In the glitter and glitz of this holiday season, let spiders spin webs around our Flexible Flyer sleds. We’re moving on. ‘Tis the season to focus on flexibility, the concept, instead. The year coming up is a year when flexibility in governing is going to count.
From the halls of Congress to the State House in Augusta, from school board meetings to planning sessions for teachers’ union leaders, any sense of business as usual, of rules they know and procedures they can predict has pretty much gone out the window. And nobody, let’s face it, has the foggiest notion what, short of endless wrangling, is going to replace those staples in the gritty political months ahead.
Good intentions do exist. They may not be thick on the ground, but they are there. “I hope to not be such a newbie, and understand what we need to do to get legislation passed and help my constituents and the state as a whole,” Democratic Rep.-elect Walter Kumiega of Deer Isle told the Associated Press in November. Good for him.
“It’s easy for first-time legislators to get overwhelmed and feel like they need to do everything,” counseled one voice of experience, outgoing House Speaker Hannah Pingree.
How “easy” a significant number of lawmakers are already finding out. The new Maine Legislature encompasses 53 new House members and 12 new state senators. They are members of a Legislature that will have a 78-72 split favoring Republicans in the House and a 20-34 split also favoring Republicans in the Senate. Each chamber will also have one independent.
So much for the numbers. But let’s remember that Maine’s numbers reflect ordinary people – citizen legislators – about to assume extraordinary responsibilities. With at least one winning race under their belts, new legislators probably have a pretty good idea how to campaign for elective office. But elected leaders, as has been pointed out before, campaign in poetry; they govern in prose. Politicians learn the depth of that difference as they go along.
There is a lot of learning – which depends significantly on flexibility in thinking, planning and acting – going on now. Look, for instance, at the distinctions emerging in and around Maine’s incoming governor, Republican Paul LePage.
A few months ago, LePage conveyed the image of a blustery, bullying Santa Claus, taking to his sky sled early to drop news bombs here and there that pretty much could be summed up in one phrase, “Damn the torpedoes.” He was going to move on to the highest administrative post in state government and show everybody how it ought to be done – including the president of the United States.
Then LePage won the election. No matter how convoluted the voting, he walked off with the prize. And we’ve been watching him grow into it in thought and demeanor ever since. That’s when flexibility serves its purpose. It makes good governing possible. And we all benefit.
In Washington, meanwhile, we’re getting a lesson in how badly things gum up when flexibility in the public interest is given no chance to work.
On Nov. 22, Paul Krugman of The New York Times looked straight at the problem, citing Republican eagerness to get back to their primary order of business these days – making sure that Barack Obama becomes a fleeting, one-term president.
“The fact is,” Krugman declared, “that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party’s cooperation – cooperation that won’t be forthcoming.”
Is that what we voted for? I don’t think so. But it is a chilling assessment.
People committed to political games should get out their sleds. It’s a fast, downhill ride. Those committed to governing responsibly can choose a higher road – the route marked “flexibility.” It’s long, it’s tough, but it’s in the public good.