Maine politics ought to ‘simmer down now’ and become a little more old school

“Simmer down now!” Cheri Oteri’s character Nadeen made that line famous on Saturday Night Live. And last Friday, going into a nice, quiet Easter weekend, someone probably should’ve shouted it at Maine politics.

But Cheri Oteri couldn’t have foreseen Terry and Barry.

Good Friday brought the announcement of State Treasurer Terry Hayes’ 2018 bid for the Blaine House. At the same time, Gov. LePage was announcing former lawmaker Barry Hobbins’ nomination as the public advocate.

It is amazing what can happen in six years.

Back at the start of 2011, Hayes and Hobbins were two of the top Democrats in Maine. Barry was chosen to lead the Senate Democratic caucus, while Terry was the “number 2” among House Democrats. Today, one is an independent candidate for governor and the other is Paul LePage’s choice to represent Maine ratepayers before the Public Utilities Commission.

Hayes and Hobbins. Photos by Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Both are Baby Boomers. Both are Maine natives. And both represent a proud tradition of public service, embodied by the moniker “old-school Democrat.” That is why Hayes found support from Republicans in her bid to watch the state bank account, and why Hobbins earned the trust of a GOP governor.

Now, in full disclosure, I am not objective on these two. I’ve known Barry Hobbins for years; he is the attorney who made the motion to admit me to the Maine bar. I haven’t known Terry as long, but worked with her during her legislative service, including her time as the assistant Democratic leader. On some issues, we were allied; on others, opposed. But with Terry, even if you find yourself on different sides of an issue, there is never a question of motive. She knows two people can have different beliefs about the best interests of Maine.

But I’m still a Republican. On a lot of issues, I’m certain I have a difference of opinion from both these individuals. Yet I supported Hayes’ bid for treasurer, and I would support Hobbins in several political pursuits, be it for mayor of Saco or public advocate. Because we need good people to fill those jobs. And we should be able to differentiate the person from their party affiliation.

So it is sad that “old school” gets appended to their descriptions, and neither currently serves in the Legislature. Terry left the Democratic Party, in part because of concerns about the influence unions exert on the party’s policymaking. Hobbins, with 26 years of service representing parts of York County, was jettisoned by Democrats in a primary in favor of one of the leftmost members of the Maine Senate.

Regardless of whether you have an “R,” “D,” “I,” or “G,” — or “LMNOP” — after your name, to get things done in our state, we need more individuals who are willing to do things “old school.” That includes finding ways to make government work, even if everyone doesn’t get exactly what they want. It means having private conversations, rather than rushing to release a statement or a tweet. And it could require hiring qualified people to do a job, even if you don’t always agree with them.

Hayes and Hobbins personify those qualities. There are others in Maine who do as well. And if we’re lucky, they will find their way into the political arena.

So over the next several months, Maine politics will get more and more heated. Candidates left, right, and center will declare their intention to run for governor. Or United States Senate. Or Congress. And you know what? For now, we can simmer down until the field becomes more clear. There is a lot of time between now and 2018. A lot can happen in six months; even more can happen in six years.

Maybe 2023 will see Gov. Mary Mayhew’s appointment of Adam Cote as public advocate get challenged and placed before the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Barry Hobbins. Or maybe it will bring something else.

Who really knows? After all, we thought last weekend was going to bring a nice, quiet Easter.

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.