Hearts & Minds

How can you change someone’s heart and mind, if you don’t believe they possess a heart or mind?
Recently, in a closed Facebook group, we were discussing certain members, and the difficulty of tolerating political differences in thought… here’s my thought for the day:

I’ve made friends from different political affiliations, and have been debating with them for years, and as frustrating as those interactions can be, I’ve chosen to deal with the madness (on a LIMITED level: only at my will, patience, time, desire) because I believe that unfriending, blocking, etc. is not only immature (like junior-high), but unrealistic, and equates to burying our heads in the sand.

In the beginning, my sole purpose was to challenge and defeat those opposing ideas… I thrived on the debate and the ‘one ups’; if I was looking for a little adrenaline rush, I sat at my computer and started typing away with my clever self, sharing my superior (yeah, yeah, I know, I know) thoughts and links.

After years of this mindset, and arguing my points, sometimes, to little, or no avail, I started to notice something. I noticed that no matter WHAT you present to some people: websites, facts, news articles, statistics, etc., they will stubbornly remain vehemently adamant in their beliefs. During these years, as I developed closer friendships with some of my opponents, I noticed something else: that we really DO have things in common, we all have families, friends, desires, fears, misconceptions. I was reminded that as cold, or as wrong, or as uneducated we perceive people to be, they have hearts and minds too.

The reality IS, that people believe the way they do for REASONS… and how can we possibly learn to compromise, and discover the things we DO have in common, if we pretend, and wish away the reality which exists within the people with whom we disagree?

During the recent conversation within that facebook page, I was slapped with the reality that as much as we yell and accuse the ‘other side’ of, exhibiting bigotry, being intolerant, uncompromising, etc., we ALL do the VERY same thing! “You are wrong and stupid; come on, how can you NOT see this?!” We’re NEVER going to change hearts and minds by telling people they are ‘stupid and wrong’… by doing this, we define them as having no heart or mind. Who want’s to hear that? I don’t.

Some were surprised, and shocked that the country turned blood red on November 4th, 2014. I was too; at first… but then I started to think… what did the GOP do? They appealed to… wait for it…. hearts! (which is where fear, and love, and emotion begin). We can fantasize that people ONLY vote with their minds, but it just isn’t so. We ARE human BEINGS. I find it so ironic that liberals have been labeled with the term ‘bleeding-hearts’… well, apparently the GOP aint dumb, because they made hearts bleed; didn’t they?

I believe that we need to move away from the mindset of ‘right/wrong’ and strive to move beyond the false and perpetuated division that has so forcefully and recklessly washed over us.

We have much more in common than we are led to believe, and I have discovered that I have some VERY important issues in common with a few conservative peeps. I’m thankful for those moments… it’s really exciting to discover those commonalties exist with people of whom you’d NEVER expect!

Should we continue to argue our points? Of course! But I think it’s imperative that as we do so, we try to remember that as false and misleading as that story, article, or meme may seem, SOMETHING within it has resonated with the person sharing, and they, most times, BELIEVE it… in… their… HEART. Calling people names, attacking a person, because we disagree with what they believe, will NEVER convince them to change their hearts or minds.

We’re the kids in America

WARNING: If you are a partisan Democrat or Republican, you may not want to continue reading because this post will surely piss you off.

Me and Governor LePage

Me and Governor LePage in 2013.

Nearly 24 hours after the polls closed, there is still a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on here in Maine, where Republicans had much to celebrate last night.

All the pundits, professional and otherwise, have bellied up to the bar to offer their “expert” opinions and analysis about what happened last night, so please forgive me for piling on to the fray of analysis and speculation.

Throughout the day, on social media and around the water cooler, I have heard a wide range of opinions about why Democrat Mike Michaud lost his bid to oust Republican Paul LePage.

Many people blame Independent candidate Eliot Cutler. I disagree, I think Cutler was a factor but not that significant, let’s say 5%

Other people said the controversial “bear-baiting” referendum brought out “conservative/sportsmen” voters who would have otherwise stayed at home during a midterm. Wrong again, in my opinion. But let’s give this “factor” another 5%

Others have said that Gov. LePage was able to latch on to the Ebola hysteria that dominated the final days of the campaign cycle. This one I find laughable, but let’s give it 2 percent, anyway.

Still others have said it was because Michaud was an openly gay candidate. I have a fair amount of Republican friends, and I never heard this issue raised in conversation. But I am also a realist, and I know that awful bigotry does lurk everywhere, so let’s give that factor another 5%.

So far, if you add all these factors together, you only have 17 percent of the puzzle.

So, what really happened last night?

In my opinion, it was two things that really mattered.

For almost four years Democrats have howled and railed about how awful governor Paul Lepage is. In this campaign cycle, they spent boatloads of cash driving home that message. He is a bully. He is an embarrassment. He likes to kill puppies. He spews dioxins.

Let’s, for a moment, assume the Democrats were right that Paul LePage is the worst governor to ever occupy the Blaine House. Let’s assume he is the great Satan.

Well, if that’s the case, how do you lose against such a God-awful candidate? You nominate a weak candidate to take him on.

Everywhere I go, I hear people tell me that Mike Michaud is a “nice guy.” And that is the truth. I have met Mr. Michaud. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a nicer guy.

But you need more than being a nice guy.

Maine’s Democratic Party cleared the primary decks and anointed Michaud as heir apparent with no contest. On paper, it made a certain amount of sense. Michaud was from northern Maine, and he could probably carry southern Maine. He is a respected legislator and held his Second District Congressional seat for several terms. He is likable. A working-class guy just like you.

But Michaud’s campaign focused primarily on being “not Paul LePage.” Voters turn out to be for a candidate, not against a candidate.

LePage had the advantage of being an incumbent and trumpeted his accomplishments. No matter how you feel about the guy, he has a loyal fan base and they rallied like there was no tomorrow.

But all that only counts for 40 percent of why Michaud lost and LePage won last night.

What’s the missing piece of the puzzle?

History and voting trends.

Make no mistake, the President played a factor in this race and several others. Historically, the second-term mid terms are a major disappointment for the person sitting in the Oval Office.

The nation is weary and wants a new direction, away from the party that controls the White House.

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane to 2006. George W. Bush was halfway through his second term in office. He lost Congress in 2006. But what was happening in Maine?

Gov. John Baldacci was seeking re-election. The Republicans nominated conservative Chandler Woodcock to take him on. But the Dems had other problems. Barbara Merrill, a former Democrat lawmaker from Appleton, filed papers as an independent. Pat Lamarche, the driving force behind Maine’s Green Party was also a candidate and threatened to peel progressive votes from Baldacci. Between them, LaMarche and Merrill got roughly 20 percent of the vote.

Baldacci still won because a.) he was a stronger candidate than Woodcock; and b.) because Republicans nationally and at home were useless during the waning days of the Bush Administration.

By contrast, Cutler only got eight percent of the vote, but it would be a major leap of speculation to assume that every one of those votes would have gone to Michaud.

In the end, Michaud was a mediocre candidate who ran an uninspiring campaign while his political party was suffering all over the country.

That’s what happened in Maine last night.

 

 

Radio Free Europe

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

There’s one aspect of this year’s Maine gubernatorial race that has received little attention: where will dispassionate Republicans land on Election Day?

Four years ago, in what was largely a three-way race, Republican Paul LePage became Maine’s governor by securing approximately 38 percent of the vote.

Since then, much has been said about plurality, the merits of run-off elections and the so-called Cutler effect.

But little has changed in how Maine will choose its next governor, and today LePage is again on the ballot with two opponents.

More importantly, we don’t have Independent Shawn Moody (9 percent) to kick around this time.

Moody was always a long-shot, a late entrant, dark-horse candidate with broad appeal. At least a third of his support likely came from Republicans who were less than impressed with LePage’s style and tone.

From my perch, it’s hard to see how LePage has done anything to build his base, to draw in moderates; and I wonder where will those folks go. Will they hold their noses and vote for LePage? Will they hold their noses and vote for Cutler? Will they clamp down on their noses and vote for Democrat Mike Michaud; or will they leave their noses alone and just stay home on Election Day?

Many Democrats blame Cutler for LePage’s election in 2010. They say he split their party’s voting block and could do it again this time.

So far, Cutler is only a shadow of the threat he was in 2010; but even then his support came late in the game. Say what you will, but Cutler’s numbers will likely rise over the next few weeks as LePage and Michaud busy themselves with tearing each other down.

Recent polls have shown LePage and Michaud in a very tight race. So, I want to know where the Moody voters from 2010 will go; all nine percent of them.

Nine percent may not seem like a big number, but LePage simply cannot rest on his base of 35 percent. This time, the Democrats are working harder and smarter than they did in 2010. They are more unified and reaching for the middle.

LePage has an opportunity to draw in some of those moderate voters in the middle, but so far there’s been no evidence that he’s willing to court their vote.

So far, Eliot Cutler is the only candidate working really hard for the middle, the place where a growing number of voters call home. I doubt it will be enough for him to win, but I am positive that it would be enough for LePage to lose.

 

Lido Shuffle

The experiment is over, and it was a bittersweet experience letting it go.

As it is with so many things in life, it occurs to me that my endeavor to create a diverse group to debate differing political ideas with civility was both a phenomenal success and an utter failure. We called this group “Thinking Politics” and its membership quickly swelled beyond my expectations.

WP_20140906_18_48_58_ProLast night, I had the pleasure of participating in the phenomenal success part; but it was the utter failure part that led me to let go of the reins, end the “experiment” and let the group go wherever it wants; allow the other members of this “secret” social media group to experience true self-determination.

I started the group, and until last night served as its primary moderator. Admittedly, I tried to control the group: to maintain a balance between liberal and conservative thought.

My bigger mistake, however, was trying to appease all members of the group, and that caused a lot of anger and dissension.

A few months ago there was a schism of sorts. Roughly 20 percent of the members left the group after I announced that we would leave religion out of our political conversations.

I was angry that these departing members hijacked my group’s name and started a similar group entitled Thinking Politics/Free Speech, as if free speech has no limits.

But the bulk of the original group’s members remained, yet still the dynamic I envisioned never really materialized in a substantive way.

I wanted to see if there would be more intellectual curiosity; if members would be willing to re-examine and challenge their own political pre-conceptions and beliefs.

One of the problems is that the group quickly became dominated by one side of the political aisle. Those in the minority felt frustrated and stopped participating.

In a recent Facebook post, Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under President Clinton, spoke of the value of having his ideas challenged by a good friend during a monthly lunch meeting.

Perhaps that is why last night was such a stunning success.

About 30 members of Thinking Politics convened for an impromptu dinner in Portland. All members, regardless of political affiliation, were invited. It was an awesome experience, full of laughter, shared experiences, good food and plenty of libation.

That experience reminded me of the Political Beer Summits I once organized with friends who often disagreed about political issues. Those summits inspired the creation of Thinking Politics.

When you’re sitting at a table, directly across from your adversary, it becomes instantly clear that you have much more in common than not. We all have funny stories, fond memories, shared experiences, including loss, fear, hope and dreams.

It’s almost impossible to establish that kind of intimacy on the internet. When you are separated by a keyboard and a monitor, it’s much easier to belittle your opponent, to say things you would never say if you were sharing a meal with them.

So, part of me thinks I failed; but as I looked around at the group last night, I also felt a certain sense of pride. The conversations were real, the friendships were plainly evident.

It was a good time for me to say goodbye, to let go of my moderator status and turn over the keys to six others.

Where Thinking Politics goes from here is unknown. What is known, however, is that I will no longer be at the helm of that ship.

My experiment is over, and I regret nothing.

A good friend from Rhode Island accompanied us to the dinner. Her observation meant a lot to me. “Look at all these people, they came from Texas, Illinois and all over, and they really want to be here and meet the other members in person. You started that, Randy, and that’s impressive.”

So, in the end, maybe my time at the helm of Thinking Politics was a stunning success; and thus, it was the perfect time to walk away and let others steer that ship.

 

Who do you love?

cover-classic1.jpgI was saddened this morning to read that the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram will end their longstanding tradition of offering endorsements of political candidates and races.

Although this decision will likely be a popular one among the newspaper’s readers, I think it is a terrible mistake.

In today’s media world, newspapers are struggling to keep up with increasing competition (broadcast journalism, blogs and social media). Newsrooms across the country are also facing other challenges: budgetary constraints that are decimating newsrooms and declining advertising revenues.

For those reasons, and some others, newspapers are losing their gravitas and their once dominant position as the chief source of news and information.

In today’s editorial, the newspaper makes its case for discontinuing endorsements.

“Editorial endorsements are a tradition from the 19th century, when American newspapers were affiliated with political parties. Those newspapers existed to affect the outcome of elections, not just to report on them. The news business changed, but although most newspapers have hung on to the tradition, we could not convince ourselves that hanging on made sense for us.”

The editorial goes to great lengths to disclose its ownership interest by S. Donald Sussman, a frequent contributor to Democratic candidates and the husband of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree as a another reason why it should refrain from making endorsements.

That is, perhaps, the newspaper’s best argument, but the rest of their argument is weak, and not what one would expect from the state’s largest daily newspaper.

“Some people say that a news organization, because of its access to candidates, is in a better position than the average voter to make a choice, but no voter has a shortage of information these days.”

Based on my own experience working for both newspapers and candidates, this argument is tepid, at best.

For the better part of two decades, I worked as both a reporter and an editor at much smaller, community-based newspapers.

During my days as editor of the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Courier (1999-2006), I ran endorsements of local candidates. Today, as it was then, fewer than 2 of 10 people could tell you who was the councilor from Ward 4 in Biddeford or which city council candidates voted against the proposed school budget.

Today, I no longer cover local politics. I work on public policy issues across the state of Maine and beyond.

I spend very little time in my hometown. It’s now basically where I eat and sleep. If I want to know what’s going on, I read my local newspapers. I view the newspapers as more credible and more informed than a local blogger or what Susie Q. Public posts on her Facebook page.

It’s the same for most people I know. We lead busy lives: our kids need back-to-school clothes, there are bills to pay, lawns to mow, laundry to fold, not to mention the demands of our careers.  I no longer have the luxury of hanging out at City Hall as a paid witness.

But when I was an editor, I could speak with authority about local issues and the players driving them. I had a unique perspective. It was my profession.

Shortly, after I left the newspaper business, that publication also stopped offering endorsements of local candidates. I heard from a lot of people who bemoaned the lack of those endorsements and a vibrant editorial page. The purpose of the editorial page is to be subjective (a departure from the rest of the paper that should be objective and neutral) It’s the whole point of an editorial page: for the newspaper to take an informed position on important issues affecting its readers.

How an endorsement changed my life

Finally, the best reason for making endorsements:

It was almost 13 years ago today that I sat down to write a set of endorsements. There were three candidates seeking two seats on the Old Orchard Beach School Board. This was a minor race that the Press Herald would not weigh in upon. Of those three candidates, one was a respected incumbent and two were political newcomers.

But I made a mistake, I thought there was only one seat available. So, I endorsed the incumbent.

The next day, I got a rather nasty e-mail from one of the candidates who told me I should do a better job with my research.

We traded barbs for several days, an e-mail exchange that eventually turned friendly. I met her on election night, but did not dare speak to her.

There were some more e-mails and then a first date.

And then a second and third date.

We have been happily married now for the better part of 12 years.

If I didn’t make any endorsements, I would have never met the love of my life.

And if that isn’t a good reason for making endorsements, then what is?

If I could go back and do it all over again, I would not change a thing.

 

The clock tower is saved!

IMG_1884-1We just received word that the former Lincoln Mill Clock Tower will finally be moved from the near grave it has been resting upon for several years.

A recent fundraising campaign, a long with the generosity of some local real estate developers, has paved the way for the tower to be moved on Thursday, Aug. 28, to a location where it will be restored for future use.

Over the last few years, the remaining portion of the tower has become a public eyesore.  It was removed from its perch in 2007 by the building’s former owners. A previous fundraising campaign fell far short of its goal to keep the tower on the city’s skyline.

The city council fielded numerous complaints about the rotting structure that was sitting idly on the ground, near the center of downtown. They ordered the tower removed or destroyed, despite its historic significance.

But earlier this year a group of Biddeford High School students stepped up, and now there is momentum once again to save an iconic piece of the city’s past.

According to those involved with the move. A crane and equipment will arrive around 6 p.m., and the goal is to have the tower relocated by 2 a.m. 

Lincoln Street may have  to be shut down for several hours (approx 40 yards south of Mulligans to the corner of Lincoln and Main Street).

The boys of summer

canvassI remember it well.  It was the summer of 1985.

I was 21 years old and working for the Maine Peoples Alliance, a progressive, citizens action organization that was then working to raise public awareness about a proposed Community Right-To-Know law that would require small and large companies to publicly disclose to their neighbors what types of hazardous chemicals they were using.

That didn’t matter much to me. What mattered was that I needed a job, and the gig paid $240 per week.

I was hired as a field canvasser. Basically, my job was to go door-to-door in targeted communities and try to raise at least $90/night (quota)  in order to support the financing of our good deeds.

Each day, around 2:30 in the afternoon, me and roughly nine other young and eager do-gooders convened at the MPA’s Portland office to go over our assignments for the evening. Then, we all piled into a Chevy Suburban and were driven to a selected community, where we would receive our individual “turf” assignments.

It was not a bad job for college kids in the summer. The weather was generally cooperative, and the communities were generally the more affluent type.

Before hitting the bricks, we generally were dropped at a local “house of pizza” to gain some nourishment and play epic games of hacky-sack while the canvass director scouted turfs.

Armed with only clipboards, our award-winning smiles and enthusiasm,  we were each set loose in our respective turf to begin hitting every house on the block for signatures on our petition and a pitch to donate.

Sure, I had a lot of doors slammed in my face, but  I could also tell you more funny stories about canvassing than what you would want to hear.

Know this, however: I hit or exceeded my $90 quota every night.

I also fell madly in love with a co-worker. It was an awesome summer, but she broke my heart on the same weekend that Hurricane Gloria hit Maine. I remember it well.

Hurricane Gloria’s damage could not compare to the damage done to my then bleeding, anti-corporate, progressive heart.

Go ahead, blame her for making me a Republican. She was an art student.

Go figure.

And these children that you spit on . . .

Flash forward almost 30 years to Monday night.

Laura and I just returned home after walking the dogs, and we spotted a canvasser at our neighbor’s house.

Laura ducked in the house quickly. She avoids confrontation.

The canvasser spotted me and sized me up as he began walking toward our driveway.

“Can I help you,” I asked, deadly curious about who he was and who he was working for.

I thought about that art student from three decades before. I thought about all the doors slammed in my face. I thought about all the funny stories I accumulated that long ago summer.

This kid . . . this snot-nosed punk . . .  had no idea what was in store for him.

“I’m looking for Laura or Timothy.” he said, glancing at his smartphone.

We never had smartphones.

“Laura is my wife and Tim is my son,” I told him. “Can I help you with something,” I repeated, wondering why he didn’t want to speak with me.

Maybe it was because we were his last house for the evening, or maybe he was just being polite. “Sure, I can talk to you,” he replied, glancing again at his smartphone and instantly pulling up my real first name. (Hint: It’s not Randy, Randall or Randolph)

He asked who I was planning to vote for in Maine’s upcoming gubernatorial election. I gave my answer, and his response was flat. This kid must be a good poker player.

By now, Laura has emerged from the house, and I told the canvasser to ask her the same question. Unlike me, there was no hesitation in Laura’s voice. Her answer was clear and purposeful: Republican Paul LePage had earned her vote, she said.

Trying to mess with his head, I muttered something about Eliot Cutler.

That remark got Laura fired up. “Are you kidding me?” she asked incredulously. The canvasser seemed to be enjoying himself.

So, the three of us spent the next 15 minutes or so talking politics, including Laura setting him straight on the issue of fraud investigators, right there on my front lawn.

This kid was working for the Maine Democratic Party, but he seemed more interested in genuinely hearing our concerns and frustrations than he did about trying to sway our opinions.

He came across as smart, polite and respectful. He held his ground perfectly. He was a good ambassador for his party.

Eventually, his ride arrived and we bid adieu to our new friend.

As I closed the front door, I began to wonder why we usually can’t debate politics with such civility on social media outlets.

The worlds of communication and political strategy are rapidly changing, but Monday’s experience reminded me that there is still tremendous value in knocking on doors and having face-to-face conversations.