Is it “time for all good men to come to the aid of their party,” as the old saying goes, or is it instead time to declare independence from mindless partisanship?
I am ready to declare that current political conditions offer compelling evidence in favor of the latter.
Recent national statistics provided by Gallup puts independents (unenrolled in either major political party) around 40 percent, followed by Democrats at 31 percent, Republicans at 27 percent, others, 2 percent. In Maine, the most recent numbers available showed independents at 37 percent, Democrats at 32 percent and Republicans at 28 percent, leaving 3 percent other.
Maine voters are legendary for their independent streak. We have elected two independent governors, Jim Longley and Angus King. And in 2012, King was elected to the U.S. Senate, also as an independent.
Eliot Cutler, an independent candidate for governor in 2012, lost by only one percentage point to Republican Paul LePage, and he is a candidate again this year.
Maine has proven to be a moderate stronghold, electing candidates from either party and sometimes from neither party. Maine voters are often split-ballot voters. We currently have a Republican governor, two Democratic members of the U.S. Congress, one Republican U.S. senator and one independent senator. And, lest we forget, the state twice has voted for Democratic President Barack Obama. If that doesn’t define independence, then I don’t know what does.
Many logical reasons support the argument for independence from strict party affiliation, not the least of which is the terrible state of gridlocked legislatures in Washington, D.C., and Augusta.
Many of my friends have unenrolled and become independents. Most say they are fed up with the partisan fighting, name-calling and lack of solutions to our critical national and local problems. Like me, they have a somewhat centrist viewpoint, one that is generally more moderate than either party platform, and they reject the extremism of either side on the issues of today.
From personal experience and study, it has always been apparent to me that a voters’ socioeconomic status is a controlling factor in their party affiliation. My political journey, for example, has been influenced greatly by my life’s experience and income.
When I was 21 years old, I was president of the Auburn City Council and earned $40 per week as a radio announcer. I was a Democrat, and I voted against the new city manager’s salary of $13,000. My socioeconomic status influenced both of those political choices. When I was 23, I chaired the Democratic Jefferson-Jackson dinner at the Samoset.
Later in life, as my family and income grew, I became more conservative in my political views.
It was at a Democratic state convention in Bangor that a transformation took place. My wife, Gaby, and I were delegates. Driving home that night, we questioned our party affiliation for the first time.
We didn’t like Ray Shaddis’s move to close Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscasset. New Democrat platform planks that liberalized the party’s positions on abortion and other moral issues disturbed us. The overall tone of the convention had shifted quite far left.
We remained Democrats a while longer, then the Great Communicator came along. Ronald Reagan gave me a reason to vote for a Republican presidential candidate.
By then, I had gained some success in the world of business and management. My income was peaking, and I was becoming more conservative. The first half of my life was spent as a conservative Democrat, but now I decided that I was a pro-business Republican.
I have been active in the second half of my life as a delegate, even a candidate, for the Republican Party, but then came the party’s convention of 2010 in Augusta. I left that convention at noon on the first day with total revulsion, as I witnessed the takeover of the party by a mob. Unknowledgeable, misinformed people recruited statewide by a minority group had seized control of the party, and extremism and ideology ruled the day.
There have been recent attempts to restore a semblance of the Grand Old Party, and I wish Chairman Rick Bennett and my many Republican friends good luck in their attempt to right the Republican ship of state.
The last straw for me, however, was how Sens. Roger Katz, of Augusta, and Tom Saviello, of Wilton, have been treated because of their attempt at a meaningful compromise solution to the state’s health care problems.
I have as many Democratic friends as Republicans. I want to support, work and vote for the best of each, as well as an occasional independent. I want to promote the varied issues of interest to me regardless of party. I want the freedom that independence brings.
I recently completed my long political journey by making my declaration of independence. I have unenrolled and officially become an independent.
Don Roberts is a former city councilor and vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta. He is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District, and a representative to the Legislative Policy Committee of Maine Municipal Association.