The government we deserve should sometimes say “No”

One of the most difficult — yet most necessary — things in politics is telling your supporters “no.”  You beseech everyone for votes and contributions during campaigns, hoping to receive enough of each to earn electoral success.  If it works, you take office; those supporters then proffer their preferred policy prescriptions to the issues of the day. And then you must decide.

If, despite your philosophical alignment, you believe the policy wrong, can you say “no?” Or do you pander to them in order to win the next election, whatever it is?

Give credit where it is due; Gov. Janet Mills chose the former. It is not exactly a secret that organized labor generally, and public employee unions in particular, are politically allied with Democrats. It is one of the reasons that the former Assistant Democratic Maine House Leader Terry Hayes left the party.

So what did Gov. Mills do recently? Maine’s public unions rallied the left wings of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses to enact LD 1177.  The would-be law would have enabled unions to force state and town governments into “binding arbitration.” Each side would be able to make their proposals and counteroffers, staking out whatever negotiation position they deemed prudent.

And if they couldn’t agree, an arbitrator — some private third party — would make a decision. A decision that would have the force of law.

In conducting public business, it is a pretty wild proposal. Rather than letting teachers negotiate with administrators, subject to review by school boards, town councils, and — ultimately — voting taxpayers, it would give an unelected third party the ability to decree a contract. Those school budget votes directly impacting everyone’s property tax bill would mean a lot less if the school board was legally bound to implement the arbitrator’s decision.

So Gov. Mills vetoed the bill. And her political allies were none too happy. But she did what she thought was right.

A counterexample is Sen. Bernie Sanders. He captured headlines this week with his proposal to simply eliminate all $1.6 trillion of Americans’ education debt. Delete. Erase. Poof.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign house party, Friday, June 14, 2019, in Windham, N.H. Candidates including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed plans to eliminate tuition at public colleges and universities, while former Vice President Joe Biden and others back plans for free community college. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

If someone grew up in the St. John Valley and decided to attend the University of Maine at Presque Isle to help keep their education affordable, a 2017 UMPI graduate owes on average $23,500. If their best friend chose to enroll at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, the loans are closer to $49,000.

Sanders’ plan treats the two recent graduates exactly the same. Making the responsible choice, even if it was not where their heart was set, leaves the UMPI Owl a fool in hindsight. It’s even worse for the University of Maine graduate who decided to move home and dump all their income into paying off their loans quickly. The average debt coming out of Orono was nearly $35,000 for the Class of ’17. For a graduate who focused all their discretionary income into getting rid of their debt, Sanders plan would mean they went without for naught. 

The worst outcome under Sanders’ scheme is saved for those who volunteered to serve. Part of the deal in enlisting in the armed services is the G.I. Bill, which gives veterans a way to earn a degree at no further cost. Carrying a rifle around Iraq as a Marine was payment enough. Yet, should the Sanders plan go forward, that hard-earned benefit is essentially handed out far and wide, without the sacrifice. Poof.

The entire proposal is silly pandering. But the only reason it has any possibility of working is because people like being pandered to.

So, as voters, we need to decide whether we want elected officials who tell us all the things we want to hear, or those who do what they believe is right, even if it isn’t what we want.

Because, to borrow a phrase from French philosopher Joseph de Maistre, we get the government we deserve. Hopefully, that government includes someone willing to say “no.”

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.