This week or soon after, we’ll know who Democratic voters in Maine’s Second Congressional District selected to take on US Rep. Bruce Poliquin.
With the nomination fight in the rear view mirror, it will be time for a reality check. Whoever goes up against Poliquin faces the tough challenge of running against a very, very well funded incumbent with a savvy, experienced campaign manager who twice won by strong margins.
Those factors would be nearly insurmountable in ordinary times. However, these are no ordinary times.
Right now most people want Congress to serve as a check on the president but it’s hard to imagine Poliquin taking a stand against his party’s president, no matter how egregious President Donald Trump’s behavior has become. Poliquin’s recurrent silence can be taken as consent, even support.
Take the Trump administration’s latest move on health care, which would return the United States to the bad old days when insurance companies could charge high rates or refuse to sell coverage if someone had a pre-existing condition. People with disabilities or previous illnesses, even basic life conditions like being a woman who had a baby, could be uninsurable.
Last Thursday the administration signed onto a Texas lawsuit that would throw out the Affordable Care Act, including its preexisting conditions provisions. As National Public Radio reports, “As many as 130 million adults under age 65 in the U.S. have pre-existing conditions that could result in their not being able to get insurance coverage in the private market, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The Kaiser Family Foundation puts the number at about a quarter of the country’s under-65 population.”
Poliquin issued no press release about the lawsuit. He might argue that Maine law requires coverage for preexisting conditions, but that would ignore the reality that Mainers care about people who live in other states and if Trump prevailed on preexisting conditions it would affect rates everywhere.
In a matter right in Poliquin’s financial services bailiwick, Mick Mulvaney, who Trump appointed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is undermining the agency’s purpose of protecting consumers. Recently Mulvaney said that when he was a congressman, “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.” When payday lenders sued to stop new regulations, Mulvaney took their side. Mulvaney also just fired consumer advocates who sat on its advisory board.
Poliquin, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee and receives large donations from banks and financial institutions, has, as far as I know, said nothing critical about Mulvaney’s steps that threaten Maine consumers and advantage big banks, payday lenders and Wall Street. Assuming he sincerely agrees with what Mulvaney and Trump are doing to serve financial players over consumers, he’ll never stand up to that agenda.
As founder James Madison explained in 1787, “No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.”
Poliquin has not said anything public about safeguarding this basic principle, despite having sworn an oath to “preserve and protect the Constitution.”
Indeed, as I wrote last year, “of Maine’s four federal legislators, Rep. Bruce Poliquin stands out for avoiding taking positions. Compared to the other three and Gov. Paul LePage, Poliquin is the least candid about controversies.”
Even basic access to Poliquin is limited. Before voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, until the last minute, Poliquin would not say what he would do, and famously ducked into a bathroom when a reporter asked how he’d vote. Previously people could walk into their congressman’s office in Bangor but now Poliquin’s constituents can’t see his staff without an appointment.
Whomever is the Democratic nominee for Maine’s Second Congressional District can set the campaign contrast by standing for standing up against policies that help big banks and hurt Mainers’ health care, and for the rule of the law and checks and balances.