Moderation and ideology in Franklin County
By John Frary
This is what you must do to raise a spit-storm in Franklin County: Sit down in the Brickyard Café for breakfast; announce that you plan to challenge Tom Saviello in the Republican primary; go down to the Secretary of State’s Office in Augusta and pick up some blank nomination petitions.
That’s all. Your work is done.
When word reached him of these events on the evening of that same day, Sen. Tom Saviello promptly announced that he was poised to abandon his Republican affiliation and “go unenrolled” if threatened with a primary fight.
You (which would be me in this case) didn’t need to collect signatures. You don’t even need to write your own signature in the space provided. In short, you don’t have to do anything. Just say you’re going to do something. In the few days that followed I collected a few signatures; spoke to a couple of reporters and received a couple of emissaries from the GOP leadership. Then I quelled the tempest with a column renouncing my ephemeral candidacy.
It would be unkind to dwell on the evidence we have before us about the depth of Tom’s convictions and the firmness of his backbone, so let us concentrate on the more interesting and significant lessons that spring from this event. Ethan Strimling, on his Feb. 12 BDN blog, tells us that “according to sources within the Republican Party and State House, the stir yesterday was tornado-like when the plan to run tea party favorite Frary against moderate Republican Saviello was exposed....”
According to my sources within the Republican Party and State House Ethan Strimling is a well-dressed boob, but who can say for sure? Political circles are notorious for rumor-mongering. Chris Cousins of the BDN and Kaitlin Schroeder of the Central Maine Papers apparently do not have the advantage of Ethan’s “sources.” So they resorted to calling me. Ethan, my Facebook Friend, can only communicate through that medium; through which he has explained that he’s eager for a chat but has so far found the obstacles insurmountable. I replied with instructions and am now waiting to hear from him.
I was not run and the only plan was my own. Democratic and Republican legislators have remarked that just 10 actual telephone calls from identifiable constituents can sway a legislator’s vote. Republicans who support Governor LePage’s opposition to Medicaid expansion have urged voters who feel the same to call the legislators who appeared likely to vote for an override in hopes of swaying them. My “plan” was simply a gamble that the threat of a primary might prove more effective than a single phone call or e-mail. There’s nothing especially extremist about attempts to pressure legislators. That’s normal politics.
I did not anticipate Tom’s panicky threat to leap back to “Independent” status. Nor did I expect the governor to show up as the villain of a mythical plan. (I should have.) I believe Sen. Tom votes with the Republican majority 70-80 percent of the time (15-20 percent of the time on risky and important issues.) I don’t know who would run in his place as a Republican if he jumped ship, but I knew it was not going to be me. I figured a Democrat would have a good chance of replacing him. This is what agitated some of the GOP leaders.
I’m delighted to hear from Ethan, that I’m a tea party favorite, but have to wonder why the Tea Party people haven’t sent word. I may be the humblest man in Maine, if not all of New England, but I’m burdened with an ego like everyone else and the tiny little nubbin of vanity that goes with it with have enjoyed an accolade.
Ethan’s characterization of Tom Saviello as a “moderate” raises couple of questions. Does Ethan Strimling believe Tom jumped from Democrat to Independent in order to escape association with immoderate ideologues like Ethan Strimling? Does he think he moved from Independent to Republican because he thought the Independents too extreme?
Political commentators and political scientists agree—all of them as near as I can tell—that the correct strategy for candidates in a primary is running to the Right if Republican, to the Left if a Democrat. No less an authority than Edie Smith, Angus King’s henchmammal, instructs us that a moderate course leads to victory. If this is true, and it seems true, how does one distinguish between a principled moderate and an unprincipled opportunist? I have not yet discovered a useful definition, but am willing to be instructed.
Certainly, no one craves “immoderate” as an adjective for himself. Immoderation in most things is alarming, while moderate sounds soothing and agreeable to the ears of many. I claim to have a moderate temperament and I’m not aiming to enter a moderation contest with my Strimling, but I’m prepared to challenge him if the thinks he can get away with hoisting the pennant of High Admiral of the Mainstream Fleet. The evidence suggests that he represents only the mainstream of Portland’s West End. When he ran for Congress in the 2008 Democratic primary he finished fourth with 5,833 votes out of 55,382 votes, while I received ca. 107,000 in the same year and 72,000 as candidate for Middlesex County Freeholder in 1983.
Although “ideologue” has an interesting history stretching back to 1794, it has long since become a mere term of abuse. No one praises his favorite candidates as ideologues. Everyone denies their favored candidates are ideologues. It’s a word that has lost all denotative meaning while positively bulging with negative connotations.
That’s a pity since “ideologue” would have some utility if used selectively to describe persons who 1) believe true ideas, platforms, and manifestos are enough to win elections; 2) that it’s possible to create a political party whose candidates are all moved by principle and none by power, perks, prestige and popularity; 3) that it is possible to enact a program in legislatures without resort to compromise and barter; 4) that a majority of voters will ever give priority to abstract values over material parochial advantages.
Some people believe all of these things. I believe none of them.
John Frary of Farmington is a retired history professor and associate editor of "The International Military Encyclopedia," and ran for Congress in 2008. He writes weekly columns for local newspapers and serves on the board of Maine Taxpayers United.