In my eight years in the Maine Senate, I’ve met and worked with lawmakers of all stripes, including lots of Republicans. Working together to get results is the pragmatic tradition that Mainers value.

But things are changing. We come together less frequently. That change has come as more and more of my colleagues have adopted anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist’s vision of a government that’s “small enough to drown in a bathtub.”

Adherence to that vision doesn’t make them bad people, but I think it’s wrong.

There’s plenty of opportunity for vigorous debate about the proper role of government. That debate will continue. We should welcome it.

But there’s a difference between debating the role of government, and embracing a harmful worldview that sees government itself as the enemy.

For a few decades, the Republican Party has been dominated by an ideology that says government is robbing Americans of their freedom. Today, that ideology has spun out of control. Its adherents view government as a societal evil to be incapacitated, no matter the cost.


When this ideology takes over, the results can be disastrous. In Maine, there’s been no bigger anti-government crusader than Gov. LePage, who’s been joined by most of the Republicans in the Legislature.

The casualties are all around us: Look at Maine’s infrastructure. You’ll see roads littered with potholes and bridges in desperate need of replacement. High-speed internet is still unavailable in much of our state. In most regions, public transportation is nonexistent. The bottom line? A lack of investment in infrastructure is hurting our economy.

In the past, we would have come together to find an answer. The result wouldn’t have been a Democratic plan or a Republican plan, but a compromise and solution that moved our state forward. Instead, ideologues in state government draw lines in the sand. Their belief in small government at all costs means we can’t even begin a conversation about investing in our future. Meanwhile, the roads continue to crumble. Opportunities remain unseized.

As a business owner, I know that success isn’t created by making your investment as small as possible, but making it as smart as possible. In government, we should expect the same. Saying “no” to every opportunity will not put our state on a path to success.

Our infrastructure is just one example. Rigid adherence to the “small government” ideology has limited investments in higher education that would help us create the skilled workforce businesses need to grow and thrive. Flat funding has meant cuts at our community colleges, and fewer opportunities for their 18,000 students and our economy. Refusal to maintain our corps of public health nurses makes us less prepared to deal with an unexpected health crisis.

This refusal to invest in Maine is heralded by the proponents of limited government as “tough decisions.” In reality, it’s sabotage. It undermines government’s ability to improve people’s lives.


Meanwhile, half of Mainers are so financially insecure that they say it would be difficult or impossible to come up with money to cover an emergency expense, according to a recent Portland Press Herald/University of New Hampshire poll.

We have to do better.

What we need isn’t smaller government. What we need is effective government. We need a government not afraid to invest in Maine, where collaboration and results are the norm. We need to be willing to partner with businesses, educational institutions and nonprofits for economic growth and for the collective good.

We know that an empowered government can work for Maine people. For several years, federal, state and local leaders made major investments in our port infrastructure here in Portland. Collaborating with the private sector all along, those investments brought one of the world’s biggest and best shipping companies, Eimskip, to Portland.

The result? New jobs for Maine, new markets all over the world for the top-quality products made here in our state, and additional private development, such as the cold storage facility planned for Commercial Street.

A new generation of conservatives has been raised on the destructive idea that government is best when it does the least. But an engaged, effective and efficient government can be a force for good. It is the mechanism by which we turn our vision for a better society into a reality.

Reasonable, good people can debate the best way to meet our shared goals. But Mainers want their elected officials to get results. They deserve a government that works, not one paralyzed by the very people elected to run it.

Justin Alfond is a Portland Democrat and president of the Maine Senate.

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