Opponents of Central Maine Power's proposed hydropower transmission corridor gather at an outdoor election night party as they await results on Question 1, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Farmington, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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No Labels.”

You might remember that name arising after the 2010 election. It was a group that former independent candidate for Maine governor Eliot Cutler helped create after his unsuccessful campaigns.

Their avowed mission is to “combat partisan dysfunction.” A worthy cause. But I think Maine did just that in the 2021 election. Our dysfunction is firmly non-partisan.

Question 1 — the corridor opposition — won resoundingly, and unsurprisingly, at the ballot box. The winning coalition — as well as the non-prevailing side — were both the furthest thing from “partisan” as could be found.

The “Yes” campaign included current state Sen. Rick Bennett, former chair of the Maine GOP.  He was aligned with former state Sen. Tom Saviello — previously a member of both parties — as well as former Assistant Democratic House Leader Seth Berry.

Some members of the environmental community supported the “yes” position, such as the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Council of Maine. They were joined by NextEra Energy, owner of the oil-fired power plant in Yarmouth.

The “No” side — pro-corridor — was no less jumbled. Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage found themselves aligned on the initiative, together with President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.  

Central Maine Power supported it; it was their project, after all. The proposed electricity supplier, Hydro-Quebec, did as well. They are a government-sponsored enterprise.

And some environmental advocates believed the corridor was the right policy prescription, such as the Conservation Law Foundation.  

Go ahead. Try to slap a label on these disparate groups.  

Question 3, the “Right to Food” constitutional amendment, was no different. State Sen. Craig Hickman, a Democrat, and state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Republican, helped lead the charge in Augusta

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine — SAM — and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association — MOFGA — were on the “yes” side of the argument.  

They were opposed by the Maine Farm Bureau and the Maine Municipal Association. GOP Senate Leader Jeff Timberlake, a farmer his entire life, said he cast a no vote. The Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald advocated against it.

It too won resoundingly.

Mainers do a pretty good job with “no labels.” These were heavily debated policy issues. And while I continue to believe that referendums are terrible ways to make law, all those deep in the weeds on these issues came to their positions with real, considered thought.

Janet Mills didn’t rethink her decision because she happened to be aligned with Paul LePage.  Jeff Timberlake stood by his beliefs, even though he was endorsed by SAM in his last election.  

Our example is one the nation should look toward. When we agree with each other, we do so fiercely. The policy outcome is the objective. You saw it with Questions 1 and 3.

Then, in another breath, we might find ourselves standing against our former allies on a different issue. You saw it with the state budget debate.

And that’s okay.

No one is going to agree with anyone 100 percent of the time. If you have 30 discrete questions with only a “yes” or “no” answer, the odds of two people having the same answer to each question is more than a billion-to-one. Of course, policymaking always has more than two answers.

In January, the Maine Legislature will reconvene. There will be lots of policy questions before them. The debate might even be dysfunctional from time-to-time.  

Hopefully it will continue to be driven by issues, not labels.

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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.