Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman discuss actions taken (or not) last week by Sen. Michael Willette, Gen. James Campbell and Gov. Paul LePage.

Ethan: So, what did you make of state Sen. Michael Willette of Aroostook County “liking” a comment telling the two of us to “go to hell” for saying he should apologize for his bigoted Facebook postings?

Phil: He was clearly agreeing with people who disagreed with our analysis on WCSH6/WLBZ2, except this wasn’t simply two people having a chit-chat at the local coffee shop. It revealed to everyone in Maine, and all his colleagues in the Senate, that his apology was somewhat less than genuine. Now that he has stepped down from his chairmanship of the State and Local Government Committee, in deference to his duty as a senator, perhaps we can all move on — again.

Ethan: It will take time to heal and, honestly, he still has a lot of work to do with his constituents. When you publicly exclaim that an entire ethnic or religious minority in Maine should be air-dropped elsewhere, you have work hard to repair the damage. Imagine if he had said, “Round Jews up and air-drop them back to the rubble and hell holes from whence they came.” Or, “Round Francos up and air-drop them …”

Phil: Disturbing, I agree, but what more do you expect he be required to do?

Ethan: He needs to privately meet with Muslim Mainers and publicly meet with his constituents. In both, he needs to listen and hear how his words were damaging and why the outrage was so strong. I think about the young man at the University of Oklahoma who led the racist chant on the Sigma Alpha Epsilon bus. He is now doing the hard work of meeting with black leaders in his community to understand the harm of his actions and apologize for the content.

Phil: That is good advice for him personally and would certainly help the healing. Be that as it may, when I say it is time to move on, I mean in regard to the Maine Senate and its actions regarding Willette.

Ethan: Yes, I believe the Senate has done enough in regard to the senator. However, a resolution is being written expressing broad support for tolerance, and the Senate also is creating a working group to include diversity training in the orientation for new members. These are both good steps in a long process.

Phil: I believe that Senate President Michael Thibodeau, of Winterport, deserves a lot of credit for realizing he had to step out of his role as head of the Republicans and into the role of head of the Maine Senate. It is always hard to call out one of your own, and I hear he was under great pressure from some members of his caucus to do nothing.

Ethan: Although it probably took longer than it should have, I agree. Thibodeau deserves credit for standing up to a faction of his caucus that wanted him to sit on his hands. I heard he endured some very testy meetings. But we also must give credit to a strong contingent of the Democratic caucus who demanded action. In the end, they understood that the Senate as an institution had to be preserved. Beyond the policy created in that chamber, it is a solemn place with a deep tradition and rules of decorum.

Phil: Yes, and I’m confident the Senate will redeem our faith in the months ahead by staying focused on the work at hand. Speaking of sullying an institution, what do you make of the dramatic decision by Gov. Paul LePage to relieve Gen. James Campbell of his command of the Maine National Guard — on National Guard Day, no less.

Ethan: Awkward! But who are you saying sullied the institution? The governor, for firing him on Guard Day, or the general, for misleading his boss?

Phil: Mostly the general for assuming that Paul and Ann LePage’s devotion to the members of our Guard meant he could do no wrong. Thanks to our colleagues at the Press Herald, Campbell was shown to be saying one thing to LePage, while implementing a different agenda. Big mistake.

Ethan: At LearningWorks, we teach our students that if you lie to your boss, you will lose your job. Maybe Campbell should enroll. Meanwhile, I’m told the men and women of the Guard have reacted warmly to LePage’s decision. Like Willette, it is a reminder that the institution you serve is bigger than you.

Phil: But that is not to say the Gov doesn’t deserve a black mark for his sullying of institutions this past week. The first for sucking all the celebration out of National Guard Day, by firing Campbell on a day we were supposed to be celebrating our finest.

Ethan: Yeah. Would it really have hurt for him to wait a week?

Phil: And second for his refusal to apologize to Stephen King.

Ethan: Not only a refusal to apologize. He is now claiming he never said what is recorded on that tape.

Phil: Willette, Campbell, LePage all sullying their respective institutions in the same week. A rough stretch for my side.

Ethan: I am sure my side has had their moments.

Phil: You mean like when Dems didn’t allow the Gov to speak to the Appropriations Committee or tried to ban him from having a TV in his reception area or tried to sell the Blaine House from under him? Talk about sullying.

Ethan: Let’s hope, moving forward, we can use the recent Senate action regarding Willette as an example that the institutions we serve must be greater than any individual.

Phil: And to always remember to honor the institution they serve, for it is a torch to be passed on. Not theirs to keep.

Ethan: Or to sully.

Phil Harriman is a former Republican state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling is a former Democratic state senator from Portland. They can be contacted on Facebook at Agree to Disagree or Twitter: @senpeh and @ethan6_2.


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