It’s not easy for me to say something nice about state Senate President Mike Thibodeau.
He once voted to fire me and eliminate my job. (I know, I’m setting myself up here, but go ahead and take the easy shot.)
Democratic state Sen. John Nutting was in a feud with the Baldacci administration, where I worked. He sponsored a bill that would have fired me and several other members of the governor’s staff and reduced the size of the governor’s office.
In my very admittedly biased opinion, it was a bad bill, cloaked as austerity, but designed to limit the ability of the governor to achieve his policy goals.
Believe it or not, fighting between the legislative and executive branches was not invented by Gov. Paul LePage, nor was intraparty wrangling.
Thibodeau, like most other Republicans, was perfectly happy to go along with the bill.
Fortunately for me — and for the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches — the bill failed. I was saved!
Thibodeau and I continue to have significant policy differences on a host of issues, but he deserves credit for his actions on Monday.
Thibodeau, according to the Portland Press Herald, became the first elected Republican to speak at the NAACP’s Portland breakfast honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The NAACP is not a partisan organization, but its policy priorities most often align with Democrats. And while Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, today’s GOP has a poor track record on racism, anti-poverty initiatives, cases of police violence and a host of issues that matter to people of color — and should matter to all of us.
Needless to say, the NAACP can be a tough crowd for a Republican, as evidenced by Thibodeau’s groundbreaking appearance.
Thibodeau kept his remarks straightforward. He didn’t wade into the danger zone of LePage’s recent racist remarks, in which the governor accused out-of-state drug dealers of coming to Maine to impregnate “young, white” girls.
LePage also had a disastrous encounter with the NAACP early in his gubernatorial tenure, when he indelicately turned down an invitation to attend the annual MLK event with one of his most famous quotes, telling the organization to “kiss my butt.”
But Thibodeau said a lot just by showing up, by taking the podium and offering his own thoughts on bigotry in Maine’s history and the importance of remaining vigilant in the face of hatred.
There’s no reason to believe that Thibodeau has had a revelation about immigration or the challenges that face black people in Maine or around the country.
Just by being there, though, Thibodeau had the opportunity to hear firsthand about the experiences that others in the room have had, to hear in their voices why Martin Luther King matters to them and to see that we still have a lot of work to do if we intend to bend that arc toward justice.
The fact that Thibodeau was the first elected Republican to speak demonstrates how challenging it must have been.
The NAACP was founded in 1909, largely to combat the horrifying crime of lynching. While the Portland and Bangor branches have faced a difficult period, they continue to play an important role in their communities and statewide.
Racism and bigotry are real, and during this time of political anger they have provided an elevator to the top of the polls for presidential candidate Donald Trump.
By speaking in Portland and the NAACP breakfast honoring Dr. King, Thibodeau pushed back against the ugliness that has infected the 2016 election. By recognizing that racism and bigotry exist — and that these twin evils have hurt people from various backgrounds and religions — he has helped to open the dialogue that we need to make things better.
When former President Bill Clinton came to Maine during the 2014 gubernatorial election, he told the story of an African greeting that translates into “I see you.”
The story has stuck with me since hearing it. The greeting means more than simply hello. It’s a recognition of shared humanity and an acknowledgement that we all want to be seen and heard.
By speaking to the NAACP, Thibodeau told the organization and its supporters that he sees them. And that means a heck of a lot more than just “hello.”