John Richardson is a Democrat, formerly commissioner of the Maine DECD and speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. Phil Harriman is a Republican, formerly representing a portion of Cumberland County in the Maine Senate.
What's your reaction when you hear about a Facebook post like this from a Maine state legislator?
Phil: It's disturbing on two levels: one, it's unbecoming the office of anyone in the Legislature to speak about another officeholder in that threatening manner. But equally important is the other use of the English language that should not appear on Facebook, regardless, describing how he felt. He's got to send a better standard.
Democrats have complained when Republican legislators have done similar kinds of things on social media. What do you make of this?
John: We had a senator, a Republican, who did a similar thing and that was not something I supported. I even condemned it and I condemn this. This is wrong, what he did, and I agree with Phil. There are references that many women would take strong offense to. But you know what happens, this is something where you learn from the top. And I think some of the comments that have come from the president and the governor have really given people license to think they can say these things.
Do you think it bothers constituents of legislators who do this to see this coarsening of the political discourse?
John: It does, it drives a wedge between people who think government is out of control and not listening to them. And as a result of that, unfortunately, it creates a wider gulf or division between people and what they expect of their elected officials.
Phil: You know for me, this is one of the unintended consequences of social media, where we tend to cluster around people who agree with us. And when we hear from people we don't, we lash out, and that's not what we elect people to do. We elect them to represent – in this case, a portion of the city of Portland. Portland deserves better and the representative should serve his constituents in a much more refined in manner.
Should there be some kind of official response, either from his party, which has the majority in the house, or from the legislature as a whole?
Phil: I would think the speaker of the House, regardless of what party he or she is from, their job is to set the tone and style for, in this case, the House of Representatives. Speaker Gideon should use her authority as the speaker, not the leader of the Democrats but as the speaker, to be clear and to admonish the representative for this behavior.
John: And I agree, when I was speaker I would do the same thing. Both Republicans and Democrats – it didn't matter to me if they brought a certain amount of disrespect to the institution – I had to call them and talk to them about it because they felt badly about it. But I couldn't allow it to happen because the Maine people are watching and expect more of us.