Independents Shake up Maine State Legislature

By Matt Wright on December 05, 2017

Independents Shake up Maine State Legislature

Independents in the Maine state legislature now hold  the balance of power. A “fulcrum” of 6 independents and 1 Green Party member has denied both major parties a majority. 

The 74 Democrats and 69 Republicans in the chamber must now work with either each other and/or the bloc of independents to pass legislation.  Rep. Martin Grohman, a former Democrat, recently disaffiliated from his party because he thinks he can accomplish more as an independent.

What I’m doing overall is more about what is wrong with the party system in total, not one individual party. I think where the good work gets done is in the middle. That’s where I like to work and this will position me better to work with anybody. Good ideas come from anywhere. - Rep. Grohman

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Groham is joined in the independent caucus by Rep. Norm Higgins who disaffiliated from the Republican party in October after a disappointing budgeting process that resulted in a government shutdown. Higgins commented on his decision:

The Legislature becomes a partisan arena where the outcomes are measured in wins and losses. Our citizens observe this extreme level of competition and lose faith in our ability as a society to find solutions for the common good. The citizens expect their representatives to work together and capture the best ideas regardless of party and find common-sense solutions.

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Grohman, a manager of a roofing company, and Higgins, a retired school teacher and principal join 4 other independents in the state legislature.  Owen Casas of Rockport, Kent Ackley of Monmouth, former Republican Kevin Battle of South Portland and former Democrat Denise Harlow are working together to bridge the growing partisan divide in Maine.

Casas, who has been active in organizing the centrist coalition in the state says that one of the largest benefits of serving as independent is the ability to work exclusively for the people he represents, instead of working for partisan interests and his constituency.

A small group of independents can have a lot influence by denying both sides a majority.  This forces both sides to make compromises to get legislation passed, and prevents either side from imposing their most radical ideas along partisan line votes. 

Maine Senator Susan Collins is a perfect example of the outsized influence that principled, centrist politicians could have. Collins is a moderate Republican who demonstrated the power of bucking party bosses to represent her constituents when she refused to vote for the Affordable Care Act repeal earlier this year. Perhaps, if Collins was an independent, she could have done the same on the tax debate and forced Republicans to a more sensible proposal.

Sen. Collins is just one example of the independent-minded nature of Maine’s statewide elected leadership. Sen. Angus King is an independent, and though he caucuses with the Democratic party, has been a vocal advocate for coalition building and common-sense leadership.

Maine’s previous governor, Eliot Cutler, was an independent and Terry Hayes (I) has been endorsed by the Centrist Project to become Maine’s next Governor. Hayes, the current state Treasurer, is running a visionary campaign to put the interests of Mainers ahead of partisan interests.

Why is this happening in Maine you might ask?  One reason that Independents have been succeeding in the state is that its voters have been demanding it.  Tom Franklin of the Bangor Daily News writes “Maine politicians are celebrated for representing personal integrity and the public good ahead of party loyalty and conformity to politics as usual.”  

It can be easy to forget in today’s political climate that politicians work for us and who we elect is a representation of us as and our values.  The voters in the small state of Maine have been sending a big message to the rest of the country, demanding their elected officials rise above partisan politics.  It’s time the rest of the country to follow their lead.

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Join Rep. Grohman and Rep. Higgins on our December Founding Member call on December 6th. Sign up to be a member here.