Two political choices I feel good about
Years ago, when the then-editor of The Republican Journal asked me take on a regular column, he pitched the idea that I could write about politics. I guess he assumed that’s what I’d want, given that I had just finished serving in legislative leadership. But as my regular readers know, I’ve gone down a different path, writing columns about my family, and my community, and the work I do with farmers, sprinkled with personal reflections.
Yet in October 2016, how can I not be thinking about the upcoming elections — just as every other American is.
I won’t dwell on the presidential election. Like many Americans, I’m worked up about what I hear and read, and worried about the outcome. I recently heard a national commentator say that Trump disgusts him and Clinton disappoints him. I think that sums up how many people feel.
But although the presidential race gets us down, I feel really good about some of the Maine’s candidates running for office — and I hope you do, too. While it’s definitely true that politics in Maine has become more polarized and less civil since my days in the Legislature, and it’s also true that our current governor — to put it kindly — does not uphold the standards we’ve previously come to expect from our office holders, Maine still offers a beacon of light compared to other states.
I have several theories why Maine politics are different. One of those theories is that our state representative districts are small enough that voters really get to know who is running, and that, as a result, enough voters vote for the person, rather the party, to increase the chances of good outcomes. That’s the only reason why I served four terms representing a Republican district — because people knew me and trusted me, and knew that although I was a Democrat with whom they at times disagreed, they knew that I cared deeply about the district, and that I worked hard to advance the needs of the district.
I feel that Maine voters usually make the right decisions about their state representatives — simply because they know them.
And yet, when we get to the level of a state senator or member of Congress, there is no way that the majority of voters can really know who they are voting for, certainly not as they do with a state representative. Party affiliation begins to play a far bigger role. And each campaign attempts to label its opponent in a certain way, often incorrectly. In short, at this level, at least a piece of what you hear about candidates comes down to campaign-developed images, rather than really knowing them, knowing their true capabilities and motivations.
I want to talk about the capabilities and motivations of two such candidates, Emily Cain and Jonathan Fulford. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know both Emily and Jonathan extremely well.
I served with Emily Cain in the Legislature for six years, and closely followed her ongoing work in the Legislature after I left, often visiting with her at the State House, or in Bangor, where we would chat over lunch at Dysart's. In my entire professional life, I have never met anyone who combines Emily’s clear-eyed pragmatism and intelligence with such passion for advancing public policy that will help our state.
My first interaction with Emily was when she, as a 20-something freshman legislator, came to me about an education bill she was working hard. She knew the topic inside and out, had reached out to every member of the Education Committee — Republican and Democrat — to solicit their input, and was pursuing the bill with great vigor. How could I not be impressed? And in the 14 years since then, she has only impressed me more and more at every turn.
Now, Emily is indeed a Democrat, who cares about the things Democrats care about, but she is not an ideologue. She is always working to make things happen, and she has always been comfortable working with people of other political stripes. As just one example, she has had more success working with Gov. LePage than many members of his own party, not because she agrees with LePage’s views, but because she seeks to build upon the middle ground that exists on many issues.
In her campaign to unseat Congressman Poliquin, Emily is often unfairly and inaccurately portrayed as a typical liberal, but in truth, she is exactly the kind of hard working pragmatist that Washington desperately needs. If we feel that D.C. politics has become intolerably polarized, if we want to move beyond the gridlock, then Emily has the proven skills and the right mindset to serve Maine proudly.
I’ve met Bruce Poliquin, but don’t know him. For all I know, he’s a good man. But the difference is that Emily Cain is a truly exceptional person who, for 10 years, has been successfully doing in Augusta exactly what we need to have happen in Washington. She is the right person at the right time.
I feel the same way about Jonathan Fulford. Here’s a man who is so perfectly suited to serve as our state senator. He cares so deeply about Waldo County — its people, its businesses, and its natural environment. He fully understands Waldo County’s small businesses and our region’s special perspective and special opportunities.
My relationship with Jonathan Fulford goes back only three years, but during that time I have worked with him closely and have been super impressed. Here is a hardworking and successful local businessman who has put all of that on hold to throw himself heart and soul into unseating an incumbent state senator. He’s done so because he fully understands that rural regions like Waldo County will have a bright future only if we do things differently. We live in a special area, with incredibly talented and creative people who can help Maine and perhaps the nation see that there are better ways to grow local businesses, enhance our communities, and live more sustainably. With the right leadership, Waldo County is poised to blossom.
I know Jonathan’s opponent fairly well, having served in the Legislature with him for four years, and having stayed abreast of his career thereafter. I can’t say anything negative about Mike Thibodeau, as I feel he is a decent man trying to do what he feels is best. But that simply doesn’t compare with Jonathan Fulford, who is an energetic and visionary leader, capable of putting Waldo County and our state on the right track for the future.
I know what some readers will say. That here I am as a Democrat advocating for two Democratic candidates. To those people who want to dismiss my opinion along partisan lines, let me to say that I am not a partisan. In fact, other than my own Legislative races, I’ve never committed more time or energy into electing candidates than with two Republicans (including my good friend Rod McElroy from Unity). I have always cared far more about the person than the party.
What I can clearly say about both Emily Cain and Jonathan Fulford is that, in addition to their impressive capabilities, I’m so impressed by what motivates them. Neither is driven by ego. Neither is crazy for power. And though they are very different in their personalities and styles and even some of their views, both Emily and Jonathan possess what for me is the most important quality for elected officials — they are guided by a deep and sincere desire to improve our world.
We are lucky in Maine in so many ways, but we are especially lucky to have candidates like this we can vote for.
John Piotti of Unity runs American Farmland Trust, a national organization that supports farmers. His column “Cedar and Pearl” appears once a month.