October 11, 2012

Eliot Cutler: Notion that independents are interlopers is wrong

The OneMaine chairman, in backing Angus King for Snowe's Senate seat, says our political system is broken.

Since these pages have been used several times in recent days to kick around my narrow loss to Paul LePage in the 2010 governor's race and the relevance of that loss to this year's Senate race, I would like to weigh in.

First, Greg Kesich wrote a provocative column suggesting that Cynthia Dill should drop out of the race for U.S. Senate to keep Charlie Summers from slipping into office with less than 40 percent of the electorate, just as, he suggested, Libby Mitchell should have exited the governor's race in time to spare us from Paul LePage ("An early exit by Dill would shake up Senate race" Sept. 26).

The column was immediately met with howls of protest and flights of fantasy, first from Patsy Wiggins, a spokesperson for Cynthia Dill, and then from Libby Mitchell, who treated us to an extraordinarily self-indulgent revisionist history of the 2010 campaign.

I understand Mr. Kesich's thinking.

With only about 2.5 percent of Maine's registered voters nominating each of them in their respective primaries, neither Ms. Dill nor Mr. Summers could be said to have a claim on a ballot position that is rooted in deep popular support. At best they can claim to be the nominees of the two major, but shrinking, political parties.

What's unfortunately missing from Maine's electoral process, of course, is an open primary, a run-off election or ranked-choice voting.

The parties wouldn't like it, but any one of those election reforms would ensure that the ultimate winner is approved by a majority of the electorate.

Angus King is the only Senate candidate with the stature, qualifications and independence to fill the Maine seat held for 54 consecutive years by individuals of singular national importance.

Edmund Muskie, George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe each achieved national prominence for their dogged determination to do what is right for the country, regardless of party.

Neither Cynthia Dill nor Charlie Summers even begins to measure up to the leaders who have held this seat.

Neither would act independently of their party leaders.

Each would just be one more Democratic or Republican log in a Capitol Hill logjam, bound to follow the directions of a senator from either Nevada or Kentucky.

Reflected in both Ms. Wiggins' and Ms. Mitchell's responses is the notion that independents like Angus King and me are just interlopers into a political system owned not by the American people, but by the two major parties.

Ms. Wiggins even makes the astonishing assertion that Angus King, the frontrunner from the beginning of the race and a distinguished former governor, is "the spoiler" in the race.

On that point, it's ironic that Libby Mitchell is so indignant about suggestions that Cynthia Dill should drop out of the race.

Ms. Mitchell and her supporters were relentless in trying to cast me as the spoiler in the 2010 governor's race, until it was obvious that my campaign was taking off and hers was sinking fast.

Once that happened, her party, its union supporters and a bunch of out-of-state political action committees launched a million-dollar assault on my character and my career.

Claiming to disavow this negative campaign, Libby Mitchell just threw up her hands and said there was nothing she could do about the tactics of these "independent" groups.

The fact is that, legally, she could have asked them to quit.

But she didn't, just as Charlie Summers won't call off Karl Rove's buddies who are spending millions of dollars to do his dirty work in this campaign.

That's the way Republicans and Democrats play the game these days, and it's why our political system is broken and corrupt.

Libby Mitchell paid the price for failing the Maine electorate's expectations and standards, and so should Summers.

I don't really care if Cynthia Dill drops out of the race or not.

But all Mainers should carefully weigh the consequences of their votes.

If we really want to change the system, if we want to send a message that the politics of personal destruction has no place in Maine or America, there is only one choice this year.

Angus King is offering his service at this critical time in our history for the very reason Olympia Snowe is retiring: Our political system, especially in Washington, is badly broken, thanks to the frequency with which the two major parties put ideological purity and destruction of their opponents ahead of what's best for the country.

A strong Independent can make a difference in Washington, and Angus will.

Eliot Cutler is chairman of OneMaine, a group that advocates intra-party cooperation. He was an independent candidate for governor in 2010.

 

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