For politicians, there are three types of pictures you should always avoid.
Police mug shots.
And the blurry hand trying to block the camera.
The first tells people you’re a criminal. The second says you’re trying too hard and opens you up to ridicule. And the third says you’re hiding or afraid to face tough questions.
Last week, US Rep. Bruce Poliquin fell victim to the blurry hand of hiding.
It’s not the first time, either. Poliquin has kept a noticeably light schedule of public events in Maine, obvious in his efforts to avoid answering questions about the terrible consequences of the American Health Care Act and his vote in support of it.
He even ran to a women’s restroom (before correcting himself) and donned headphones to avoid a reporter’s question about the legislation in the run up to the vote.
This is not how a public figure is supposed to behave.
Immediately after his vote for the AHCA, Poliquin held a tightly controlled press briefing, limiting questions, to explain his vote.
Despite his efforts to control the media, he was quickly caught in bad math and lies. Poliquin’s efforts to minimize the impact the AHCA would have on Maine failed badly and the press held him to account, saying that his claim “isn’t true.”
Hiding from voters is new for members of Maine’s congressional delegation. For as long as I can remember, politicians of both parties in Maine have recognized the importance of accessibility and listening to voters.
They show up. They talk to folks. They answer questions. They place a premium on constituent services.
That ended with Poliquin’s campaigns and has carried through as his standard operating procedure during his time in Congress.
Late in the 2016 election, he walked away from veteran political reporter Mal Leary, refusing to answer a straightforward question about now-President Donald Trump.
An exasperated Leary followed behind Poliquin, “Congressman, you can’t hide.”
Hide he has, and hide he continues to do.
Poliquin paid no price for the robotic way he repeated talking points during his campaigns and he’s continued to avoid answering tough questions ever since.
It’s certainly not the leadership that Mainers have come to expect.
Efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have so far failed in Washington, despite the best efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the president.
US Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and US Rep. Chellie Pingree have all been vocal and consistent critics of recent legislation that would have reduced the number of people with health insurance by tens of millions and would have devastated Medicaid.
Poliquin is out on a limb and alone. He voted for the legislation because Republican leaders needed his vote to pass the terrible bill out of the House.
Since then, he’s barely tried to defend himself.
Instead, and most recently, he’s attacked voters who dared to ask him questions abut it, calling them socialists and trying to tie them to the “extreme liberal Nancy Pelosi.”
Maybe that kind of language keeps the base fired up. But it’s not generally the way Maine politicians talk about voters (with the exception of loose-lipped and hot-headed Gov. Paul LePage).
For a professional politician – a former state treasurer and two-term congressman – Poliquin sure isn’t acting like it.
Simple put, he took an unpopular vote and he knows it. It’s going to hurt him in 2018. The AHCA and its doomed Senate sibling are deeply unpopular. Just 12 percent of voters approve of the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
But that same USA Today/Suffolk University Poll identified Poliquin’s dilemma. Republicans, by and large, support the repeal while independents and Democrats are overwhelmingly opposed.
Poliquin’s goal is to have it both ways. He wants to feed his base with attacks against liberals while avoiding – at almost any cost – going on the record in a way that would turn off everyone else. Even to the point of looking silly.
You can’t win Maine’s 2nd Congressional District just by appealing to Republicans. You have to bring along independents. To my ear, calling people “socialists” and refusing to answer questions won’t get the job done no matter who it is that’s asking.
So far, Poliquin has been successful by refusing to take a position on the toughest issues of the day. It’s not a strategy for long-term success. People are paying attention like never before.
In 2018, voters are going to look at the dysfunction in Washington and the broken promises from the Trump administration, and they’re going to look for a change. They’ll be hungry for someone who’s on their side, and who isn’t afraid to answer their questions, even if they don’t agree with what they hear.
Voters want someone who will level with them. That’s not Bruce Poliquin.