The Center Road: Will the one in the middle please stand up?

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Readers of this occasional column know I believe that voters deserve better choices at election time.

Too often, we are faced with candidates who oppose each other on everything, and spend their time tearing down the other candidate. No one is left standing, which leaves no one to look up to.

Once in office, the survivors continue the battle. Instead of working to solve problems, they just fight some more. One wonders if they know how to do anything else. This is more than too much caffeine. It is the intentional use of discord, aggression and anger as a means of creating and then resolving conflicts.

My column is called “The Center Road” for a reason. There is a better way. The middle ground.

In Maine, a couple of groups have recently formed with the aim of introducing more moderate candidates.

A national group, the Centrist Project, intends to encourage the introduction of moderate candidates into state legislatures in sufficient numbers that the activists in the two major parties will become less combative. The theory is that if no party can reliably command sufficient loyalty to dominate an agenda, then the assemblies will start to cooperate and compromise, and actually get things done. At least that’s the hope.

A local chapter, the Portland Centrists, has established a Facebook page. It recently held an inaugural meeting. I decided to attend and take a look. Maine is one of its 10 targeted states whose legislatures are fairly evenly divided and where a small wedge of moderates could potentially change the tone. Their idea is to introduce more reason and respect into governing. That group has a set of published principles, and has endorsed its first candidate, independent Terry Hayes for governor of Maine. Hayes currently serves as state treasurer.

A second group, Maine Independents, has been organized as a Political Action Committee by well-known political activists such as Eliot Cutler and Kyle Bailey. They also want to encourage more independent candidates running in Maine. Their plan is to provide the sort of pre-packaged support and advice that a political party might offer, although at a distance due to rules that restrict PACs from direct participation in campaigns.

Representatives of both groups have told me that neither organization wishes to become a new party. It’s probably impossible to “organize” independents anyway.

I should point out that “independent” simply means someone not enrolled in any political party. In contrast, a “moderate” or a “centrist” is a person who avoids identifying strongly with liberal or conservative views, or who maintains a mixture of both. There are certainly independents who are extremists, as well as moderates who participate in one party or another.

Labels are tricky and misleading. It is better just to ask candidates for their views.

Around this time of year, we hear speeches congratulating our graduates for their accomplishments, reminding us that ignorance is not a virtue. Facts matter. Reason and science are the root of progress and civilization.

I believe that parties, in the current arena, tend to foster conflict and dissention, thriving on finding someone to blame instead of someone who will negotiate. What we need is independent thinking, rational problem-solving behavior, a quest for common ground, and civility. Unfortunately, being reasonable does not create exciting campaigns or compelling visuals.

Compromise is a constructive word, not a traitorous one. Yes, moderate views are harder to explain, and make everyone just a little uncomfortable. But cooperation brings progress. Modest solutions become small steps forward. Instead of “winning” or “losing” for the moment, we get a slightly better world.

I continue to believe that ranked choice voting will encourage more choice, and more civility, in governance. Although the Maine Supreme Court has ruled that the state constitution prevents its application in state races, I believe it will still be helpful in federal elections in Maine. I also urge that the voters be given the opportunity to amend the constitution to allow its use for state offices also.

It has been said that there are “more than two types of Mainers.” Indeed, Sen. Susan Collins has asked for the encouragement of “fanatical moderates” to seek public office.

I believe Maine deserves more voice, more choice and a lot less yelling. Instead of leaders and representatives who can only see friends and enemies among their political colleagues, we should be voting for people who only see fellow Americans. I believe this will do more good than banning caffeine at the State House.

If you want better government, I recommend getting to know the candidates, and not just looking for a “D” or “R” next to their names.

Mark D. Grover is a resident of Gray. Your comments may be sent to feedback@markdgrover.com