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Robinson: Advice for the Democrats

What is going on with the Maine Democratic Party?

Former Democratic Rep. Stan Short has quit the party. Former Rep. Brian Bolduc, a Democrat, has called them out. The Party’s leadership has left. Former Democrat and current State Treasurer Terry Hayes has laid bare some of the Party’s problems.

But these are just anecdotes… we can also point to recent elections, especially Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s stunning and historic re-election.

What could possibly explain the desertions, the defections, the electoral trouncing? Surely it’s not all Eliot Cutler’s fault.

Treasurer Hayes hit on the problem when she described what she saw as a State House Democrat: “Winning was all that mattered.”

Ask any Republican what the core principles of the Party are and you’re likely to hear a few simple propositions: Taxes should be low, liberty should be protected, and government should be limited. These statements translate easily into a unified conservative coalition.

Now ask the same of Democratic Party insiders. What would the response be? I suspect the answer would be different depending on which interest group a given Democrat subscribes to. Some might say, “Tax the rich.” Some, “Protect the Unions!” Others might say, “Equality!” “Reproductive Rights” “Stop Global Warming!”

With so many disparate interests competing for sway over Democratic officials, it’s difficult to unify behind any core principles. And when you have no core, unifying principles, the only thing you can agree on is winning.

When winning is the only animating passion of a political alliance, the means of victory become less important. Yet as the Party fixates more and more on winning at any cost, it’s only losing more.

What could save the Democratic Party? Well, I’ve never been a fan of giving the other side advice. But the problem now seems a bit more grave — I’m moved by the seriousness of their plight. So here goes a sincere attempt to prescribe some medicine for Maine Democrats:

First, stop demonizing the rich.

It’s incredibly hypocritical to vilify the wealthy when your political party apparatus is a subsidized tool of billionaire S. Donald Sussman, husband to the only federal official you’ve managed to elect in recent years, and millionaire Portlander Justin Alfond is the top Democrat in the State Senate.

It’s not helping you win and it is actually harming us all.

Next, you’ve got to get this environmental thing straightened out. Clearly the whole the-sky-is-falling rhetoric isn’t working, especially not when it’s paired with a set of policies explicitly designed either to retard economic growth or to give money to your green energy cronies.

Democrats should instead focus on balancing Maine’s outdoor heritage and environmental health with a growing economy.

Some of the more radical elements of the party may reject the importance of a growing economy. Heck, some might even think we’ve got 5 or 6 billion too many people on the planet. Don’t let the desire to win at any cost elevate these radical elements.

A more pragmatic environmental policy would put people first, and that means ensuring that environmental regulations accomplish their aims in a manner that is least harmful to economic (and population) growth.

Next, the Party needs to get it’s act together on welfare reform. The whole “War on the Poor” message doesn’t particularly resonate with blue-collar Mainers who regularly see EBT purchases that seem, er, imprudent.

Democrats right now want to have their cake and eat it too. They seem to understand the significance of welfare reform as a campaign issue, but they haven’t really grasped the need for actual policies.

They’re eager to invite credit. During the campaign, they sent out a series of misleading mailers suggesting that they had supported Republican welfare bills. And now they’re endeavoring yet again to claim credit for an initiative of Commissioner Mary Mayhew’s DHHS.

Rather than try to fool voters, Democrats should look to Bill Clinton for inspiration. He joined forces with then-Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich to advance significant welfare reforms.

It’s obvious why Democrats did not cooperate with welfare reform before the election — they didn’t want to give the Governor a victory to campaign on. But while he’s not running another campaign (at least not at the state level), many Democrats are. And they would certainly benefit from being a part of real welfare reform.

After all, if Speaker Eves is comfortable claiming credit for things Mayhew and LePage have done, why can’t he help them do it?