeatedly vetoes bipartisan legislation.
One of these roadblocks will come down soon, and none of the candidates for governor appear likely to take as hard a line, wherever they might draw it, as Gov. LePage.
The other two roadblocks will remain.
Perhaps none is so damaging to the process as the party apparatus.
Go to Augusta someday and see for yourself.
A legislative committee will listen to public testimony in a hearing. After the testimony, the chair calls a recess and the members of each party scuttle into separate, private rooms where their leaders tell them how to vote. They call this a “caucus.” They then go back into public session and vote.
If a member dares to think for him or herself, each party has a legislator it calls a “whip” because his or her job is to “whip” the independent thinkers into shape and ensure they vote the party line.
It makes us a little sick. How about you?
We mentioned some of our thoughts to a participant in one of the forums who told us he once saw a party leader take two troublesome members into a private room to chastise them for “wrong” votes.
The two wayward politicians, thus scolded, returned to the chamber and changed their votes, one of them in tears.
It’s easy to talk about bipartisanship during a campaign.
It’s more difficult to actually be bipartisan in the Legislature.
It takes courage and a lack of concern for popularity or re-election prospects.
The genuinely bipartisan politician is a rare creature, though we will hope to send some to Augusta this November anyway.