The State House in Augusta stands out against a blue sky on Wednesday Jan. 20, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.

It’s simple. Straightforward. Succinct.

Don’t be a dink.

In other words, don’t be a jerk.

Paeans to civility lost have been penned time and again in recent years. Some on Maine’s political left have derided the calls, suggesting that their anger is righteous. They argue that since they are mad at policy decisions, “uncivil” behavior and words are therefore justified.

Hold that thought.

News broke this week that the Salem, New Hampshire Bull Moose Music store closed after its staff was let go. The facts underlying the situation are not yet clear. However, it appears undisputed that one customer — when asked to put on a mask — flashed his firearm in response.

That’s uncivil. Based on the reports, the customer was being a dink.

On Monday, Gov. Janet Mills lifted her mask mandate to follow federal CDC guidelines statewide. The general reaction has been positive. However, some places have elected to maintain more stringent mask rules.

Will customers honor the wishes of the proprietors? Or will “masks” — or the lack thereof — become some sort of political rallying cry?

Civility calls for the former. When you are in someone else’s home or business, you follow their rules. If you cannot do so, then go elsewhere. Don’t be a dink.

If someone is wearing a mask where it isn’t required, leave them be. If someone is going maskless when masks are not required, leave them be. That’s civility.

This debate blossomed in the Maine Legislature this week as well, with majority Democrats voting to require masks within the State House. Minority Republicans tried to place the Capitol building under the same guidance as the public writ large, but that vote failed.

Some Republicans (and one Libertarian) ignored the duly-enacted policy and entered the State House in violation of the rules. They were stripped of their committee assignments by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau.

The GOP legislators had a great point. The current scientific guidance — as reflected in the CDC guidelines and Gov. Mills’ orders — says masks needn’t be required in places like the legislative chambers. Why would legislators exempt themselves from this objective guidance in favor of something more onerous?

Fissures are appearing in the Democratic majority between moderate members and the more progressive activists. The GOP’s power lies in finding these fault lines to build a coalition of reasonable policymakers and prevent the excesses of the far left.

Building that coalition requires civility. Acquiescing to a majority vote of Democratic leaders shows respect for the institution. The Maine Constitution allows the majority to enact whatever rules they want, irrespective of reason.

But every day, Republicans could have stood on the floor of the chamber and made a motion to overrule the mask mandate. Every day, they would have been voted down. And every day, they could’ve taken their argument to the Maine people. Like Cato, every Republican floor speech could have ended with the cry that “the Democratic mask mandate cannot stand.”

Yet the shock value of a viral video was apparently too much to pass up. Civility was jettisoned. Getting stopped by Maine Capitol Police and thrown off committees shone the limelight on several of the Republican legislators.

However, maybe civility can make a comeback.

Augusta has shown us that perspectives can change and civility can rise anew. In 2015, Maine’s ACLU raised concerns about the state’s “vulgarity” restrictions on license plates. They reportedly told then-Secretary of State Matt Dunlap that such restrictions were on “thin ice” under the Constitution. Now, current Secretary of State — and a former ACLU Executive Director ( though not in 2015) — Shenna Bellows supports a new proposed law to restrict license plates with inappropriate sayings. Sayings that apparently include “URADINK.”

That brings me back to my new rule. I think it’s a pretty good one. Don’t be a dink.

Avatar photo

Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.