Eight years ago, by the narrowest of margins, Maine voters elected a new Maine governor — with all his blather, bombast, bullying ways and dismissal of democratic process and the necessary role of government.

As I traveled throughout New England and to the nation’s capital in the years following, I was often greeted with the question, “What is going on in Maine?” Well, now we know. What was happening was the dawn of the Trump era in American politics, and Trumpism as a governing philosophy — mean-spirited, vindictive, intolerant, anti-democratic and pro-corporate interest.

In the course of these years, I’ve often recalled the words of then-Gov. Joseph Brennan on his last day in office, as he spoke to his senior staff and Cabinet officials. “People will learn,” Brennan said, “that it makes a difference who wins in our system,” and, as well, the words of President John F. Kennedy, that “governing is all about values,” the values that elected officials will seek to advance when in high office.

The greatest challenge facing Maine’s next governor will be to restore Maine’s traditional values and civic virtues of tolerance, mutual respect, civil discourse and collaboration for the public good as we face the historic challenges before us.

The late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once described civilization as a “very fragile thing,” held together only by the shared norms and standards of behavior that stand between civilized life and savagery. Meanwhile, in his time in office, the incumbent governor has upended the values, norms and standards that have long applied in Maine politics, much to the detriment of our civic culture and progress as a state.

Five years ago, my University of Maine colleague Kenneth Palmer and I organized a public lecture series, “Politics Then and Now, in Maine and the Nation,” featuring some of Maine’s most distinguished political leaders.

We noted then that “in the early 1970s, Democratic Gov. Ken Curtis was able to reorganize all of state government and to implement major reforms in tax policy, higher education, social welfare, human rights, environmental protections and the arts. Each of these landmark laws was enacted by a Republican Legislature, and has largely remained intact through four decades, under Democratic, Republican and independent leadership.

“After more than a century of Republican Party domination, Maine had developed an effective accommodation between the two major parties, one based on electoral competition and purposeful governmental cooperation to advance shared values and goals. This had the overall effect of raising the Maine of the 1960s from among the lowest states nationally in virtually every standard measure of promise and prosperity, to approaching near the middle of the pack (if not much better) by the early 1990s.”

The late David Broder, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, wrote in another time of political gridlock: “The cost of being an American citizen is going up. If the nation is to survive and meet its challenges, it is going to cost us time and energy and thought, diverted from our private concerns, to make government workable and our politics responsible once again. If we do nothing, we guarantee that our nation will be nothing. There is nothing for nothing anymore.”

What is most important now, dear reader, is that you vote on Nov. 6. And when you do, ask yourself: “What kind of a state do I want to live in? What kind of a governor do I want who will be the best role model for the next generation of Maine citizens; who will send a welcoming message to all who would live and work and play in Maine; who will, for the good of all, lead an executive branch that needs at once to be both competitive and collaborative; and who will fight for a more prosperous, just, caring and inclusive Maine for all Maine people?”

Richard Barringer served the administrations of four Maine governors, 1973-2010, and was founding director of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine.


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