In Maine, women take the lead

I think Maine earned another cool “first” this week.

Someone with a deeper trivia repertoire than myself can — and I’m sure, will — correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing the Pine Street State just made history. We’re probably the first state whose senior U.S. senator, governor, and elected mayor of its largest city are all simultaneously women.

Whatever your politics, that is a cool development. Particularly in the year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the national suffrage movement.

But I hate identity politics. People shouldn’t be elected to office merely on chromosomal makeup, whether it defines their sex, skin tone, or eye color. And none of those three officeholders were chosen on that basis. None ran on campaigns of women uber alles. Rather, each had attributes, experiences, and policy positions they set before voters.

And they all won. It is a credit to our state.

Kate Snyder takes the oath of office on Dec. 2, becoming Portland’s first elected woman mayor. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder is going to be faced with many of the same challenges as her predecessors, Michael Brennan and Ethan Strimling. She inherits an office that provides a substantial salary — on par with Gov. Janet Mills — and an honorific. However, Portland’s city charter does not vest the mayor’s position with direct power. Former Mayor Strimling spent thousands of tax dollars to confirm that simple fact.

Instead, the role of mayor in our largest city is essentially “Speaker of the City Council.” Snyder will set the agenda and lead the meetings. She has a relatively weak veto when it comes to spending, but exercising that power is likely to lead to sour feelings among her colleagues.  And when those who you rely on to accomplish this no longer trust you, you will fail.

In many ways, Synder will be better served to follow the example of Sen. Susan Collins. For years, plenty of Republicans grumbled and griped about her positions and votes. They felt she was too accommodating of Democrats and unwilling to take a stand for GOP values. “RINO” was one epithet freely spoken, and one of the more charitable.

The loud parts of the left side of the political spectrum direct plenty of their own vitriol at Collins. Out-of-state political activists believe they can convince Mainers to reject Collins in 2020. So, what does it mean when both sides are mad at you?

Well, just this year, she again earned the distinction of most bipartisan U.S. senator. Running away. Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King came in 28th. And the most partisan? The other independent senator: Bernie Sanders.

Collins follows her own path. She makes her own decisions, but she does so in a manner that enables her to work with people of all parties. Snyder’s challenge will be similar, so taking a cue from Collins would be wise.

Meanwhile, Gov. Janet Mills sits in the Blaine House. The American system creates inherent tension between the legislative and executive branches of government. Nonetheless, finding ways to work with others is important to having success.

Mills is much less prolific than her predecessor Gov. Paul LePage when it comes to the use of the veto pen, but still more assertive than her Democratic forebearer Gov. John Baldacci. She rejected eight bills from the Legislature last session; the vetoes were all sustained. One required her to obtain the support of the Republican caucus in the Senate. The GOP supported the Democratic governor while the Democrats opposed her.

Whether you are a man or woman, governing is hard work. There are countless demands from every group. You need to keep taxes low and reasonable while meeting public needs. You need to respond to passions while maintaining objectivity. And you need to find a way to work with countless others elected to office in their own right, with their own ideas, goals, and quirks.

Collins has been doing it for decades. Mills has managed to — on certain issues — gain Republican support. And Snyder has examples to emulate, and they happen to be women.

It is certainly more than a trivia question.

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.