New legislator lays out his hopes for state government

By Bill Pluecker | Jan 03, 2019

As I begin my life as a state representative in Augusta this holiday season, I have been reflecting on the past year.

It was a cool September evening, with the sun setting as I was ending my day of knocking on doors. I had begun knocking on doors to get out the word about my campaign a couple months before, and I still had a couple of months to go. Through the days and weeks of doors, I tried to keep my focus on the current door, and the person who was going to come to that door with their own story and their own thoughts and experiences. I tried to keep my side of the conversation fresh and relevant to their lives. This door was in a part of my district where I had been having a lot of easy conversations with people. On the whole, they were upset with the direction of state government and politics and were ready for a change. From the voter list in my car, I expected an easy conversation at the door.

As I was walking up the stairs to the deck in the front of a house, from behind a bush blocking my view of the corner of the deck, I heard a male voice say, “You better be friendly.” Used to deflecting defensive or wary comments by people put off by another politician coming to their home or making an unwanted solicitation, my comeback was, “I’m always friendly!” Coming to the to the top of the stairs, I saw an older man sitting in his deck chair with his hand resting on a handgun on the deck railing. His comment now took on a whole new meaning, and I questioned my earlier flippant remark.

I was here to have conversations that moved beyond the surface judgments and appearances that so many of us make in our daily lives. I knew that if I wasn’t able to build relationships with people that meant more than politics as usual, or if people did not see me as a person, rather than just another politician with big ideas for their own personal advancement, I might as well not even run. I would lose the race. I would be spending taxpayer money for no good reason. I would be missing the chance to spend these beautiful September evenings with my kids, and my farm and business would suffer for no good reason.

This man had lived a long and hard life. He had protected himself and his family in bad times, and his gun was a part of that story. Having guns in his home was key to who he was, his relationship with his friends and family, and respecting his rights to those guns was key to understanding his politics. He was also a Democrat.

I am an Independent, and many of my conversations at the doors revolved around what that meant. I am also a farmer, and that was the other part of my personal story that I spent a lot of time on. I am not someone who stands on one side of an imaginary fence and throws stones at the other. Neither as a farmer nor as an Independent can I think that one political party can hold all the truth of what I have lived in my life. I believe in our rural story, which is not told in the mainstream media. I know that we are not part of the economic story being played out in the urban parts of our state and nation, and we choose to live in our small towns despite the increasing cost of living. We know our lives in rural Maine teach us different values and perspectives that are unique to our time and place and deserve to be celebrated in a way that no one else will do for us.

We know that when we run out of money, electricity, firewood, or even food, the people most likely to step up to help us out are not from the government, but are our family, neighbors, church and community. They are the ones who close the cracks that would -- and do -- let so many people fall through. These are the informal institutions that we rely on when the government is not around.

Because there are a lot of people in our community who do not have access to family or friends, or they need more than they can provide, we also spend a ton of money, time and effort trying to make the governments around us more functional. We know that some functions of the government are basic, and we need to know that it is doing its job. If we are going to put so many resources into keeping it afloat, we have to know it is effective and returning to our community what we have put into it..

People who are crossing those political boundaries that are being built by mainstream and social media, political parties, and fear are the people I look to for inspiration about how to best represent my district. The 2nd Amendment-loving Democrats, the Republicans who just want an efficient, effective government, the political freaks who believe in defending other people’s rights as vehemently as their own, because in the end, our democratic institutions are what make our political process one worth working for.

That is the message of hope that I want to bring this holiday season. After doing thousands of doors in Warren, Hope, Appleton and Union, I know that we are those political freaks. We cannot be fitted into one political mold or one answer in the multiple-choice question of life. We are unique and different, and we all cross boundaries in our daily lives. We all have our story that is best represented in dialog and conversation, in a back-and-forth that evolves with relationship.

There are a lot of forces working to separate us. We are easier to mobilize at the polls and in political fundraising efforts when we solely identify one way, but let’s not fall for that trap. We are more than one thing, one identity, one way of thinking. We are a blend of experiences, beautiful and ugly, that inherently make us ready to talk and dream of something better for ourselves, our kids,\ and our community. Let’s do the hard personal work of being open to each other's stories this season, and the hard communal work of building a complicated Maine that works for us all.

Bill Pluecker, I-Warren, represents House District 95 in the Maine Legislature. He is serving his first term.

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