January 8

FROM THE STATE HOUSE: Lawmaking a responsibility that requires civil discourse, willingness to listen

Sen. Patrick Flood

During this upcoming legislation session, I hope that the legislative and executive branches will work productively on the difficult issues that come before us. I hope that we will avoid the temptation to hold competing one-sided press conferences and to circulate competing one-sided news releases. It is a nearly daily ritual that has become a symbol of our inability to actually reason with one another. The people deserve better.

I hope that we will discourage unproductive posturing, grandstanding and bickering about unimportant topics and focus intelligently on the tough issues. Reasonable working relationships within state government are important. Lawmaking is not theater, nor is it sport. It’s a civic responsibility of representative government that demands the best that elected officials can offer. It is best achieved when we do our work in a manner that is responsible, intelligent, caring, and forthright. And it requires civil discourse and the willingness to listen.

I hope that we will showcase those empowering behaviors; not because they appear diplomatic and respectful to our electorate, but because they work. Let’s be realistic. A lovefest is not essential to our productivity. But let’s also be pragmatic. Meaningful and thoughtful dialogue will trump the silliness of politics every time. We were elected to get things done. I hope that we’ll use time-proven management and communication techniques that get results; techniques such as respectfully discussing and negotiating disagreements, carefully choosing our words and listening to facts from all perspectives.

In a large sense, our duty is to find solutions to significant problems. And the biggest part of problem-solving is listening. We are not experts in most items that come before us at the State House. Therefore, without listening, we can never fully understand the root causes of problems. And we can’t listen carefully when we are busy finding ways to disrupt or dispute the viewpoints of others. We need to do the hard work to find the best answers. And that doesn’t mean taking the easy way out and splitting the problems and/or the possible solutions in half and calling that a compromise. It means searching, questioning and then searching some more.

With this type of earnest effort, we can discover the best possible answers to our health care, budgetary or natural resource issues, and hope to achieve the essential support from both branches of government. And to keep the process productive, we should avoid the political enticements to make other decisionmakers look weak, incorrect or wrong. We should avoid inflammatory phrasing and other disempowering behaviors because they will thwart the support of the legislative and executive branches to get votes necessary to enact important solutions.

No degree of competent problem-solving is effective if, in our zeal to one-up one another with unproductive target practice, we eliminate the possibility of achieving the necessary support. That takes leadership and diplomacy; not rhetoric and posturing. Let’s give it a shot. The people are waiting.

Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, represents District 21 in southern Kennebec County. He is entering his 10th year as a legislator and has served eight years on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. Email at Senpatrick.flood@legislature.maine.gov.(Editor’s note: A previous online version of this column, as well as the print edition, misidentified Sen. Flood’s party. He is a Republican.)
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