Bruce Poliquin, Republican candidate for Maine's 2nd Congressional District, speaks to reporters during a campaign stop at Dysart's Restaurant and Truck Stop, Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Bangor, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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There’s a shadow haunting Maine elections — a refusal of some campaigns to be upfront with voters. This harms democracy because it thwarts informed political choices.

Mainers have seen political avoidance before.

Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was a devoted practitioner of dodging. Memorably, in May 2017, after a reporter asked how he would vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act, Poliquin ducked into a bathroom and then quickly departed when he saw it was the women’s bathroom. Then the congressman went into the men’s bathroom and later, armed with earbuds, refused to explain or even say where he stood.

And this wasn’t the only time Poliquin bodily ducked responding to constituents.

Not all of Poliquin’s avoidance strategies involved physical movement. For instance, he and the other Republicans who voted for the Trump tax bill never came clean with voters about how, as the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz put it, the law “built in automatic, stepped tax increases every two years that begin in 2021 and that by 2027 would affect nearly everyone but people at the top of the economic hierarchy.”

Now Poliquin’s playbook for dodging voters increasingly relies on vague bromides. A lot of his communications say something like this: There are problems and I’m going to solve them — with “common sense.”

But “common sense” is a comforting phrase that’s hopelessly ambiguous. Using it as a campaign slogan sidesteps telling voters what one would do in office.

So to know what policies Poliquin thinks are common sense requires looking at his voting record and statements from the dozen years he’s been a politician. Those show he thinks it’s common sense to repeal the ACA, throwing tens of millions off health coverage; to slash and partially privatize Medicare; to cut taxes largely for the rich; and to pass a constitutional amendment to ban abortion from the moment of conception, except to save the life of the mother.

Poliquin’s still touting an award from a Koch-backed group that advocates privatizing Social Security, but, predictably, the group’s goals aren’t identified on Poliquin’s website.

Also, based on Poliquin’s attacks on Rep. Jared Golden for voting for the Inflation Reduction Act, Poliquin apparently thinks it’s common sense to oppose helping seniors afford their prescriptions by capping annual drug prices, capping their insulin costs and negotiating prices with drug companies.

Poliquin’s allies are adding their voices by actively misleading voters about what Golden has said and done. Contrary to those dishonest negative ads, Golden voted against key legislation that President Joe Biden proposed, namely the American Rescue Plan and Build Back Better.

Personally I wanted the moderate Golden to back more of Biden’s agenda, but at least he’s given clear and detailed explanations for what he supports and opposes.

Another set of Maine Republicans have employed yet another strategy for dodging voters. Three dozen office-seekers refused to answer written questions for the voter guide compiled by the Bangor Daily News. This guide has long been an effective tool for comparing policy positions.

Two questions raised the greatest ire. One asked whether abortions should be easier or harder to get, or whether no changes in state abortion law should be considered. The second asks whether Maine’s voting system is safe and secure, with “yes” and “no” as options alongside an open “other” answer.

It looks like these candidates don’t want to give responses because they know their views are out of the mainstream and honesty would hurt their electoral chances.

That would be consistent with what Poliquin told a private audience in August 2017 about why he hid from the press. Poliquin said: “It would be stupid for me to engage the national media to give them, and everybody else, the ammunition they need and we would lose this seat, but I get it.”

The truth is, most voters disagree with Poliquin’s positions on prescription drugs, health care, abortion, taxes and Social Security. That reality doesn’t disappear no matter how emphatically he employs a nebulous expression or uses other means of dodging voters.

And, when it comes to our democracy, now under stress, campaigns choosing vagueness and refusing to explain policy positions are harmful, because they limit the information voters need.

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Amy Fried, Opinion columnist

Amy Fried has written about the media and politics, women in politics, Maine and American political culture, and political activism, and works to create change through the Rising Tide Center. A political...