2016 may be almost over, but the wild ride won’t be

Whether you were pleased or horrified by the outcome of last month’s elections, there might be one common emotion that most Americans are feeling right now. Even with the frequently stressful holiday season upon us, relief is upon us.

Relief that the tumultuous, bitter, and seemingly interminable presidential election is over (no matter what Jill Stein thinks). That feeling is understandable, but it’s misplaced: while we may not have any national elections in the U.S. next year, there’s no indication of any return to normalcy any time soon.

Nationally, Democrats seem to be in no mood to cooperate. Despite her consistent inability to win elections or to work in a bipartisan way, House Democrats are keeping Nancy Pelosi as their leader and showing no sign of moderation in defeat. That may be good news for Republicans, who already face a favorable map for 2018, but it’s bad news for the country, who would be better served if the two parties could find a way to work together. Interestingly, there may be a better chance of bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate, where New York Sen. Chuck Schumer will be replacing the acerbic Harry Reid as Democratic leader. Schumer may be liberal, but he at least has a personal relationship with Donald Trump that Pelosi (and most other members of Congress in both parties) lacks.

Here in Maine, we face a similar situation, with Democrats preparing to install another southern Maine liberal, Sara Gideon of Freeport, as speaker of the House to succeed Mark Eves. This comes despite their significant losses in rural Maine this past cycle and their narrow retention of a majority. In the Senate, they’ve taken a different approach, choosing Troy Jackson of Allagash to succeed Justin Alfond of Portland. Jackson is representative of the more populist wing of the Democratic Party, having been a prominent supporter of Bernie Sanders during the primaries — and consistently a top foe of Gov. Paul LePage.

Unfortunately, the two parties do not seem to be any more inclined to work together in Augusta than in Washington. That was clear last week, when Democrats used a parliamentary procedure to block LePage’s plan for a new facility at Riverview. That plan failed along a party-line vote, with incoming Speaker Gideon in opposition.

This seems to indicate that the Democrats will continue their strategy of lock-step opposition to LePage. That’s disappointing but understandable. Though LePage may yet hope for more positive accomplishments before he leaves office, the fact is that it’s going to be hard to do much of anything next session. Simply passing a budget is going to be a monumental challenge, let alone passing any major legislation.

The State House in Augusta. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The State House in Augusta. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The question for Democrats will be how successful their strategy at opposing LePage at every turn will be next session. With such a closely divided Legislature, they’ll need to keep their entire caucus — in both chambers — unified for that to work, and that may be more challenging than in years past. After all, before they at least had the White House on their side. Now they face the prospect of a hostile incoming administration and a national party that is doing some serious soul-searching.

Moreover, in the next session, Augusta Democrats won’t just be trying to defeat LePage: they’ll be preparing for the battle to succeed him. Whether Democrats have a wide-open primary for governor, like they did in 2010, or an internal coronation of a nominee, like they did in 2014, many legislators will be focused on the next election rather than the next session.

So, though 2016 may be drawing to a close, next year won’t be any calmer as everyone prepares for yet another unpredictable election.

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.