Commentary

Where is all the civility we were promised?

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The days are winding down until the June 12th primary elections take place, and negativity has intensified among the candidates. Gubernatorial hopefuls on both sides of the aisle are trading jabs with their opponents, and in the First Congressional District, the three-way race for a seat in the US House of Representatives is heating up between incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree, Republican Mark Holbrook and unenrolled State Representative Martin Grohman.

The Maine Democratic Party recently sent out attacks against Rep. Grohman after he qualified for the ballot, signalling a coordinated effort on behalf of the party to dismember Grohman’s campaign before it gets any legs. Despite promises from RCV opponents that this voting system would end negativity and make for civil campaigning, RCV has not measurably improved Maine’s political climate.

As highlighted by the Bangor Daily News’ State and Capitol blog last week, even though RCV was promised to bring civility to politics, it has actually amplified negativity because candidates are now battling to become one of voters’ two top choices, not simply the first choice as in past elections.

In recent attack ads, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Cote lambasted Attorney General Janet Mills for her role in a water dispute with the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe and for her record on guns. Cote was eventually forced to take down the first attack after several environmental groups mentioned in the ad asked to be removed. Mills responded to Cote’s criticisms with an ad punishing the Sanford attorney for being formerly registered as a Republican.

On the Republican side, it is much of the same; negativity has been just as visible throughout the campaign. Gubernatorial candidate and businessman Shawn Moody has taken heat from Sen. Garrett Mason and former DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew for recently enrolling as a Republican after campaigning as an independent for governor in 2010.

On May 31, Mason released an ad that criticized two of his opponents for their former political affiliations. Not long after, a pro-Mayhew political action committee called Moose Tracks PAC also took aim at Moody for his recent enrollment as a member of the Republican Party. Moody responded to these attacks by going after both Mason for his use of clean election funds and Mayhew for her past involvement in Democratic circles.

All of the ads buys and negative attacks are noteworthy this cycle because of what proponents of RCV claimed prior to the law’s passage. RCV proponents told us time and again that this type of election system would eliminate negativity in politics. For example, FairVote, a major financial backer of Question 5 in 2016, has an entire page on its website dedicated to civil campaigning in RCV elections. Numerous op-eds have been penned in Maine papers with civility as a main selling point of RCV.

Yet here we are, days away from the Maine’s primary elections, and the campaigns are only getting nastier. In fact, RCV has given incentive to all trailing candidates to attack the perceived frontrunner for the purpose of reducing the frontrunner’s first-round vote totals. The smaller the margin between first and second place in the initial round of tabulation (if no majority is reached), the greater chance trailing candidates have to overcome the leader in subsequent rounds. This makes knocking down the frontrunners a priority for each campaign.

RCV has not brought civility to Maine’s body politic, however it appears to have noticeably increased negativity early in the campaign cycle. Like most initiatives pushed by the far left, the outcome sought, or in this case promised, is rarely achieved. RCV has not, and will not, improve the political climate in Maine or in any state where special interests get this radical experiment signed into law.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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