Our year-end weather deep freeze is appropriate for one of the coldest years in political history, a year when all civility disappeared and hostile open warfare between our political parties ruled the day.

This environment of contempt between strong partisans, whether they realize it or not, is destroying the two-party system and lending strength to an independent movement that bubbles under the surface. Unenrolled voters continue to lead Democrats and Republicans in numbers.

After a lifetime of party affiliation, first as a Kennedy Democrat, then later a Reagan Republican, I too joined the ranks of the unenrolled a couple of years ago. First the Democrats lost me on the social issues, then the Republicans with “tea party” extremism.

Maine, no stranger to the election of independents for major office is now making small strides towards more independent representation in the Legislature with a caucus of independents along with office space and staff. More and more candidates for House and Senate will emerge in the first few weeks of the new year, leading up to the March filing deadlines for June primaries.

My kind of politician is Susan Collins, the independent Republican U.S. senator. Collins epitomizes the qualities that we should all admire — the willingness to listen

to both sides of an argument, to assess what is best for her constituents, and to stand sometimes in opposition to her political party’s views when wrong.

It was Collins who first stood with Sen. John McCain against her party’s plan for tax reform when it was seriously flawed, and now because of her successful efforts to amend and correct it, she deserves the credit for helping its passage. Instead, she is unfairly and incorrectly criticized by the media and an opposition party that is guilty of playing nasty politics while they should have been giving the public the accurate information that they deserve on the tax reform act.

It is unfortunate that the much-maligned senator, by necessity, had to spell it all out herself, in a column in this paper on Wednesday.

“I supported this legislation because it will help lower income and middle income families keep more of their hard-earned money, boost the economy and encourage businesses, both small and large, to grow and create jobs here in Maine and around the country,” she wrote.

Sen. Collins then went on to explain how we are going to see a meaningful reduction in our taxes and what many Maine businesses have already pledged they are planning to do with their tax breaks by creating thousands of new jobs. We will all benefit from the new tax plan.

Collins also put to rest many of the myths or exaggerations used by opponents. It does not cut Medicare. It does not eliminate student loan deductions. It does not

take away anybody’s insurance.

This columnist believes that the Republican’s tax reform act is an historic achievement that will reap great rewards for our economy and the American people, while paying for itself in increased gross domestic product.

Maybe that’s because I, like Sen. Collins, understand how business works and how jobs are created. I know my family is looking forward to our tax break next year, and we are certainly not in the top 1 percent.

In a conversation with my old friend, tax accountant Cliff Fletcher, he summed up Collins’ position. Fletcher knows Collins as a personal friend. He said she is a person of great character who would never vote for anything that she does not believe is right. Right now, Fletcher said, people just don’t understand yet what she has helped do for all of us.

I trust his judgment, and Collins’.

I sure was selfish when in a previous column I suggested that Collins should come home and become governor. She has proven by her latest actions that she is right where she belongs, at the pinnacle of her career and of value to all of us. She will continue to make us all proud in Washington.

As we say goodbye to 2017 we look to a boisterous new political year in 2018.

An open seat for governor always makes things interesting, and there is of course a seemingly unlimited number of candidates.

My first 2018 prediction: Independents split the vote taking votes from the Democrat candidate and new Republican Shawn Moody amazingly emerges as our next governor.

Happy, crazy New Year, everybody.

Don Roberts is a veteran broadcaster, writer and political consultant. He has served Augusta as a city councilor at-large, charter commission vice chairman and utilities district treasurer.

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