Gov. Janet Mills declares victory on Tuesday night in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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No two ways about it — Maine Democrats had a great night.

Gov. Janet Mills handily won reelection, improving her margins from her 2018 race against Shawn Moody and Terry Hayes.  

The 2nd Congressional District race will nominally head to a ranked choice runoff, but U.S. Rep. Jared Golden will return to Washington for a third term.

Republicans had a bad night. Former Gov. Paul LePage greatly underperformed, while once-high hopes to recapture the Maine Legislature fell by the wayside.

Democratic Socialists had a bad night, too. Only one of their citizen initiatives in Portland passed. The two most dramatic city charter questions — a so-called “strong mayor” and taking school budget authority away from the city council — failed.  

All in, a fair assessment is that Maine remains a centrist state with a slight lean. In 2022, it shaded left.

What’s that mean going forward?

As the 131st Legislature opens, it will be an opportunity to start anew. Mills’ victory speech offered an olive branch to her opponents and detractors.  

Other commentators, such as Ray Richardson and the Bangor Daily News editorial board, have noted we must rediscover graciousness in both victory and defeat.

They’re all right.

It is OK for people to have disagreements. Outside the political arena, I’m sure most Maine families don’t always agree. A father might believe their children should be raised one way, while the mother believes another is best. Their difference of opinion does not make them enemies.

That can also apply to tax policy. Or education. Or social issues. Or any of the myriad other things that inevitably arise in the public debate.

With Democratic majorities returning to control in Augusta, it becomes the Republicans’ role to curb excesses. If even Portland is rejecting far-left policy gambits, the latter should do so cheerfully. Governance requires balance.

As the 131st Maine Legislature moves into office, Democrats should heed Mills’ invitation and follow suit. Republicans should stand firm in their beliefs and advocate for their positions. But they should do so with the recognition that the Democrats are not enemies or villains, but rather individuals who have a different idea on how to make Maine better.

Veterans Day is a good time to take stock of that fact.  

For decades, legislatures at both the state and federal levels were not afraid of bipartisanship. While Democrats and Republicans often disagreed, shared experiences — most notably military service in World War II or Korea — created a baseline of trust.  

It allowed opponents to disagree and fight vociferously for their ideals, yet never forget that opposition did not make someone an enemy. They had faced real enemies — Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, North Korea — in true life-or-death situations. Debates about policy did not have the same gravity.

That shared experience is waning. Military service amongst the American populace continues to decline.  

So we will have to find something else to bring us together.

That challenge falls most notably to Mills. As she prepares for her second inauguration, she will need to find ways to put her aspirational words into practice. Will she find ways to bring Democratic majorities together with GOP minorities?  Will she lead from the middle, pulling her allies back from the extremes of the Democratic Socialists?

Democrats had a great night. Will that lead to a great two years for Maine?

Let’s hope so. And if they go astray, it will be up to the Republicans — as fellow Mainers — to correct them.

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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.