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Post Election Thoughts


Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up, Ben; she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. She’s a father working while cancer eats away his insides, to bring home one more pay check. She’s a twelve-year-old trying to mother her brothers and sisters because mama had to go to Heaven. She’s a switchboard operator sticking to her post while smoke chokes her and fire cuts off her escape. She’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t make it but never quit.
Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

There’s nothing quite so lofty to be found in losing a state house race.  I expected our district’s GOP registration advantage to do some of the work, given my late start in the race, and it simply didn’t materialize.  Republicans stayed home, and Republicans lost.

I think they had it coming.

Because I’m sort of an ideological floater—my hard positions are on personal autonomy and fiscal restraint, the rest I’m willing to be governed by my own morality and convictions, and subsequently where they carry me—I struggle with saying “we.”  I struggled with majestic plurals when I was still a Democrat, I definitely struggled when I dallied with the Libertarians, and I absolutely struggle when it comes to the Republicans.

I couldn’t have felt more like the state legislative agenda of Republicans was out of touch.

“Guns!”

“FGM!”

“Dark, out of state money!”

Meanwhile, going door-to-door, what I heard was:

“Healthcare is expensive!  I have to choose between eating and paying for my husband’s meds!”

“If property taxes go up, we’re going to lose our home!”

I didn’t see a statewide commitment to speaking to those two crucial issues for rural voters.  I tried to hone a message on that score, but I had the sense that this would not be a legislative priority should Republicans dominate the next session.  I know there are cost controls we could implement at the state level alongside accepting the expansion and making it work.  We could have made it a revenue-neutral effort, should we have chosen to.  All we had to do was look around objectively and look at was working, and much of what was working were ideas cultivated in conservative think tanks.

But this is how blind partisanship has made parties to themselves, how out of touch people are with intelligent policy.  This isn’t a problem for the right or the left exclusively, but for everyone on all sides.  Gross oversimplifications, some kind of political oppositional defiance disorder where we eke out a position solely on the merits that it is contrary to what the other side holds.  It’s a theater of the absurd, and I don’t want to sit in even the back row anymore.

Life is elsewhere.

The Female Genital Mutilation argument persists.  “Why don’t they want to keep our girls safe?”  It’s an empty formula.  Maybe supporters of in-state FGM legislation don’t realize the message the GOP version of legislation sent to particularly the Somali community in Lewiston.  You’re an other.  You don’t belong here.  We’re going to pick some small Horn of African element of your culture and amplify it.  Meanwhile, while Androscoggin County Republicans were talking about holding a pig roast in Lewiston, and Maine First Media insulted our collective intelligence with overwrought and unsourced stories about “invading” Maine with Muslim refugees.  How can you trust the intent of FGM legislation when in every other instance, the Maine GOP gives the opposite of a shit about our Muslim communities?  We have a Halal butcher’s store sign shot up, right here in our own county, but we’re supposed to believe that the GOP has a message for Somalis and other Muslims (for many of whom, FGM is as ridiculous a notion as it would be for everyone else) that’s positive.  Meanwhile, we have GOP members of the legislature who use carefully couched, anti-Semitic dog whistles when referring to our Speaker of the House, and one guy who seriously uses the term “white genocide” in a sentence without a hint of irony.

The pity of it all is what our county chair caught on to pretty quickly, and that’s that many Muslims share social values with social conservatives.  He worked tirelessly to try and carve out a space for Somalis within the state GOP, and was met with resistance at every turn.

Do I think this absurd nativism cost me the election, or cost Jayne Giles the election?  Across the board, our performance as candidates matched our peers up and down the ticket.   So no, but rather I think all of this exists on the same continuum that kept us from winning.  Maybe I’ll be wrong and the same crap will motivate the base to the polls in 2020, even though it didn’t motivate them to the polls in 2018.  Maybe voters believe the good stuff truly does trickle down from the federal level, which for me is counterintuitive.

IMG_6472

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Dog whistle much?

But I come back to something as simple as this soft example of dog-whistle I share here, with names removed.  It was just not bad enough that would I have called it out, I would have been accused of being an oversensitive snowflake. After 20+ years of hard military service though, where I faced both coded and manifest anti-Semitism, I think I can make the case that I know this as well as anyone else does, and see it for what it is.  Sara Gideon, like me, is a member of the tribe.  As it happens, all streams of Judaism have a fraught relationship to the topic of abortion that informs a largely pro-choice legal bent, even amongst the Orthodox, that’s tempered by the nature of legislation that has historically placed constraints on our community.  It’s why I wince when I see people reference “Judeo-Christian” values – Jews have a different relationship to our proof texts and a wholly different approach to Biblical hermeneutics.  I’m sorry (not sorry) the Jewish take abortion can’t match the crystallized Christian position on the matter, but that’s the price of living in a plural society.  We’re going to invariably place different moral importance on issues than others do.    The immediate post before the congratulatory post to Janet Mills was about Portland’s community vigil in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting.  This “Mazel Tov” is loaded for bear, and we all know it, and after Pittsburgh, it’s utterly abhorrent.

Because I came into the race late after the issues that befell Jerry Ireland, and I say that without recrimination, I focused my effort on GOTV for solid Republicans.  Perhaps I got tunnel vision talking to them, but most of them were receiving countless mailers from Scott and the state Dems talking about education and healthcare.  Almost all of them that didn’t just turn the mailers into kindling expressed that they read “my taxes are going up.”  I don’t disagree with that assessment.  But nevertheless, this election, with all the supposed success out there in our economy, was ours to lose.  I think the Democrats had a message that appealed to their voters, and I think they were less fatigued by the very obvious moral and policy shortcomings of our side.  I think had we had a message of how we will grow prosperity and add jobs to the economy, we would have done better.

I like Scott Cuddy.  I do think he’s highly cognizant of the needs in this county.  Ironically, what motivated me to run—the high number of children on free or reduced lunches in our school district—is right in his wheelhouse as a school board member.  I think he inhabits this reality, especially as someone born and raised here, more than I do.  That is so important, in many ways more important than partisanship, and if I see other opportunities to improve the economy, there’s no reason why I can’t pick up the phone and call him.

There is another small reality – people speak about elections in axioms.  It’s axiomatic that if you want to win, you’ll win.  No, not true.  It’s axiomatic that if you’re ambivalent about winning, that you won’t win.  Also not true.  The pay doesn’t match the cost serving would have put on my day job as a programmer.  I work from home and I largely set my own hours, so long as I get the work done.  But driving to Augusta every other day, plus committees, was going to be a drain on my professional career.  We knew it going into it, and we were prepared for the possibilities.   I was surprised this year to find out I was one of the few STEM candidates in the state, and after running, it’s very clear to me why.  From a time perspective; time to campaign, time to perform the duties of office even in a part-time legislature, the process is not designed to be approachable to a wide swath of the middle class.  This is true just about anywhere.

I’ve wrestled with whether or not I would run again in 2020.  Right now, unless I see a massive sea-change in the party, unless I see a sterner rebuff of our President’s amoral leadership, instead of excuses for it, unless I see the option of substantive policy instead of nativism and absurdity at the state level, that answer is going to be “no.”  And I’m sure there are many who won’t see that as a bad thing.  The most important of those is my wife.

But I also have a few things I want to focus on outside of politics.  First and foremost is the Jewish community in Bangor.  We were all severely rattled by the events in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago.  I’ve stood post at the sanctuary door, and during a concert this past weekend, and more than a few congregants expressed to me feelings of vulnerability.  I need to be a shammes for a little while.  I need to be present.  I have spent all of my adult life as a sentinel for state and country, and I will do so for my Jewish community.  I also want to be a leader in this community, to try and invigorate it and bring in new and interested Jews.

But after another member of our old unit took his own life recently, it’s clear to me that I’m slacking on taking care of veterans, too.  I have goals to get a diversion program for veterans set up here in Waldo County.  I need to start offering outdoor excursions here in Maine for troubled veterans.  It’s time to start building things for them.

And I want to be a steward of our precious environment.  This was another problem, for me, as a Republican who is also a long-time Sierra Club Member.  The cynicism regarding wind and solar power and investment, or climate change, but the absence of cynicism with regards to the status quo, was quite troubling.  I’m not going to become an activist, as activism is never a constructive use of time, but I am going to put an effort into what is long-term sustainable.  The libertarian “do no harm” ethos includes the environment.

Most importantly, I don’t want to lose time anymore fighting other people’s battles.  I ran, originally, largely as a favor to a new friend.  This friendship, in fact, has evolved into something that has made the whole effort worthwhile.  He and I will work together to do our part and grow Maine, and we don’t need politics for that.  In fact, politics would be terrible for that.

Brian

Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

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About Brian

Brian Kresge

Brian Kresge

Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

About Leah

Leah Kresge

Leah Kresge

Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine, special educator and former school board member, mother to Amelia and Nezzie.

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