The Universal Notebook: An object lesson in politics

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Not long after we moved to town four years ago, a reader of this column, taking exception to my unapologetic liberalism, commented that my kind was not welcome in Brunswick. I guess the unhappy conservative didn’t realize he lived in a progressive town.

I tend to assume everyone I meet is a liberal Democrat, until disabused of that happy notion. Here in Brunswick that is the case more often than not. Our state representatives – Sen. Everett “Brownie” Carson, Rep. Ralph Tucker, Rep. Mattie Daughtry and Rep. Joyce McCreight, are all Democrats, as is our 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Brunswick neighbor, is an independent of course, but he might just as well be a Democrat (which is why I will be voting for Angus over his unqualified Democratic challenger).

Local elections tend not to be terribly partisan. If there is a difference of opinion, it is usually about taxes. In 1995, I ran for the Yarmouth School Committee against a local man who wanted to cut the school budget. When I won, I served on the committee with a woman who championed the schools and who led the effort that passed a $20 million school facilities bond. I didn’t realize until years later how conservative she was. When I asked her about her support for major increases in the school budget, she told me she was OK with raising taxes as long as the decision to do so was a local one.

On the Nov. 6 ballot, there is only one contested local race, for at-large town councilor. Both candidates are Democrats.

Sande Updegraph, who has lived in town for 17 years, brings a wealth of economic development and business community experience to the table. She is a current member of the Planning Board, a former trustee of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority and a former director of both the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce and Freeport Economic Development Corp.

My lovely wife Carolyn knows Sande from the Freeport Chamber, so when she asked to place a sign on our lawn we naturally obliged. If Dan Ankeles had asked, we would have taken one of his lawn signs, too.

Ankeles, who has lived in town for seven years, brings a wealth of political and public policy experience to the table. He has served on the town recreation committee for five years, including two years as chairman, and was the York County field organizer for the Maine People’s Alliance’s successful 2011 campaign to overturn the ban on same-day voting passed by Republicans and Gov. LePage. He is now a legislative aide in the Maine House Democratic Office.

Updegraph tells me she is running because she is at a point in her life where she has the time to devote to public service. Her primary concern is helping to bring strategic planning to the civic life of Brunswick. It has struck me during the four years we have lived in Brunswick that the town does seem to lack a long-term vision and local officials seem to have a hard time making timely decisions. So strategic planning would be a valuable focus.

Ankeles tells me he is running because he has two young children who are not yet of school age and he wants to help the town achieve a balance between affordability and investment in quality public education. That’s a balance most towns struggle to maintain.

I am told five current town councilors support Updegraph and four support Ankeles. Personally, I think Brunswick is in a win-win situation. I will be happy with whoever wins the at-large seat. Both are well qualified and, I am pleased to say, both speak very highly of one another.

“We were both proud to set an example about the way local politics should be,” Ankeles writes on his campaign Facebook page, “and that’s something we want to keep up throughout this campaign.”

“We’re not just civil to one another,” Updegraph confirms, “we like each other.”

It would be a wonderful thing if state and national elections could be so positive and constructive. Town and city councils can be just as divided and dysfunctional as our state and national governments, but neighbors usually get along a lot better than people who only know one another online.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Terry Hayes has made civility the primary focus of her campaign. While I doubt she’ll break into double digits, the idea that political opponents do not have to attack and demonize one another will no doubt appeal to a lot of people in this sorry age of gotcha gutter politics.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.