Why Democrats are conflicted about guns

Well, maybe you can make it up after all.

Maine Democrats held their state convention last weekend in Lewiston. As with the Republicans, it was a party affair to energize volunteers, hear from hopefuls, and take care of a little bit of business.

Candidate signs fill the lawn outside the Colisee in Lewiston, where the Maine Democratic Party held its convention last weekend.
(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

One of the functions of a convention is to adopt a party platform, a statement of ideals and goals around which the party rallies. Democratic faithful further to the left offered a slate of amendments calling for any number of planks. However, the one that received the most coverage dealt with firearms.

A blanket ban on “military-style assault weapons” was turned down by the convention. Why? Because rural Democrats believe that such legislation is a poison pill, and they do not want voters in the more pro-firearm parts of the state to think that one of their objectives. Word getting out might lead to losses at the ballot box.

Of course, such a ban exactly what many — if not all — of the Democrats running for governor are calling for. In fact, Mark Eves, one of the leading candidates continually talks about the NRA’s “stranglehold on our government.” Great soundbite. But it is probably made up.

A different Maine news outlet looked at where the NRA gets its vaunted power — their “stranglehold” — in Maine. The answer? People. That is exactly why rural Democrats begged for the convention to abandon planks calling for gun bans; there are a lot of voters in Maine who simply disagree with that policy proposal. Whether there is a critical mass of those voters in a Democratic primary remains to be seen. After all, one of the lines of attack against Janet Mills is her Republican-like score from the NRA.

This divide among Democrats was seen in the Twitterverse. Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, a vocal supporter of activist Betsy Sweet, called the overwhelming vote against a gun ban “so disappointing.” But he then found himself in a battle with the Portland Chamber of Commerce over the weekend.

It goes back to making things up. Back when he was running a non-profit, Strimling solicited — and received — donations from the Chamber of Commerce and its members to support his mission. Assumedly, he recognized the business community believed in making their city better. When Strimling sought the mayoralty, he sought — and received — an endorsement from the chamber. And when Strimling won the job, he offered soaring rhetoric about bringing groups — including the chamber — together, unified, to make Portland better.

Maybe he made it up.

Now, he proudly proclaims “[y]ou must be doing something right when the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce calls you ‘divisive.’” The logical antithesis of that statement is “you must be doing something wrong when the Chamber calls you ‘unifying.’” But I’m not sure candidate Strimling would have wanted that on his palm card back in 2015.

This entire fight began with the mayor’s proposal, working with left-wing advocacy groups, to require every employer operating in Portland to provide paid sick leave under a stringent regulatory structure. Now, paid sick leave is a good thing; businesses should offer it, and we should reform our safety net programs to foster it as well. But the merits and minutiae of the policy are better saved for another day.

Yet Strimling sought the support of the business community to reach his political apex. Now that he has reached it, he thinks he has no need of them, and can take pride in his divisiveness.

The question is outstanding whether gun owners will feel the same. Democrats, as a party, sought to hide their proposals to ban “military-style assault weapons” — whatever that means — so as to not lose votes. But the candidates for governor have made their support of such a ban perfectly clear. We will see what happens.

But I still can’t make it up.

Cianchette serves as a volunteer board member of the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, but all opinions expressed are his own.

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.