Now that Democrat Cathy Breen is seated as the legitimate (and original) winner of Senate District 25, the 2014 election is over. For real this time.

But given the rank partisanship and political posturing that surrounded the recount process, I’m increasingly pessimistic this Legislature can find opportunities to constructively work together and produce results.

Not so long ago, Maine was a place where inevitably partisan fights were commonly overcome by personal relationships and a disposition to actually govern. But now, just as in Washington, partisan politics are as predictive of legislative outcomes as a policy’s individual merits.

We waste far too much time, energy, creativity and strategic thinking trying to fabricate political winners and losers, rather than conducting the people’s business for their benefit. Imagine if the same level of vigor and intensity were channeled into thoughtful, productive policy making, rather than trying to “win” the issue, the day, the hour or the tweet.

It’s likely we’ll never un-ring the hyper-partisan bell and should simply submit to the “new normal.” But longtime Augusta observers recognize our increasing ideological tribalism as a change for the worse.

And that trend was on full display in the Senate District 25 recount.


Faced with a potential threat to the integrity of our voting process, the moment unquestionably called for an adult, sober and bipartisan examination of the facts. Instead, we got a deluge of partisan hackery.

By any charitable measure, Democrats were too quick and comfortable alleging any number of Republican-powered conspiracy theories that were as breathless as they were groundless.

Meanwhile, Republicans displayed a surprising initial indifference to preserving the integrity of the voting process (without a hint of irony) by first refusing a second recount and then suggesting that the special committee’s investigation be hurried and perfunctory in order to seat their candidate. Thankfully, with the appointment of state Sen. Roger Katz as committee chair, Republicans smartly walked back the rush job.

And while the brief work of the committee itself is unquestionably worthy of applause, it was the surrounding atmospherics – media releases, political columns, press conferences, blog posts and tweets – that put the bare politics on full display.

The irony, of course, is that the recount was a made-for-TV bipartisan moment, if only the partisans had the sense to recognize it.

In a parallel political universe, it’s not hard to imagine Senate President Michael Thibodeau and Minority Leader Justin Alfond issuing a joint statement saying, “As Senate leaders of both parties, we are deeply concerned about the differing outcomes in Senate District 25 on Election Day and in the subsequent recount.


“This discrepancy strikes at the heart of our voting system and we pledge to work together – not as partisans but as leaders in the people’s Legislature – to ensure that the Long Island ballots are fully examined, our election processes strengthened, and the duly elected Senator from District 25 is properly and promptly seated.”

Why should that be so hard? It’s a political win-win that could’ve demonstrated our leaders’ ability to transcend partisan politics on an issue that so self-evidently requires it.

It also could’ve set the tone for a productive and collegial legislative session. But instead everyone reverted to form, showcasing the deep distrust, partisanship and one-upsmanship that now masquerades as political leadership.

The committee’s work similarly offered the governor a magnanimous gubernatorial leadership moment. Had LePage struck a tone equivalent to the statement above, he likely could’ve defused the political circus. But the governor did no such thing. And even after the special committee concluded its work, LePage’s media statement not only failed to welcome and congratulate Cathy Breen, it didn’t even mention her.

Yes, there has always been partisanship in our politics – that’s a given. But now the ideological rifts run so deep that they actually threaten our ability to govern and solve our most pressing political problems.

Can we ever again imagine a day when committed partisans like President Reagan and Tip O’Neill actually compromise and strike a grand bargain? On the national stage, I doubt it. But I withhold some hope for Augusta if we get the right mix of leaders.


For the 127th Legislature, however, that mix doesn’t exist.

Sure, we can hope that chastened Democrats might be more open to compromise or that Republicans will intentionally moderate with the goal of establishing a new, enduring Republican era. We can even pray, as Gov. LePage said during a debate this fall, “that a Frenchman can be taught to cool down. ”

But after watching the Senate District 25 recount go down, I’m feeling neither hopeful nor reverent.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Boston and Portland offices of VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: @CuzziMJ

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