Looking for a little civility in our politics? Let’s drop in on Maine Senate District 11 …

“I think my race has two really compelling candidates,” said Dick Woodbury, the Senate’s lone independent, who for the past two years has represented Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, North Yarmouth and Yarmouth.

Meaning Woodbury actually … what’s that word … likes Chris Tyll, his Republican opponent?

He’s not afraid to compliment the former Navy SEAL, who back in August spent a full day biking, swimming and flying (via helicopter) throughout the sprawling district?

“He’s got a compelling personal story and he presents himself very well,” Woodbury volunteered with a smile this week. “He’s humble but clearly capable and has served the country well.”

OK, now it’s Tyll’s turn.

“Dick’s a very, very nice guy,” Tyll said by telephone Tuesday. “It’s just that we have fundamental differences on how we view government – and the electorate in District 11 will get to decide.”
If only it were that simple.

Of the 35 races that will determine the makeup of the next Maine Senate, none holds more intrigue than District 11.

There’s the political equation: With no Democrat in the race, it’s a battle between a Republican who could help maintain his party’s majority in the Senate and an independent who, in the event of a 17-17 partisan tie, could suddenly become the most popular guy in Augusta.

There’s the financial equation: The privately funded Tyll has raised $41,744 (and counting) from an impressively long list of donors.

The publicly funded Woodbury, meanwhile, is stuck with his one (and only) campaign check for $20,454 – thanks to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that led to the elimination of extra “matching funds” from Maine’s Clean Election Act.

Finally, there’s the elephant-in-the-room equation: While the two candidates express their mutual admiration and vow to stay on the high road, a Republican-rooted political action committee has targeted the cash-poor Woodbury with childish attacks that even Tyll could live without.

“It’s unfortunate that something like this is detracting from the positive message that I have, I know that much,” lamented Tyll.

He’s talking about the Maine Conservative PAC, which spent $10,418 recently on a pair of mailers portraying Woodbury oh-so-simply as a guy who “sure likes new taxes.”

“What taxes will Dick Woodbury try to raise next?” asks one mailer, over a list of 99 goods and services that are now exempt from Maine’s  sales tax.

“See Dick tax,” reads the other, over the background of a children’s book: “Tax, Dick, Tax.”

What the fliers don’t tell voters is that Woodbury, who holds a doctorate in economics from Harvard University, arguably knows more about Maine tax policy than any other lawmaker in Augusta, let alone his rookie Republican opponent.

Or that between his three terms as a state representative and current term as a senator, Woodbury authored a 66-page analysis for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s New England Public Policy Center, titled “The Struggle for Tax Reform in Maine, 2003-2009.”

Or that far from simply expanding the scope of what he calls “consumption taxes” in Maine, Woodbury has also consistently advocated for a major reduction in Maine’s income tax. (How major? Try almost by half.)

Complicated stuff, no doubt.

Far too complicated, it turns out, for the Maine Conservative PAC – whose biggest donor, at $5,000, is none other than Maine’s crown prince of duplicity, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin.

While Woodbury correctly observes in his weighty policy paper that “the struggle for tax reform in Maine reflects the challenges of reconciling competing interests on complicated policy systems,” Poliquin and his buddies mindlessly stuff mailboxes all over the district with “See Dick Tax … Tax, Dick, Tax.”

Little wonder that Woodbury, who happens to think his constituents deserve more than monosyllables, fears for a political system in which the complex thought drowns surely and swiftly in an endless torrent of cold cash.

“Something really has changed in this election cycle,” Woodbury said. “It started two years ago, but this time the level of (outside) spending is just at a totally different magnitude.”

No argument there from Tyll, who’s more than happy to hold his major tax cuts offset by smaller government up against Woodbury’s comprehensive, revenue-neutral tax reforms.

“I can only control what I can control,” said Tyll, much as he wishes the Maine Conservative PAC’s unsolicited mailers were “more in line with my positive message.”

Tyll also wishes that another conservative PAC, called Ready to Lead, would at least get his biography straight – its just-released $15,000 television ad touts his military service in both Iraq, where he did four tours of duty, and Afghanistan, where he’s never set foot.

“That really upsets me,” said Tyll.

Woodbury, who insists he’s truly a nonpartisan independent (see: his vote in favor of last year’s Republican-propelled overhaul of Maine’s health insurance system), has no idea whether his ever-dwindling cash and the ever-escalating attacks by the conservative PACmen will cost him re-election on Nov. 6.

But win or lose, he’s hoping his constituents will know the difference between two gentlemen who happen to see the world differently on the one hand, and moronic meddling by a pack of deep-pocketed partisans on the other.

“People come from all walks of life in the Legislature,” Woodbury said. “I think my regular job, being an economist, working on public policy issues, gives some substance and depth to my trying to do this as an independent.”

Smart guy, that Dick Woodbury.

Be smart, Dick, be smart.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]

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