Forget campaign 2018, let’s just watch TV

Adam Cote. Janet Mills. Mark Eves. Betsy Sweet. Jim Boyle. Patrick Eisenhart.

To quote Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight: “And here. We. Go.”

That line was one of the final ones uttered in the now-iconic performance. Ledger’s chaotic character wanted one ferry full of Gotham citizens to blow up another ferry filled with convicts. Yet, like most superhero movies, the villain’s plot was foiled. In that case, by the inherent goodness of humanity. His hoped-for fireworks fizzled.

Those watching Maine politics won’t suffer from a lack of loud noises and shiny lights. With 46-ish weeks remaining until the 2018 primary, we have six Democratic candidates in the race with more possibly to come. If 2016’s Democratic presidential primary taught us anything, fireworks shouldn’t be hard to come by.

The party from the left side of the aisle is presently working through an identity crisis. They have not received a majority of the votes in a statewide election since 1988 with Sen. George Mitchell. Their last statewide win was 2006 with Gov. John Baldacci.

So who are Maine Democrats?

Are they tenured technocrats with governing experience? If so, then Mills and Eves should take an early lead. Are they business-minded centrists who hew closer to Clintonian economics? Cote and Boyle appear to fill that bill. Or have they dodged the aloe and continue to feel the Bern? That is Sweet’s sweet spot.

The next 320-something days (yes, we have that long until the primary) will tell us. Watching their fundraising totals, endorsements, and engagement with individuals throughout the state should refine the definition of a modern Maine Democrat. Five months after that will decide if they can break their 12-year funk appealing to Maine voters..

Comparatively, the GOP is boring. Mary Mayhew remains the only declared candidate. Her platform is based on continued tax reduction, redoubled efforts to eliminate the “welfare cliff,” and a calm, steady hand steering the ship of state, avoiding the icebergs of budgetary shortfalls and gimmicky solutions.

For all the discord and disagreement between Gov. LePage, the GOP House caucus, and Republican Senate majority, everyone appears to agree on the outline of broad goals. Disagreement exists only on how to achieve them.

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings are — to borrow from Game of Thrones — “the Others.” In this telling, they aren’t blue-eyed snow monsters. Rather, thus far, they consist of Maine’s State Treasurer Terry Hayes. A former Democratic leader, she follows in the footsteps of Eliot Cutler, hewing close to general Democratic orthodoxy while rejecting the party’s extraordinarily close relationship with public employee unions.

There are countless other characters who have yet to enter into this production. Troy Jackson and Matt Dunlap are suggested from the left. Numerous Republican names are floated, while several unaffiliated candidates are mentioned. And, lest we forget, minor parties — Greens, Libertarians — will field nominees; we might even get an avowed socialist on the ballot if a small cabal is successful in establishing such a party.

But we are still nearly 11 months away from the primary. This is going to be exhausting.

That is one of the challenges of an arms race. In order to be successful in winning the Blaine House, some amount of money is necessary. So candidates seek earlier and earlier entries into the race, trying to capture those dollars and solidify their position. They then use those dollars to find their way into our summer festival parades and litter the landscape with signs and literature.

Politics is infesting every aspect of our life; polarization is on the rise, with social media forcing warring factions onto content-controlled reservations. There are only a few areas of American life which continue to transcend this decent. Sports are one, entertainment is another.

So here’s my proposal: Let’s not pay much attention to the 2018 governor’s race for awhile. Instead, let’s share the experience of The Song of Ice and Fire, Batman, the Red Sox, or the Yarmouth Clam Festival. There are a few things that still bring us together as a community. Plus, their fireworks are much more satisfying.
And if you need your fill of political intrigue? I’d suggest House of Cards. Haven’t watched it myself yet, but, by all accounts, it is much more engaging than fundraising reports.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.