Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling, BDN Agree to Disagree bloggers. Credit: Gabor Degre / 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

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. 

Phil: Let’s try something different this week. Now that the governor’s race is set, how about you make the liberal case for Paul LePage and I make the conservative case for Janet Mills? Let’s see if we can bridge some of the ideological war that encompasses America.

Ethan: You know, at the Pride parade this past weekend, I met a Trump supporter while I was gathering signatures for some progressive referenda. He asked me to name something I liked about Donald Trump. I did (the fact that he didn’t escalate or start any foreign wars). I then asked him to say something nice about Joe Biden or Barack Obama. He couldn’t, but I did get his signature!

Phil: If you got a Trump supporter to sign progressive agenda petitions, I’d say there is still hope for bipartisanship.

Ethan: OK, I’ll start. A positive thing I can say about LePage is that due to his upbringing in a low-income home with domestic violence, he does seem to care about people trapped in generational poverty. 

Phil: I can already feel partisanship melting. And I agree with you. His personal story drives a lot of his policy around social services. I can’t understand why many progressives, who have not walked in his footsteps, make him out to be insensitive to people in the welfare system. 

Ethan: I will bite my tongue on whether those policies actually help because you have asked me to say nice things. OK, give us a conservative argument for Janet Mills.

Phil:  She has kept the base of your party in check through her veto pen, especially those who see all solutions through promoting unions and more regulations.

Ethan: Now you are really challenging me to bite my tongue, but yes I can understand conservatives liking that part of Mills. Which leads me to another nice thing I will say about LePage. He truly believes the ideology he tries to implement. The two of us once had supper at the Blaine House, and we debated tax policy for hours. If nothing else, I came away convinced that he actually believes what he says.

Phil: I actually think the same about Mills. She didn’t veto those bills for political reasons. In fact, making the base of your party mad is rarely a good political move. Mills is doing this because she actually disagrees with the unreasonable wing in your party. 

Ethan: Did you just call my people “unreasonable?”

Phil: Moi? 

Ethan: The last good thing I will say about LePage, although he called himself “Trump before Trump” and many in my party compare him to the same, I don’t actually think that is fair. While LePage has much of Trump’s ugly style, and his policies similarly reflect the most right-wing in your party, I have never considered him corrupt or a traitor. 

Phil: I appreciate that you acknowledge LePage is not a seditionist. Quite a compliment.

Ethan: Compared to the way the autocrat leading your party has personally enriched himself, that’s pretty good. What’s your final positive for Mills?

Phil: Her roots are in rural Maine. She appreciates that way of life in a way that I think most Democrats do not. I give her credit for that. If we have to have a Democratic governor, I want someone who understands rural Maine as deeply as she does. 

Ethan: Well, since Republicans haven’t had a truly rural governor since the 1960s when John Reed, from Fort Fairfield, ascended to the Blaine House, does that mean Mills might get your vote this year?

Phil: You are taking my request for bipartisanship a bit too far.