Disagree with your local business’ political position? Let’s boycott the boycott

Two months ago, I denounced denouncing. Now, I’m going to call for a boycott of boycotts.

Political debates can set Americans against their fellow Americans and Mainers against Mainers. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, steel sharpens steel; the war of ideas should be waged and the best should ultimately prevail. Yet, as with loud arguments at the Thanksgiving dinner table, when the shouting is done we’re ultimately all in the same boat.

The concern arises when political disagreements spill into other spheres of life. With the Bangor Daily News’ reporting on the small Maine restaurants who oppose the effective elimination of tipping by referendum, cries of “boycott!” have begun.

Our republic heads down a dangerous path when we turn on each other for having differing political opinions. Destroying the livelihoods of our friends and neighbors as part of total political warfare is like Sherman’s march to the sea; it is effective in breaking the will of the enemy. But are two sides of a referendum question “enemies?”

I certainly hope not.

Unfortunately, this isn’t merely hypothetical. Brendan Eich was a renowned programmer, responsible for the development of JavaScript. By 2014, he was the CEO of Mozilla, a company he helped found. And in April that year, he “resigned” because of a boycott.

His crime? He didn’t embezzle funds, or surreptitiously sell customer information, or discriminate against his employees. He did something far worse — he donated $1,000 to the “Yes on Proposition 8” campaign in California. In 2008. A proposition passed by over 52 percent of California voters.

It was the proposition that defined marriage in California as “one man, one woman.” This is the same position Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton shared in 2008. But Obama was elected president, Clinton might be, and Eich lost his job.

Is this the path we’re headed down in Maine? Will Maine icons such as Pat’s Pizza or Governor’s Restaurants be subject to boycotts because they believe in tipping?

I certainly hope not.

The perverse thing about calls for boycotts is they ignore the underlying principles of the businesses. People should — and do — vote with their wallets. Part of that calculation is how organizations treat their employees. And the businesses who oppose Question 4? The ones I know believe in taking care of their people. It not only is the best way to attract talent, but it is morally the right thing to do. That is why so many of them have longevity in their organizations, with five-, 10-, or 20-year employees on their staffs.

Boycotts run roughshod over these realities. By most measures, many employers opposing Question 4 would be considered model businesses. They are often family-owned, with their name and reputation on the line, already paying good wages and shouldering their position of responsibility when it comes to their local community, be it through charitable giving or investment. Yet, because they might disagree on a question of public policy, they are pilloried. They shouldn’t be.

Bayside Bowl in Portland in March 2015. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Bayside Bowl in Portland in March 2015. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The inverse of that holds true. Democratic Senate leader Justin Alfond owns a bowling alley in Portland and is a proponent of eliminating the tipped wage. Even if you think his proposals are the wrong solution for our state, political beliefs should not spill over into your decision on whether to frequent his venue. Alfond’s business should rise or fall on whether it delivers a great customer experience, not the owner’s political machinations.

So let’s fight over ideas. Let’s debate whether we should abolish tipping. Let advocates and opponents put their money where their mouths are.

But when all is said and done, we’re all Mainers. And, regardless of whether referendums pass or fail, laws will not make us prosperous. It will take all of us going to work to grow our economy. Can we all focus on that, regardless of our political disagreements?

I certainly hope so.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.