"So often in politics we give an award to a politician who wins a tough election. But in truth, it’s the voters of that district who deserve the award."
In this Nov. 1, 2022, file photo, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, at the State House in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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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. 

Ethan and Phil: Drumroll please … Ladies and Gentlemen, here are the annual Agree to Disagree Political Awards for 2022!

‘Buster Douglas’ Award

Phil: This one is named after the infamous boxing upset of Mike Tyson and goes to the politician who, like Buster Douglas, took down a heavyweight.

Ethan: This one goes to the newly sworn in Democrat Timothy Nangle. Not only did he win a state senate seat in Windham that everyone thought would go Republican, he beat former state Sen. Gary Plummer.

Phil: Much to my party’s chagrin, but well done, Sen. Nangle.

‘Comeback of the Year’ Award

Ethan: This is our award that gives every “retired” politician hope. 

Phil: You mean like the two of us? But yes, this one goes to a politician who many counted out. He left the state Senate in 2018 and got hammered in a race against U.S. Sen. Angus King. Then in 2020, he ran for Congress, and didn’t even get out of the Republican primary

Ethan: And yet, on Dec. 7, he was sworn in to the state Senate for a return gig.

Phil: Of course, we speak of Sen. Eric Brakey. Congratulations.

‘Beat the Odds’ Award

Ethan: This award is one I am very proud to announce for my good friend, Rachel Talbot Ross. The longtime leader of the Portland Chapter of the NAACP, Talbot Ross was just sworn in as the first Black Maine House speaker, not to mention first Black woman. 

Phil: It is a remarkable achievement for anyone, regardless of race or gender, but her family has shown for generations how hard work and perseverance can pay off. I know her father, former Rep. Gerald Talbot, the first African American to serve in the very same body, is very proud of the legacy his daughter is carrying forward.

‘Not Dead Yet!’ Award

Ethan: I am agreeing to this award under protest because I never considered this politician dead. However, I will concede that many thought he was about to be dethroned. 

Phil: Including yours truly. The award goes to Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson who, once again, won in a district won handily by former Gov. Paul LePage and former President Donald Trump. Despite most of the establishment thinking his increasingly conservative district had finally caught up with him, he pulled it out.

Ethan: Maybe our more conservative Democrats could learn a thing or two from him about how to be pro-worker even in Trump territory (ahem, Gov. Janet Mills).

‘Bonehead Move of the Year’ Award

Phil: This is the one award we are giving an out-of-state politician because we can’t think of anything more bone-headed than Trump having dinner with Ye and Nick Fuentes, an antisemite and a white nationalist. This one earns the award because it actually seems to have sunk his chances at getting the Republican presidential nomination.

Ethan: Honestly, couldn’t we just call Trump the “Bonehead of the Year”? From apparently stealing classified documents to allegedly obstructing a congressional investigation to hiding his tax returns, he was a bonehead through and through.

Phil: I can live with that.

‘Grassroots Group of the Year’ Award

Phil:  In the past few years we have given this award to People First Portland for passing a bunch of citizen initiatives and to the nurses of Maine Medical Center for overwhelmingly winning their vote to unionize. This year we give it to a Maine group that moved Congress and the president to act. 

Ethan: Indeed. This year it goes to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. Whichever side of this issue you stand, you have to admire a group that can single-handedly pressure the Maine delegation to get a provision inserted into a federal budget.

‘Voters of the Year’ Award

Phil:  So often in politics we give an award to a politician who wins a tough election. But in truth, it’s the voters of that district who deserve the award, because without them, no politician achieves anything. 

Ethan: That’s why we want to give an award to the voters of Lewiston and South Portland for electing Mana Abdi and Deqa Dhalaq to the Legislature — the first two Somali Americans in Maine history to serve in the Legislature. The voters of these communities have sent a clear signal that they will put competence and experience over centuries of racism.

‘Politician of the Year’ Award

Ethan: Our final award always goes to the Maine politician we feel stood out from the rest. In 2020, we agreed it was Democrat Mills, and in 2021, it was Republican Sen. Rick Bennett.

Phil: Interestingly, this year our consensus choice is someone both of us disagree with a lot. You because he is too conservative, me because he is too liberal. But in the end, this guy has found a way to stay connected to his constituents and their values, even though they rarely vote for anyone else in his party.

Ethan: The politician we speak of is Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden. He has now won three times in a district that has rejected every other Democrat that has run over that same period.

Phil: I just hope this doesn’t go to his head so he thinks he can make us even more disappointed with his votes in 2023.