As Featured in the Courier Newspaper
Since the announcement of her retirement, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe has been highlighting the challenges of bitter partisanship in the hallowed halls of our nation’s capitol. Over the years I’ve disagreed with the senator’s position on certain issues, but I’ve always had the utmost respect for her commitment to public service. More than anything else, I respect the fact that she bucks with her own party when necessary to do what is in the best interest of Maine. We need more moderates on both sides of the aisle in state and national politics. If we did, you would be shocked at how much we could actually get accomplished. It saddens me to see Sen. Snowe leave with a bitter taste of staled cooperation, but it sent a message through the political establishment that something has to give.
It might not be common for a Democratic candidate to work for the sitting U.S. senator of an opposing party, but I did. I consider myself to be a more moderate Democrat with a strong independent streak. While there is no doubt about my core democratic principles, I don’t see party affiliation before I cast my own personal vote or when working with other legislators. This is why I’m applying what I’ve learned in interning with Sen. Snowe in the role of state representative.
On day one in Augusta, even before I was sworn into office, I collaborated with other young legislators to start forming a younger-than-30 caucus. The first legislators I talked to weren’t Democrats, but Republicans. In fact, through this process I’ve come to discover many things some of the younger “new generation” Republicans and I have in common when it comes to public policy. Topics such as education reform, tax policy, support for small business – these are things that aren’t Democratic or Republican. They are merely issues that need to be worked on. It is my hope through this under 30 caucus that we are able to set the example for the rest of the Legislature on how political opposites can attract, come together and solve issues much like Sen. Snowe was able to do and newly elected Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King will hopefully emulate.
I also recommended to upper leadership that House members be seated in the chamber in a politically neutral way. It is custom to split the members into Democrat and Republican sides depending on the size of the majority. While sitting next to a member of your own party might be a nice security blanket for a legislator, it does nothing to advance the cause of bi-partisanship. While having a joint seating arrangement has happened in the past, it will not happen in this upcoming session. It is my hope to continue to push for this as a way to encourage political collaboration as opposed to having a very literal aisle of separation. I’ve already reached out to members in the minority party to work on legislation together and look forward to continuing that trend throughout the course of this upcoming session.
Justin Chenette is the state representative for district 134 in Saco. You can get legislative updates about the work out of the 126th Legislature at Facebook.com/ justinforsaco, Twitter.com/justinchenette, and at www.justinchenette.com.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco