A world where money is ‘the decider’

There is growing interest in changing Maine’s electoral system to assure that the winner of a general election receives more than 50 percent of the vote. Ranked choice voting, open primaries and run-off votes are all possible ways to accomplish this. Until any of these become a reality, there is another way. Call up the opposition and persuade them to get out of the race.

Bruce Poliquin, Republican candidate for the 2nd Congressional District race, did just that last week. He placed a phone call to independent candidate Blaine Richardson urging him to leave the race. Richardson’s politics lean toward the conservative, causing concern in the Poliquin camp that he could draw off enough votes from their candidate to usher in Democrat Emily Cain as the victor.

Richardson wasn’t buying it. He dismissed the call to leave the field and suggested that Poliquin spend more time worrying about his own campaign than about the Richardson candidacy.

Two other candidates have given up in the face of what they ultimately considered insurmountable odds. Democrat Steve Woods of Falmouth got in early and dropped out a year ago, endorsing Democratic candidate Mike Michaud when he did so. That left Congressman Michaud in the happy position of having no opposition in the primary election.

Gubernatorial candidate Lee Schultheis of Freeport has also dropped out, if it is possible to drop out when you have declared you are running for governor “but not really.” Schultheis said the failure of candidates Michaud and Gov. Paul LePage to agree to debate within a meaningful time frame gave him “no chance to effectively influence the political discussion in the debate process” and without a platform to effectively get his views in front of the voters.

In an understatement, Schultheis added, “I guess it’s just another reminder of how the process is a bit of an uphill battle for independents within our primarily two-party system.”

In the “not dropping out” column, along with Blaine Richardson, is independent gubernatorial hopeful Eliot Cutler, who is full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes despite calls for him (by Democrats) to abandon ship. Note that they did not ask the same of candidate Elizabeth Mitchell in 2010 when she was steadily losing ground against Cutler.

The gubernatorial field is now set at three following the Sept. 5 deadline to officially withdraw from the race. None of the men left standing in the governor’s race seems to be the sort who will not see his campaign through.

When former President and political rock star Bill Clinton came to Maine on Rep. Michaud’s behalf, a spokeswoman for the Michaud campaign was thrilled with the response. “So many people…want to rally with Mike and President Clinton… that we decided to move to a larger facility.” Mike who? It was the hem of the Big Dog’s garment that the populace wanted to touch.

Meanwhile, back in the 1st Congressional District, a three-way race could not be more of a snooze. Incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree is being challenged by Republican Isaac Misluk and Independent Richard Murphy. No need to memorize those names. Congresswoman Pingree will shred her opponents as readily as Senator Susan Collins will in her re-election race against Democrat Shenna Bellows.

Former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe has a toe in this fall’s election. In a move somewhat out of tune with her mission to disavow the bitterly partisan politics of the day, Sen. Snowe co-hosted a fundraiser for Gov. LePage in August. She officially endorsed candidate LePage in the 2010 election, and whether or not a similar endorsement is forthcoming this time around, her public involvement with his campaign will be good enough.

The tough-talking, desk-pounding, bill-vetoing governor is a funny candidate to win the moderate Sen. Snowe’s support. He has been known to give offense, even to his own party members, a habit usually not in favor with this senator, who has called for greater civility in the public forum.

On one thing, the outspoken governor agrees with Sen. Snowe. “I think Washington is absolutely broken,” he says in a Republican Governors Association’s “American Comeback” advertisement for his campaign. Yes, it is.

So far, Maine state government has been less broken. Quite a bit less. But there are disturbing signs that we are moving in the direction of broken. The partisan divide in Augusta is deepening. A state senate race is now expected to cost in the neighborhood of $60,000.

That is moving those legislative races from an opportunity for almost anyone who is willing to put in sweat equity and a modest amount of cash, to a well-bankrolled adventure for those who have or can raise substantial cash.

Gone are the days when a candidate could simply roam the district, showing up at every town meeting, community gathering and sports event to chat up the locals. That still helps, maybe, but now it is all about the money.

We are lazy citizens. We are persuaded by ridiculous ads, outrageous claims and melodramatic pleas put before us by candidates. Critical thinking? T’ain’t likely. Until we smarten up, money will be the decider.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.