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Conservative radio host Ray Richardson said something very important Tuesday night. Hopefully Maine politicians across the political spectrum heard it.
“The country has got to find a way to graciously win and graciously lose,” Richardson said as part of a panel discussion on News Center Maine.
It is a message that former Gov. Paul LePage certainly could benefit from, after his less-than-gracious remarks Tuesday night in Lewiston as it became increasingly clear he would lose to current Gov. Janet Mills. Rather than concede or congratulate his opponent, LePage lashed out once more at Mills. His bitterness was punctuated by profanities from some in his crowd of supporters, directed at Mills.
“Janet Mills, I just hope your second term, if I lose, is better than your first term because you are not an honest, sincere person,” LePage said. “You are an elitist and I think that America needs better than people who are not caring for the people they govern.”
To state the obvious, this was not a moment of grace. It was an aggressive and frankly embarrassing end to a contentious campaign. Losing an election is a hard thing, to be sure. But that doesn’t justify the reaction from LePage and some people at his election night event. Rather, that reaction might actually shine some light on why LePage lost, and lost by such an unexpectedly large margin. He said in a statement Wednesday that he accepted the results.
As progressive advocate and former candidate Betsy Sweet said on the same panel with Richardson, Tuesday night’s reaction from LePage “was probably one of the reasons that he’s not the governor.” In a sea of post-election punditry, this may be one of the simplest and most succinct explanations for the results in Maine’s gubernatorial race.
“It wasn’t statesman-like, it wasn’t ‘Shake hands and let’s fight another day,’” Sweet said. “It was very harsh, and I think that people in Maine, regardless of their politics, don’t think we should behave that way.”
People want less of this bitterness. They want leaders who will work together to do the hard things. Compare LePage’s remarks to Mills’ appeal for her supporters to be gracious in victory, and it is no great wonder why Maine voters endorsed her style of leadership over her predecessor’s.
“There are decent people of goodwill who are worried and who disagree about how to best solve the problems we are facing,” Mills said. “We should not dismiss these concerns or the people who hold them. We must embrace them and work to find common ground.”
LePage also told his supporters Tuesday night that he “failed to make the message.”
“We missed the message. It’s about abortion, not about heating oil,” LePage said.
Here’s the thing though: People can care about lots of issues at once. Both abortion and inflation (including rising heating costs) were clearly on voters’ minds in this election. And as demonstrated by results in Maine and around the country, they also care about personality and tone. It turns out that demagoguery and name calling don’t keep people warm during the winter months. In fact, they turn off many voters.
People want leaders who will work with others to address a wide range of issues in ways that are respectful and productive. That is one of the prevailing messages that should be amplified by Tuesday’s election results.