Five ways Democrats should use their window of opportunity

In the face of aggressive voter suppression and gerrymandering in many states, voters delivered a rebuke to President Donald Trump and his party, rejecting their policies, use of xenophobic messaging and corruption.

With small donations adding up to large amounts of campaign funds and floods of volunteers talking to their fellow voters, Democrats had their biggest gain of US House seats since Watergate.

While six months ago some thought Republicans could gain enough seats in the Senate for a filibuster-proof supermajority, Democrats limited their losses by flipping Arizona and Nevada.

Gov.-Elect Janet Mills’ win was big — the first time in 52 years for a first-term Maine governor to be elected with a majority. Democrats took the Maine Senate and will hold 21 of its 35 seats, and widened their majority in the Maine House.

Democrat Janet Mills celebrates her victory in Maine’s race for governor on election night. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

In the 2nd Congressional District race, Democrat Jared Golden is expected to win after rankings have been tabulated. Current Rep. Bruce Poliquin filed a lawsuit Tuesday morning to stop the counting. But voters believed their rankings would be respected. After all, the system was used in the June primary when a ranked-choice referendum passed a second time. Golden signaled respect for the independent candidates by saying he would rank them on his own ballot while Poliquin, recognizing the system, told his supporters not to rank, but to simply cast a vote for him. Ranked-choice voting is an instant runoff, a system that is used in some federal elections, and ranked-choice voting has been upheld by courts before.

These wins create a window of opportunity for Democrats. What should they do?

One, Democrats should pursue the policies they promised to improve people’s lives.

In Maine, Medicaid will be expanded. The Mills administration should reverse rules interfering with people getting coverage. Those steps will help our hospitals, the largest employers in most counties. Our public health system needs to be rebuilt and the opioid crisis systematically confronted. Schools at all levels and their students need assistance. Tax policies should reverse regressive elements and help municipalities limit property taxes. These steps and others promote healthy economies with greater opportunity for all.

Two, Mills and the Maine Legislature should restore evidence-based policy practices and rebuild the state’s policy planning and assessment operations. These were undermined, even dismantled, by Gov. Paul LePage. Scientists and social scientists should again provide expertise to make policies better.

Three, congressional Democrats can’t do as much to pass good legislation but they can block harmful policies and improve policymaking. Because Democrats control the House, repealing the Affordable Care Act is no longer possible. With every House committee to be chaired by a Democrat, those leaders can highlight scientific research on climate change and every other problem.

Four, Democrats should stand up for voting rights, doing whatever they can to reverse voter suppression and to make voting more accessible. Maine has strong participation and rigorous systems ensuring the count is accurate but can do even more. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap took on the bogus Trump voter suppression commission and, whatever he does in the next few years, is a source of knowledge and wisdom.

Five, House Democrats should carry out their constitutional obligation to conduct oversight. Even when congressional Republicans asserted they were “concerned” and “bothered” by the Trump administration, they did virtually nothing to rein in its abuses. Now the House must step up to examine the administration’s swampish corruption and authoritarian turn.

Trump has long exhibited disdain for the rule of law and chafed at being investigated. He recently put in place Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who whose firm is under investigation by the FBI for scamming customers and who argued that Robert Mueller’s probe had gone too far. But the House of Representatives could take a route developed during the Watergate investigation to ensure its members receive Mueller’s report and follow-up with its own questions.

With strong support from voters, Democrats should use their window of opportunity to improve policy, better enable voters to cast their ballots and have them counted, and ensure that no elected official is above the law.


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.