Bob Duchesne of Old Town was an exceptional legislator, there for all the right reasons and eager to work with all other legislators. So while I am disappointed that he decided not to run for re-election, I can’t really argue with him about it, because the last legislative session was so disappointing and frustrating.

Back in 2012, Bob was term-limited out of his seat one session and he took that opportunity to write a column of tips for legislators. “Maine’s term limits law is going to give me more time for birding,” he wrote. “That’s a good thing.” Bob is Maine’s top birding guide and author of the “Maine Birding Trail.”

Today I want to share with you Bob’s advice for legislators, which I hope you will copy and give to your state representative and senator. Here is Bob’s advice:

“My experience in the Legislature has led me to develop a set of principles that might come in handy for newly elected senators and representatives. I tried to come up with a unique name for these principles, and I’ve decided on “Robert’s Rules of Order.” I’m sure that’s a title that has never been used before. Here are just a few:

“The single most important thing to remember about any legislature is that legislatures do not solve problems — they make trade-offs. Every law is a balance between competing values. If no conflict exists, no law is needed. Even a speed limit is just a trade-off between the personal liberty to drive like a knucklehead and the public’s right to be safe from knuckleheads.

“The State House is a fact-free zone. In the mathematics of lawmaking, truth is a variable and bull is a constant. I advise the new legislators … to fact check not just what the opponents say, but also what their friends say.

“Legislating is a team sport. The second most important thing a legislator can do is the right thing. The first most important thing is to give others the political cover they need to do the right thing.

“Politicians ask: ‘How do we get it passed?’ Policymakers ask: ‘How do we get it right?’

“The surest sign of policy failure is a straight party-line vote. The majority party does its best work when it doesn’t have enough votes to do its worst work.

“The cornerstone of good policy is good process, founded on respect for one another and respect for the rules. If a legislator can’t respect others, trust me, he or she won’t be respected either.

“A properly functioning legislature lives by three Ps: politics, policy and process. To do good policy, one must put aside politics and work through the process. If someone can’t put aside the politics, they don’t deserve to be in politics. Are you listening, Congress?

“I have a few more Robert’s Rules, but I don’t want to get preachy. America was founded on the basis of mistrust for government. It comes naturally to Americans to regard laws as an imposition upon personal liberty. But laws are really just the rules we democratically agree to accept, so that conflict is not settled with insult or violence. These agreements may be changed at any time, and sometimes they should be.

“As a state that has forever valued hunting and fishing, our love of wildlife runs deep. Birds aren’t the only concern. Brook trout habitat is threatened. The deer herd has vanished in parts of Maine. We have generally accepted the need for discipline and prudence in order to preserve our natural heritage, and such stewardship values do work. Three years ago, the bald eagle was removed from Maine’s endangered and threatened species list. But there is never full agreement about how to balance the competing needs of critters and humans.

“Expect bills to be introduced next year to reduce natural resource protections. The arguments will resume. And this time, I’ll be at home sitting on the couch, reading about it in the paper. Maybe.”

It is my hope that Bob will get off the couch, from time to time, to help legislators achieve our goals for Maine. Bob — you know there are birds in Augusta, so come on down!

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at

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