BANGOR — Recently, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud announced he was forming an exploratory committee to measure the level of support for a run at the Blaine House.
Within hours, the Maine Democratic Party issued a news release and created Facebook ads to give their full endorsement of Michaud’s candidacy. In doing so, the party completely alienated another, albeit lesser-known, viable gubernatorial candidate who announced five months earlier: Yarmouth Town Council Chairman and businessman Steve Woods.
For party faithful, there is no need to go to the polls in next year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary; state party officials have made up your minds for you.
Traditionally, state political party officials remain neutral in giving any public endorsement – or any inkling of favoritism – to any of their party’s candidates until the day after the nominee is chosen. The primary process allows party members to size up, vet and choose from a list of candidates who they feel will best represent and support their values, the shared values of the party, the hopes of parents and the dreams of younger voters.
Incumbents, on the other hand, are not challenged even though there may be cause to do so: disapproval amongst a majority of voters, poor performance and/or failed policies. Before the post-Labor Day political campaigns even begin, voters appear to be limited by the political parties and news media to three choices for governor.
As Americans, we value the greatest amount of choice in our daily lives: whole, 2 percent or skim milk in quarts, half-gallons and gallons; regular or decaf coffee; Walmart or Kmart; and the ability to chose a Ford, Toyota, Dodge, etc., when we buy a new car.
Political primaries should be no different. While businesses compete to offer consumers better products than their competitors, political parties should hold the same competitive standard, but in principles, ideas and possibilities.
If the political primary serves as a competitive arena for party candidates, then party members must be given a choice next year – if only as a formality – to choose their own fate and the fate of their party. Free passes to certain politicians, or even incumbents, limit the electorate’s ability to make changes for their own benefit and the benefit of their community, state and nation.
With new voices come new ideas. With every new generation comes fresh perspectives and innovative energy to solve old problems, even the ones that have plagued Maine for decades. For party officials to continue to squash or dismiss them for the sole purpose of winning elections does more harm to Maine’s long-term future than the short-term benefit to either political party.
In the case of Michaud and Woods, Democrats should be able to decide between a three-decade-old perspective in managing the symptoms of Maine’s economic problems or a new, business-oriented perspective that will set out to vanquish them. For Republicans, the lack of an alternative choice to Gov. LePage may give party officials a false sense of security in the general election. A competitive primary allows Republican faithful at least an opportunity to measure their confidence in the incumbent.
Unlike choosing our laundry soap, our democratic process is too sacred and too important here in Maine – and across America – for it to become whittled down to “brand-name” recognition like Tide, Gain or All-Temperature Cheer.
Consciously or not, when we choose our elected officials, we bring our values, our experiences and our hopes to the voting booth. Thus, “brand-name” candidates like Michaud and LePage appeal to their popularity, not to their substance.
Name recognition, polling data and fundraising totals do little to demonstrate one’s capability or effectiveness in doing the “job” of governor, respectively. If smart shoppers read product labels, then conscientious voters should have the opportunity to read (or watch) the positions of all political party candidates, and not settle for the one presented to them.
Further, while an open primary allows party members to choose their nominees, the process of electing a governor allows Mainers to select a candidate who holds an accumulative and complex combination of leadership skills, life experiences (business, political, etc.) and the capability to transform our shared hopes and dreams into reality. It should never be about winning a horse race, becoming the Legislature’s “headmaster” or reaffirming one’s rigid, politically charged ideological stance.
Finally, I implore the political parties to reaffirm a basic American value — choice — and understand that the lack of an open primary creates even more choices for voters — viable independent candidates.
Mike Turcotte of Bangor is an adjunct ethics professor at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.