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Stuck in the middle with you

Alliance for Maine's Future thinks the Maine Legislature needs more moderates.
By AL DIAMON  |  February 25, 2009

On the surface, moderation appears to be a simple concept. Avoid extremes. Seek compromise. Order pay-per-view porn, but only watch half the movie.

It's sort of like being a hypocrite, except without most of the fun parts.

In reality, being a moderate isn't easy.

Conservatives regard moderate Republicans like Maine senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe as reprehensible for supporting the Democrats' economic stimulus package.

It's clear to them that moderation is a bad thing.

Liberals are outraged by middle-of-the-road Democratic legislators like Bill Diamond of Windham and John Nutting of Leeds, because they're disinclined to raise taxes to balance the state budget, preferring instead to reduce spending.

Moderation, they say, is definitely the wrong way to go.

But GOP right-wingers have been known to find common ground with Dem centrists on economic issues. And ardent leftists sometimes form coalitions with moderate Republicans on social issues. Not only are such loose alliances useful in breaking legislative logjams, they're often the only way to find out what happened in the second part of that porn flick.

For all the abuse moderates take from the fringes, they're essential to the political process. They serve as a buffer from the religious right's desire to reinstitute the Spanish Inquisition and the loony left's efforts to force everyone to work on collective farms. But in spite of the harm they prevent, there's still one incontrovertible fact about moderates.

They're the most boring people on earth.

This explains why there aren't many moderates in state government. Middle-of-the-road candidates explaining their bland approaches to legislating put voters in a coma. When they awaken, they don't even remember to whom they were talking. They end up casting their ballots for politicians who are several inches off plumb, just because they made some kind of impression. Even if it was only by recommending the best pay-per-view porn.

The Alliance for Maine's Future has a plan to change all that. Like moderates, this plan is a little on the dull side. I'll try to make this explanation as brief as possible to help you remain awake (with maybe a reference or two to sex).

The alliance is a pro-business group that supports small, efficient government. It wants lower taxes, streamlined regulations, cheaper energy, and free-market health care. Although AMF claims to be nonpartisan, its agenda has a distinct GOP economic tilt, an impression that's strengthened by its history of running newspaper ads criticizing the voting records of Democratic legislators. And then there's its choice of executive director.

Tony Payne's official biography doesn't mention it, but he's a former Republican Party state official and congressional candidate (he lost in the primary — too moderate). He's also one of a handful of GOP businesspeople who switched their registrations to the Democratic Party last spring to vote for Adam Cote, a Dem middle-of-the-roader, in the 1st District congressional primary (Cote lost — too moderate). And even though Payne is once again a registered Republican, he admits he voted for Barack Obama for president in November and even sent him a campaign contribution.

Payne thinks what the Maine Legislature needs is more moderates.

More Democratic moderates, that is.

Payne said the alliance is working with middle-of-the-road Dems to recruit centrist candidates to run against liberals in party primaries in 2010 and 2012. He hopes to create a moderate bloc of a dozen or more legislators capable of shifting the Democratic majority's left-wing policies toward the middle of the political spectrum.

Payne said many of his GOP allies are shocked by his new approach, feeling he should be devoting his energies to reviving the feeble Republican legislative caucus.

"They're not happy about it," he said. "They think the Democrats are gaming us."

He said dealing with the Dems is simply being realistic.

"Maine is a blue state," he said. "We told our friends in the Republican world, 'This is the only way to get anything done in this economy.' We say, 'Who do you want to deal with, [liberal Speaker of the House] Hannah Pingree or Bill Diamond?'"

Are those my only choices? I don't suppose there's an option where I get to pick between swimsuit models Bar Refaeli and Brooklyn Decker?

Sorry, I was being immoderate. (Although, frankly, it felt pretty good.)

Payne admits it will likely take at least four years for this scheme to have any significant impact on the policies of the Democratic caucus and the Legislature. But he's confident the alliance and its allies can pull this off.

"There are a lot of moderate Democrats out there, who are looking for something better in their legislators," he said. "If we can use them to create a responsible Democratic majority, we win."

He just used "responsible" and "Democratic" in the same sentence.

Seems extreme.

Fanatical comments can be e-mailed

  Topics: News Features , Bill Diamond, John Nutting, Olympia Snowe,  More more >
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