Maine politics: Neither hyper-partisan nor broken


What’s up with the claims that Maine politics is gridlocked?

Here’s an op-ed from the Portland Press Herald making the case:

Thousands of Mainers have had enough of the take-no-prisoners politics that is crippling America and Maine. . .We are fed up with extremism, petty politics and government gridlock.

This piece in support of OneMaine is like that organization’s materials in that it includes not one* single specific incident that it found problematic.

 Its entire case is that this new organization is essential because things are so bad — but then it is incredibly vague and never demonstrates what is so bad in Maine’s politics today.

Worse yet, it mixes things up with its seamless segue to U.S. national politics.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a distinguished conservative Republican from Utah, is facing a primary challenge from within his own Republican Party in large part because he collaborated with the late Ted Kennedy, a liberal from Massachusetts. The partisan jockeying in the congressional debt ceiling debate was so offensive to most Americans that “ridiculous,” “disgusting” and “stupid” were the three words most frequently used by poll respondents to describe what they watched.

Historical use of the filibuster via McClatchy NewspapersYou can make that case with U.S. national politics. As this chart shows, filibusters are way, way up. And President Obama has had a very hard time even getting votes on his nominees.

 But the editorial provides not one recent example from Maine politics. Not one.

Now, I’m not happy with some of the policies that have come out of Augusta. I have been very vocal in my opposition to ending election-day registration. I think the voting system has worked magnificently for almost 40 years and all evidence shows that has produced high levels of voting. Election day registration is particularly helpful to people who move in-between elections, including seniors who have left their long-time homes, members of the military and their families, students, renters, and people who have had to move to be closer to a new job. It also helps people who work aways from their polling place and hold jobs which don’t easily enable them to visit their town offices. Moreover, there are no problems with the system of election-day registration

But disagreeing with some policy or policies is not the same as having a political system that’s hyper-partisan or broken.

And, in fact, there is evidence that the parties have worked together in some very significant cases in the Maine legislature. They did so in passing the budget. And they just did it in agreeing on a redistricting plan.

The claim that Maine politics is terribly broken may be a good basis for a political campaign and candidacy but it’s just not well-supported by empirical reality.

* Addendum: There is actually one example given of problems in Augusta, in the phrase from the editorial, “partisan bickering actually shut down state government not so long ago.”

Not long ago? That was twenty years ago. As an article about its anniversary this spring noted:

Specters of the shutdown appeared in early 2011 as newly elected Gov. Paul LePage presented a two-year budget. As in 1991, it sought to close a yawning gap between revenues and expenses and asked for a lot of sacrifice from state workers. Feelings were so strong that, for the first time since the 1991 shutdown, some openly feared the same would happen again. But a compromise budget passed this month with bipartisan support, well ahead of the new fiscal year.

 If you have to reach back two decades to claim that today’s politics is broken, well, that’s just not convincing.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.