WASHINGTON — With the growth of partisanship and rancor in Washington over the years, elected officials face real danger if they evolve on an issue.

The need to stick to ideologically rigid principles instead of responding to new information means legislators can neither govern toward consensus nor represent the values of the majority of their constituents. We all use our life experiences to evaluate the issues we confront, but too often politicians cannot afford this luxury.

Rep. Mike Michaud’s decision to put the welfare of Maine women and their families ahead of personal ideology is at the center of NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC’s decision to endorse him to be Maine’s next governor.

SWAYED BY OTHER FACTORS

When Michaud first ran for Congress in 2002, NARAL Pro-Choice America PAC endorsed his opponent, a Republican who supported reproductive rights, back when pro-choice Republicans could run competitively. In Michaud’s first year in office, we gave him just a 10 percent rating, making him one of the worst Democrats in Congress when it came to supporting a woman’s freedom to make her own reproductive decisions.

After Michaud came to Washington, we continued to engage him and his staff on the real-world effects of legislation he was voting on. As he heard from his constituents in Maine – especially women – Michaud came to feel the weight of their personal stories.

Michaud came to understand that every decision has a story behind it, and that one-size-fits-all legislation could never serve Maine women and families. He came to understand that without access to family planning, economic and job security will always remain out of reach. And he grappled with the consequences of increasingly extreme legislation that had ramifications extending well beyond abortion access.

When the tea party’s rise shifted control of Congress back to Republicans, women’s freedom to decide what’s best for our families was put on the chopping block almost immediately. I think Michaud shared the shock of so many in our country as we watched the laser-like focus of an extreme faction robbing women of fundamental rights and freedoms.

In the last few years, Michaud has earned a perfect pro-choice score every year from our organization, meaning he has consistently voted for women and our right to decide when, where and how to have a family.

A CONTRAST WITH LEPAGE

But this score could never tell the full story of our decision to endorse him. Through his personal transformation, we’ve come to know Michaud as a thoughtful, committed servant of the people, who understands that representing his constituents’ needs must come before his personal beliefs.

Under Gov. Paul LePage, the rights of Maine women are at real risk. LePage has made it clear that reversing Maine’s excellent protections for reproductive freedom is one of his top priorities.

At a January State House protest of the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision affirming a woman’s right to legal abortion, LePage reiterated his opposition to abortion, although seven in 10 Americans believe that politicians have no business making these decisions for us. He even suggested that ending abortion was a solution to replacing Maine’s aging population.

REASON OVER PARTISANSHIP

LePage’s extreme position doesn’t reflect Maine values. Mainers stand up for autonomy and self-determination, core freedoms we hold dear as Americans. Maine needs a governor who will always be on the side of women, and through his actions – not just his words – Michaud has convinced us he’ll be that governor.

He’s a reminder that no matter how partisan our political system seems to get, there are still thoughtful, engaged public servants willing to listen.

I recently stood on the Supreme Court steps after watching arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, which will determine whether bosses can refuse to cover their employees’ birth control. On one side was a rally supporting a woman’s right to make health care decisions for herself, without interference from her boss or politicians. On the other side, a group stood up for corporations’ rights to practice religion at the expense of their employees.

A line of tape separated the two rallies, but it may as well have been a brick wall. No one there that day was engaging in the kind of listening that allows for evolved opinions. It makes our experience with Michaud that much more remarkable.

NARAL Pro-Choice America and our 12,000 member activists in Maine are proud to have worked with Michaud as he integrated real-world experience into his positions and his voting record. We know he’ll be an excellent advocate for Maine women as their governor.

— Special to the Press Herald