At coffee shops and water coolers across the state, the laments have begun.

Call it voter fatigue.

It’s a recurring epidemic that hits us every other year in October, brought on by overexposure to cluttered intersections and wall-to-wall ads yelling at us on TV.

From Madawaska to Kittery, the predictable chorus is rising:

“Why do they spend all their time attacking their opponent? What’s happened to civility and compromise?”

If you pulled together a cross-section of ordinary voters and asked them what they want in a politician they’d say something like this: We want someone who is intelligent and honest, educated but not arrogant, with vision, practical ideas, open ears, a good heart and respect for others.

They want people, above all, who know how to make the economy grow and make government work better.

I met that ideal candidate over coffee a few weeks ago.

He’s been working with some of the region’s best thinkers to bring people together for a new prosperity while streamlining government.

He is excited about Maine’s future, earnest to a fault, with a ready smile, an outstretched hand and a twinkle in his eye.

He has a Ph.D. in economics, works on government efficiency in his day job and is, incidentally, the highest elected independent in the state.

He is state Sen. Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth.

When I asked about his opponent in the current race, all he could say was “he’s a good guy.”

What?

He’s running against you, so he has to be schmuck, right? Is he a crazy radical? A card cheater? Somebody who steals your signs in the middle of the night?

As our second-grader would say, you’re a good guy so he has to be a bad guy.

He just repeated, with a gentle smile, ‘he’s a good guy. I like him’.

It’s very rare that I wish to live anywhere but in our small house by the water in Freeport, but if I lived on a busy road in Yarmouth or Gray or Falmouth, I’d be in my garage painting a big sign for my lawn that thousands would see.

It would say Dick Woodbury for State Senate — Independent. Smart. Good Guy.

We’re confused about this whole civility business. We want people to work together, but we like a good fight, too.

We hate negative advertising, but we tend to believe the worst about people so the ads work. We reward the loud and the flashy over the quiet and effective.

Without even thinking about it we often give extra points to warriors over convenors.

This isn’t a new thing.

Human beings have been struggling with selecting the best leaders since we were in caves trying to follow both the strongman and the shaman.

In small clans and villages over thousands of years we’ve struggled to have both strong leaders who would protect us and smart ones who would elevate and advance us.

Only rarely do we find both together in one individual.

When times are tough we invariably edge toward the strong over the intelligent and sometimes it costs us dearly.

Looking for big arms and loud voices is a deeply ingrained survival trait that we’re only slowly learning to overcome.

It’s part of the reason why societies lurch toward extremes whenever people become fearful or angry.

That battle is being played out today in the presidential race and in state and local races across Maine, as we struggle over a lingering recession and whether to move further right with the tea party, Romney and LePage or back toward the middle.

Maine is facing enormous challenges over the next decade.

We are struggling to give birth to a new economy on the foundations of the old, while maintaining our schools, roads and communities with diminishing public resources and rising anxiety.

In such circumstances, ideologues on the left and right tend to shout the loudest and get the least work done.

What we need now most is people with the temperament and experience to be part of the solution instead of the problem.

I hope that the voters of Dick Woodbury’s Senate district understand how essential people like him are in politics today.

Whether you’re a moderate Republican, an independent or a Democrat, if you live in his district drop everything to support him over this next 12 days.

His loss would be a great tragedy for all of Maine.

 

Alan Caron is a lifelong Mainer, a pro-growth Democrat, an author of Reinventing Maine Government and the upcoming Growing Maine’s Next Economy, due for release in 2013. He can be reached at a[email protected]