While New York and New Jersey are still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, another area of the country is also in deep trouble. People here and across the country are sending money and food and warm blankets to our neighbors to the south, but Mainers are also sending some much-needed assistance to Washington, D.C.
We’re sending a resource that we have a good supply of and that we’re happy to share. We’re sending a package of moderation, intelligence, humility and common sense in our new senator-elect, Angus King.
On Tuesday night the voters of Maine also sent a message to the country. We rejected both the out-of-state attack ads and the longstanding argument, made by both parties, that the best way to break the gridlock in Washington was to send them more my-way-or-the-highway gridlockers.
What will make King of great value in Washington is not so much that he’s an independent as that he’s independent-minded. This is in keeping with a long tradition here in Maine that has served us well. It is a tradition that has allowed us to send an impressive lineup of national leaders to the U.S. Senate that starts with Margaret Chase Smith and extends through Ed Muskie, Bill Cohen, George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe. King will now add to that line.
All are moderates rather than ideologues and all have had the good judgment to put the state and country ahead of their party and to understand that no single party has all the answers.
Now we’ve taken the step of sending a leader to Washington who isn’t a member of either party but who shares those same traits. In doing that, we’ve stood up and said something important to the rest of the country: It is time for a real change in the way we’ve been doing things. It is time for a renewal of civility and to begin building bridges again in America.
Maine is one of the few states in the country that could lead in this way. In most states, independent candidates operate at the fringes of the two parties. Here, independents overwhelmingly occupy the middle, in the space between the two parties.
What Maine people expect from our candidates for the highest offices is exactly what the country needs. Less partisanship. Fewer no-compromise pledges. More listening and less shouting. We know that those traits are essential to achieving the goals that we all share: solving real problems and moving the country forward.
Angus King reflects those Maine values and hopes as well as anyone. He’s thoughtful and honest while still being tough enough to withstand millions of dollars of attack ads funded by over-rich ideologues whose names we’ll never know. He’s prevailed in this campaign and so have we all. And by doing that, King has given Maine the rare opportunity to replace an outgoing senator of wisdom and stature and clout with another.
I believe Angus King could be an enormously constructive force in Washington. Good for Maine and the country at the same time. Not because he or anyone can change the dysfunction in Washington single-handedly, but because his approach and style, and his election itself, may help to inspire others to expand the common ground between the parties rather than eradicate it.
The country hasn’t a moment to lose. We are more deeply divided today than at any time since the 1930s and possibly since the 1860s. We’re all about red states and blue states when what we need most are united states. All of it is exposing some of the deepest fault lines in the country while constantly dragging us through old debates and petty arguments.
Mainers, like Americans everywhere, are sensing that it has all gone too far and that it produces nothing but stalemate and backward drift. We can only hope that this election in Maine, along with others across the country, was the beginning of a new movement for change in America that is not angry, afraid and divisive but is instead sensible and uniting.
For our part, here in Maine, we’ve done all that we can do. We’ve sent one of our ablest to help you, Washington. We gladly share him, now, with the country.
Alan Caron is a principal of The Harraseeket Strategies Group, a consulting company based in Freeport. He is an author of “Reinventing Maine Government” and the upcoming “Growing Maine’s Next Economy,” due for release in 2013. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.