Politics & Other Mistakes: Ugly aftermath

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I wanted to get rid of Bruce Poliquin.

But I didn’t want to get rid of him this way. This feels like cheating.

I’m no fan of Poliquin, Maine’s Republican 2nd District congressman and rejected Chucky doll prototype. I didn’t vote for him, and I don’t support the legal challenge he filed to overturn ranked-choice voting. A complete list of my reasons for disliking him would take more space than this column allows, but here are a few lowlights.

Poliquin doesn’t live in the 2nd District. He has an apartment in Oakland, where he never stays, because his real home is his ritzy waterfront estate in the 1st District town of Georgetown. That kind of phony residency isn’t illegal. It’s just deceptive and insulting to those of us who actually live here.

Unlike every 2nd District representative in memory, Poliquin goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid meeting his constituents. He never holds town meetings. He rarely makes himself available to the news media. And until his poll numbers started tanking, the doors to his district offices were kept locked. If somebody who wasn’t a banker or corporate executive wanted to meet with a staffer, they had to make an appointment.

Poliquin doesn’t take public stands on controversial issues. He scuttles away from reporters seeking his opinions, or he issues vaguely worded statements that could be interpreted as supporting either side. As he admitted in a leaked tape of a speech to a conservative group last year, “It would be stupid for me to engage the national media, to give them and everybody else the ammunition they need, and we lose this seat.”

You could be excused for calling him a little weasel. Except that’d be an insult to little weasels everywhere.

So, you might think I’d be happy about the election results.

In a four-way race, Poliquin fell short (no short jokes, please) of the 50-percent mark, just squeaking out (no rat jokes, please) a fraction-of-a-point plurality over Democratic challenger Jared Golden and two independents of little (no little jokes, please) consequence. If this were any other year in the state’s history, Poliquin would have been headed back to his Murphy-bed-equipped office in Washington to begin his third term in the House.

If that had happened, I’d have been angry and disgusted. Instead, I feel sort of sleazy. I can’t shake the feeling that because we couldn’t beat Poliquin any other way, we changed the rules to put him at a disadvantage. (Insert the cliched sports analogy of your choice here, unless it’s one about cricket, because nobody will have a clue what stuff like “dibbly-dobbly” or “break one’s duck” means.)

This year, for the first time, Maine used ranked-choice voting in federal elections. Much like not really living in the congressional district you’re supposed to be representing, this is legal, but not quite right. Defeating Poliquin by redistributing the second-choice votes of people dumb enough to support those two insignificant independents seems scandalous (Poli-gate?). I know it’s probably constitutional, but so are unlimited corporate campaign donations. Pop the champagne corks if you must, but only because I need a drink to dull my uneasy conscience.

Much has been made of the “Blue Wave” that hit Maine this November. Democrats took control of the governorship, both chambers of the Legislature and held the 1st Congressional District seat. Their candidate for U.S. Senate finished third, but the winner in that race was independent Angus King, who’s a Democrat in every way except for a signature on an enrollment card. And then there was that somewhat tainted Poliquin defeat.

Except Poliquin got more votes in northern, central and western Maine than anybody else. In spite of enduring more attack ads than any other congressional district in the nation – at one point late in the campaign, a negative ad was airing on TV every two minutes – the incumbent congressman, deficient as he was in representing us (and deficient in other areas, too), still managed to earn more support than Golden. The message from voters was hardly a Blue Wave, much less a Golden Shower. It was more like a gray dribble of ambiguity. Not quite enough of us liked not quite anybody to make a clean call – without a little artificial alteration.

Poliquin will soon be gone. He goes out as a whiny loser complaining about the law, the process and the people involved. I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for him. I just wish I could feel good about how we got rid of him.

I’ll probably get over it, but a little sympathy emailed to aldiamon@herniahill.net wouldn’t hurt.

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