If Maine Republicans want to be taken seriously, they can start by becoming serious themselves.

Following the chaos that engulfed the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday, almost everyone had something to say, and some Republicans who had long neglected to notice that we elected a new president found moments of clarity.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, returning to the floor after order had been restored, said “They tried to disrupt our democracy. They have failed.”

Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler – who lost her seat a day earlier in a runoff election – had planned to object to counting her own state’s electoral vote, but said: “The events that have transpired today have forced me to reconsider and I cannot now, in good conscience, object to the certification of these electors.”

Maine’s Republican legislative office took a different tack. Their joint statement expressed “disappointment” and an oblique reference to “what unfolded in our nation’s Capitol buildings.”

It then said, “Two years of violence and destruction under the cover of peaceful protests have left our nation outraged by this type of behavior.”

It’s an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted, spontaneously, after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last May.

To compare street protests to the incitement of a mob gathered at the call of the soon-to-be-former president, who falsely said “I’ll be there with you” as they set off toward the Capitol, is worse than ham-handed. It is astonishing.

It’s also of a piece with Donald Trump’s reaction to white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017, saying there were “very fine people on both sides” – the false moral equivalence that’s among the worst legacies of this presidency.

In truth, though, Maine Republican lawmakers, as a group, have been failing to rise to the occasion for months.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, as Gov. Janet Mills made full use of her emergency powers to contain the coronavirus, GOP leaders loudly called on their Democratic counterparts to reconvene the Legislature.

Trouble is, they appeared to have no agenda beyond repealing the emergency – rather like Republicans in Congress who, for years, insisting on repealing the Affordable Care Act, but never got around to saying what would replace it.

Then, when lawmakers did begin working on bills remotely, Republican leaders told their members not even to vote on reconvening, killing any chance of resuming the session.

They then blamed Mills for the impasse. And while it’s true that the governor, on her own authority, can recall the Legislature, this rather neglects Republicans’ ability to help do exactly the same thing.

Republicans, and some Democrats, have been critical of Mills for governing without the Legislature; she constructed a 10-year post-pandemic economic plan from a commission that didn’t include a single legislator. Yet clamoring to reconvene, then refusing to do so, gets us nowhere.

The sniping has continued, unabated. When Mills decided to cut short late-night restaurant and tasting room hours with a 9 p.m. curfew, Senate Leader Jeff Timberlake ridiculed the measure as “not based on science” and arbitrary, “as if the virus only comes out at night.”

Mills was instead trying to avoid shutting down restaurants altogether, as many states have been forced to do, along with public schools. So far, most Maine schools have managed to remain open, though there’s no guarantee that can continue.

As for restaurants, with cases soaring to previously unimaginable levels, it’s doubtful most Mainers will be flocking there, restrictions or no.

Attempting to “open up” the economy until vaccination takes hold is senseless, and the GOP has offered precious little beyond that aim.

Ultimately, it’s hard to figure out what the Republican agenda is, or could be. It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of work to do.

The pandemic has greatly reinforced the urgent need for better electronic communication throughout Maine – what we once called universal service, for electricity and telephones.

There’s strong support in both parties, yet no discernable plan on the table, and lots of big questions about how to do it, and pay for it. That might be a better statement to make.

Donald Trump has split the Republican Party as definitively as the Democratic Party was split by slavery before the Civil War, as it ran northern and southern candidates in the 1860 election won by Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican to be elected president. After that, Democrats elected exactly one president during the ensuing half century.

If Maine Republicans don’t want to court similar irrelevance, for a generation or more, they would do well to change their tune – immediately.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, reporter, opinion writer and author for 36 years, has published books about George Mitchell, and the Maine Democratic Party. He welcomes comment at [email protected]

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