If there is one thing I have learned after four years serving in the Legislature, it is that partisanship can often put elected officials in precarious situations. By now you’ve likely heard the news of remarks made by Gov. Paul LePage that were completely inappropriate. Instead of confronting differences in a private meeting, he left an obscenity-laced voicemail and later stated that he wished “it were 1825” so he could challenge one of our state representatives to a duel and “point [his gun] right between his eyes.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t new, and much of the nation has noticed. National press coverage of Maine has devolved into the latest vulgar thing LePage has said.

Look, no one is perfect. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve left voicemails and said things to others that I would be ashamed for my grandmother to hear. We are humans and we make mistakes, but that isn’t reason to get a pass and continue the behavior. Early last week, I had a great conversation with the governor about education in Maine and some creative things we thought could be done to improve the future for kids in our state. We are both Republicans, and though we’ve had plenty of disagreements on solutions to issues, I left the conversation knowing we would be able to collaborate on innovative approaches to solving our problems. I hope we still can.

That said, I believe it is my duty to help ensure Maine doesn’t contribute to the rage and incivility America is experiencing right now — this election cycle is bad enough as it is. Sixty-nine percent of Americans agree that civility has decreased in the last few years, and two-thirds of voters say the 2016 campaign is less civil than previous elections. Maine should stand for civility and be an example for the rest of the nation.

The contrast between remarks made by Gov. LePage and the rest of the Maine Legislature is striking.

Last month, the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) recognized Maine’s state legislature as the State Most Committed to Civil Governance. Maine received this award over every other state because here, unlike some other places, party affiliation isn’t what is most important; what is most important is whether you can get the job done, and whether you can deliver for your constituents. Our state has sent Democrats, Republicans, and independents to Washington, where they’re known for their willingness to work across the aisle and get positive results. Mainers are famous for our independence and our work ethic, and it shows.

Unfortunately we have some real problems in Maine. We are facing a drug crisis that is ruining lives. This problem is one that we in the Legislature are trying to solve — together. Difficult issues demand we work with civility, not vitriol, and we’re fully committed to making our state stronger. Success would be more likely if our governor would join in on the effort with the Legislature — and I sincerely hope he chooses to do so.

Policy disagreements should not be treated like bar fights, where only the winner is left standing. Civil society requires civil debates. We should always listen to the person on the other side of the conversation and treat them with respect, no matter how wrong we think they are. They’re not just a rhetorical punching bag — they have as much a right to their opinions as we do.

America is a complicated place with countless ideas and political alignments. It’s OK for us not to agree on everything — that is the blessing and curse of living in a plural society. But that is exactly why it is so important to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We should demand that our leaders abide by NICD’s Standards of Conduct, a framework through which citizens, the media, and candidates alike can revive the spirit of civility.

All political leaders should:

1. Be respectful of others in speech and behavior,

2. Take responsibility for personal behavior, speech, and actions,

3. Speak the truth and act with integrity,

4. Promote civility in political discourse, and

5. Run a positive campaign by focusing on supported and opposed policies.

The next time Maine is on the national news, we hope it’s a story about how we’re working together to make our state stronger and our future brighter, not because of something embarrassing that our governor said. We’d rather our state be known for its natural beauty, its people, and our willingness to work together — not incivility.

Rep. Matthew Pouliot, a Republican, represents House District 86, serving part of Augusta.

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