To escape the swamp, look to candidates who have served

President Donald Trump’s 2016 promise to drain the swamp seems like a sick joke. Instead, we’re now mired in a deepening swamp.

Given Trump’s history of business fraud, the administration’s swampishness was predictable, but its record is still astonishingly unethical.

Trump gave more ethics waivers to lobbyists to work in his administration in his first four months than former President Barack Obama gave in eight years.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who’s committed numerous ethical violations since taking that post, has a history of accepting financial favors from corporations that gained from his decisions as a government official. While in Oklahoma, a shell company helped him get a loan to buy a “showcase home.” As the New York Times reported, “According to real estate records, the 2003 purchase of the house for $375,000 came at a steep discount of about $100,000 from what [telecommunications lobbyist] Ms. Lindsey had paid a year earlier — a shortfall picked up by her employer, the telecom giant SBC Oklahoma.”

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, left, attends a meeting with President Donald Trump, right, at the White House on Nov. 28.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Mick Mulvaney, interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told banking executives that as a congressman he operated a pay-to-play system. “If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you,” Mulvaney said.

Recently the American Legion asked Congress to block the bureau from dropping a rule prohibiting payday lenders from charging veterans extremely high rates of interest; Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee, has not yet taken a position. When in Congress, Mulvaney received over $70,000 from payday lenders. Since Mulvaney has directed the bureau meant to protect consumers, lawsuits were halted against that predatory industry.

Americans reject this sort of politics. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, while 83 percent of Americans think we should have a system in which elected officials face serious consequences for misconduct, only 30 percent think that’s what exists.

But there is good news. People are ready for a politics that summons something greater in themselves and promotes the common good.  

Americans want the system to be better, to be more representative and less corrupt. In that same Pew survey, nearly eight in 10 people held that in politics “it’s important to respect the rules.” Moreover, people value being citizens and contributing to the community. Around 90 percent think that to be a good citizen it’s important to pay the taxes one owes, to volunteer to help others, follow the law, respect others’ opinions even if you disagree, to pay attention to events, and to vote.  

If there’s a blue wave sweeping Democrats into office, it will be driven by revulsion against corruption and a desire for something better. As part of that wave, Americans will turn to candidates who engaged in service. These include people who served in the military.

Not only are a lot of Democratic veterans running, but 80 percent of Americans have confidence in the military to act in the public’s best interest, more than any other institution.

In Maine that could help Democratic primary candidates Adam Cote, who is running for governor, and Jared Golden, who is running to represent the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Disclosure: My family has donated to Golden’s campaign.) Both are veterans who served in harm’s way. These candidates talk passionately about people’s concerns and about policies, presented in detail on their websites, aimed at helping people put food on their table, get affordable health coverage and promote opportunity for all. And they also emphasize service and leadership focused on pragmatically serving one’s community.

At the same time, one doesn’t need to have been a veteran to have served one’s nation, state or community.

For instance, Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democratic candidate for governor, has used her legal skills to help others. Besides prosecuting crimes, as AG Mills sued opioid manufacturers and used funds from consumer protection lawsuits to provide Narcan to police departments. There are also other public-spirited candidates.

To traverse and escape the deep swamp, citizens should scrutinize policies and assess candidates’ character, examining what office-seekers have done to help others and use this criteria in determining their votes, in June and November.


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.