The 27th annual Maine Town Meeting at the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan was fascinating. Professor Dan Shea, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby College, presented a talk titled, “Dazed and Confused: What We Now Know… and Don’t Know About Presidential Elections.” Heather Cox Richardson, professor of History at Boston College and author of a new book titled “To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party,” also spoke.
Both talks were intriguing. Dan’s talk kicked off with a great comment from Charlie Cragin, chairman of the Margaret Chase Smith Foundation: “Ethics in politics is an oxymoron.” Boy, he got that right.
Dan started with a great story of his 2012 move to my town of Mount Vernon. When he showed up for his first vote, at our community center, he stepped up to the table expecting he’d have to introduce himself to the election clerks. But he was greeted with a, “Hello. How’s things at Colby College?”
He left his brother in line at L.L. Bean to return something while he did some shopping. Later, his brother said he’d met “this great guy” in line. “And here he comes,” exclaimed his brother. Dan recognized that great guy as U.S. Sen. Angus King!
Yes, we are a small and friendly state. But we are dazed and confused about the presidential campaign as are many others in this nation.
Dan said the national Republican Party, in 2012, issued this statement focused on immigrants: “The Republican Party is one of tolerance and respect, and we need to ensure that the tone of our message is always reflective of these core principles.” Yes, that is the Republican Party I’m in. But it sure doesn’t reflect what’s happening just four years later.
And Dan noted that we’ve lost the ability to compromise — and have no middle-ground leaders focused on achieving things. From taxes to welfare, we’re very divided these days. In the good old days, most accomplishments were achieved in the center, with both sides compromising. “There is no center-left,” he said.
This mirrors my experience, hanging out at the Legislature for the last 40 years. Experienced legislators were able to compromise to get things done. And the most accomplished legislators were happy to get some of what they wanted, and would come back the next session for more. Actually, that was my approach to lobbying for the 18 years I worked for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
Dan cited term limits as a problem, and he is so right. Inexperience has had a very negative impact in Augusta. He also reported, “The Republican Party is falling apart,” and going through a realignment is not good news for this life-long Republican. But I am afraid he is correct, and I am being realigned right out of my political party.
I loved it when Richardson, a native of Yarmouth, referred to herself as a “budding curmudgeon.” She made an extraordinary effort to get here for this event, because Margaret Chase Smith inspired her to become an historian. She noted that always in the past, when we have gone to extremes, we have bounced back to the middle. And she predicted that, sometime in the next 10 years, this would happen. I sure hope she’s right.
I wish every Republican could have heard this talk about the history of our party. It was eye-opening, for sure. Our party, in addition to taking the lead to end slavery, also created the first national taxes, including a progressive income tax. All I could think about as she reported on that is how our Republican governor and state party are trying to repeal the state income tax.
From the lunch catered by one of my favorite restaurants, Skowhegan’s Heritage House, to the awards to students who participated in the Margaret Chase Smith essay contest, this event was fantastic. Sitting there in the library of the woman who inspired me to get involved in politics, I was pleased to see her “Declaration of Conscience” in the program. It bears repeating here.
“The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear. I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory. I don’t want to see the Republican Party win that way.”