Sunday, October 29, 2006

Nearing decision-making time

I’m not ready to endorse a candidate just yet. That is rare for me, as I tend not to be one of those damn “undecideds” that have so much attention foisted upon them each election cycle. This year’s gubernatorial race, up here in Maine, has been different, however. Unlike most years, when you have two sorry choices between twiddle dum and twiddle dee, the inclusion of two strong independent women candidates, very focused on the issues, has forced the two front runners to talk about issues, as difficult as that can be at times, particularly for consummate politicians.

Actually, I mean no offense to the colorful Phillip Morris NaPier, who speaks from the heart and has garnered some press with his insistence that his name be listed on the ballot as, “Phillip Morris Napier, Thu People’s Hero,” a case which was ultimately struck down by a federal judge. In reality, however, NaPier has no real chance at winning and most of his votes will be those that fall in the “none of the above” category.

I’ve been unenrolled as a voter, an independent, for two years now. The 2004 presidential election convinced me that no substantive chance can ever come from the two major parties. The only hope we have as a state and a nation, is to alter our current voting system in order to give third party candidates a real chance at victory. Instant runoff voting might be one way we could do that.

Maine has attempted to level the playing field with its Clean Election Act, as an attempt at removing the influence of money on our state races. While a step in the right direction, it has shown some serious flaws. Realistically, it was intended specifically to allow the two women, Independent Barbara Merrill and Green Party candidate, Pat LaMarche, a chance to compete with and legitimately contend for the Blaine House.

Merrill has gone as far as to write a book, following in the footsteps of Maine’s last successful Independent, Angus King. Merrill lays out in detail her positions on the issues that are germane to a state like Maine. Addressing not just the hot button issues that pertain to Portland, or Augusta, Merrill, who hails from Appleton and has represented a rural area of the state, understands the issues that the rural communities of the state face. Subsequently, her positions reflect that understanding.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a candidates breakfast, hosted by the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce, where I got to see the candidates up close and hear them speak to some of the issues. At that point, I was leaning towards Merrill as my candidate of choice, to occupy the Blaine House. Unfortunately, Merrill revealed a very “catty” public persona, going to great lengths to attempt to pin down and even embarrass some of the other candidates, particularly the incumbent, John Baldacci. Of the four candidates, Merrill comes across as the least likeable for me, on a personal level. Call it shallow if you want, but being able to exhibit some personal charm and humanness goes a long way towards building consensus, something Barbara should be aware of, considering her legislative experience.

The one candidate who surprised me, and in all honesty, I shouldn’t have been, is Pat LaMarche. No stranger to politics, having run for both governor and as the Vice President on the Green Party ticket during the 2004 presidential race, LaMarche is personable, well-versed on the issues and the most genuine of the four. A single mother, who raised two children, selling her house to put them through college, LaMarche, of the four, understands the economic realities of most Mainers on a very personal level. As a result, her ideas for economic development, taxes, education and health care reflect the thoughts of many who reside east and west of I-95, in our state.

Unfortunately for LaMarche, being elected governor is probably remote at best, if not impossible. The race has really been a two person affair, up until Chandler Woodcock’s tax problems. That even may have opened the door, just slightly for one of the two women candidates to sneak into the number two slot, which would be an accomplishment. It appears to me, handicapping the race, that Governor Baldacci, despite the many legitimate issues dogging his candidacy, will be reelected governor of the state of Maine.

As of yesterday, I’m leaning strongly towards voting my conscience, rather than once again, throwing up my hands and voting for the lesser of two evils, as I often do. If I had to choose today, then Pat LaMarche would be my choice for governor. In all honesty, I don’t think I’d be too disappointed to wake up on November 8th, knowing we had both a woman and a third party candidate occupying our state’s highest seat.While Pat’s positions on the issues are very much in line with my values and with where I’d like to see our state go, it is Pat’s humanness that has ultimately won me over. I heard her speaking on John McDonald’s Saturday morning radio call-in show. On numerous occasions, McDonald gave her a clear opportunity to plunge the dagger into Woodcock’s candidacy, over his tax snafus. Time after time, LaMarche exhibited a diplomacy that is rare in politics today. Rather than skating around the issue because of political expediency, she refused to take the bait because she legitimately had empathy for Woodcock’s predicament, particularly for his family and how they must feel. While being a nice person doesn’t necessarily mean one will make a great leader, in LaMarche’s case, it dovetails nicely with this woman’s clear positions that have the interests of Mainers and not some party, or rich benefactors, at their core.

We still have over a week to go and something might come up to make me shift my orientation, but stopping short of an endorsement, Pat LaMarche is the only one of the four legitimate choices that I feel good voting for on a personal level.

FMI information about the upcoming elections, check out Maine Impact, a new twice weekly podcast hosted by Lance Dutson and Jason Clarke.

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