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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.
Ethan: Did you see that vote in Portland?!
Phil: The vote to hike up school-side property taxes by 5 percent, even though Uncle Joe is sending the state $6 billion in extra cash?
Ethan: I love it when Portland voters choose kids over Amazon paying lower taxes. However, I was referring to the election of charter commissioners. I told you two weeks ago we needed to win six progressive seats to turn our autocracy into a democracy, and we won eight!
Phil: Well, if not for your convoluted ranked-choice voting, my prediction of Steve DiMillo and Ben Grant winning two of those seats would have come true.
Ethan: That same RCV pulled Pat Washburn, another one you predicted, from 7th place in the first round to a seat at the table.
Phil: Only in Portland can a seventh place loser become a trophy winner.
Ethan: The best news of the night is that only one Chamber of Commerce-backed candidate, Marpheen Chann, won an at-large seat. And he got the fewest votes of any at-large winner. This comes after the Chamber lost four of five referendums last fall. Here’s hoping the worm has finally turned on those reactionaries.
Phil: Speaking of the worm turning, do you think a significant number of voters are having buyer’s remorse after Commissioner-elect Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef tweeted that the city manager is a white supremacist?
Ethan: No. Nasreen, who received the most votes of any candidate in the race, was a leader in the Black Lives Matter rallies last spring where hundreds chanted “Jon Jennings has got to go” due to his pushing harmful policies for marginalized communities ( eliminating funds for asylees, closing the India Street Public Health Center, opposing elementary school renovations, closing our shelter doors to the unhoused, under-funding the pesticide ban, etc.). People know what she stands for and that’s what we wanted.
Phil: Calling for him to be fired because you oppose his policies versus calling him a white supremacist are two very different things.
Ethan: Perhaps, but isn’t it interesting that in response to both, the city council has basically reacted the same way? When BLM called for Jennings to be fired last summer, they immediately held a press conference from below his office window to say “No way!”, instead of taking the time to listen. This time, the same. It’s been this way since the first time I criticized his budget because it prioritized “pavement over people” in 2016.
Phil: It seems to me the city manager is a non-entity at this point. He has said he is leaving, and now the new charter commission is clearly going to abolish the position for good.
Ethan: And the irony, honestly, is that the current city manager probably has more to do with people wanting to abolish his position than any other individual in city government. He has been so draconian, and the policies so out of step, that the people have now voted twice in one year to get rid of his position.
Phil: If that’s true, I would put more blame on the council than on the manager. It is their job to make sure their employee enacts the policy the people elected them to pass.
Ethan: Sure, but when the charter puts all the power in his hands, there is little they can do. I am not forgiving them of their sins, but I lost my job as mayor, in part, because I challenged his policies and authority. I expect they do not want the same to befall their own prospects.
Phil: Needless to say, Portland is writing a new constitution. It will be very interesting to watch it come to life.