Leading Democratic Primary Candidate for Senator from Maine Calls for Court-Packing

An article by Will Tuell (who apparently is or was a local town selectman) in the Downeast Coastal Press reports that State Senator Cynthia Dill — seemingly the leader in the Democratic primary, though not necessarily a strong competitor to Independent candidate and former Governor Angus King — endorses Court-packing:

On the issue of whether the Supreme Court needs to be reformed, Dill, a civil rights lawyer with experience in the federal court system, called for major changes reminiscent of those sought by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. …

Dill said she approves of President Obama’s picks and would consider expanding the number of justices on the Court if decisions she sees as unfavorable continue to be passed down. “I think there’s promise, but if we continue to get these poor decisions, I’m not opposed to adding justices. The Constitution doesn’t say we have to have nine justices, and if these nine can’t figure it out and keep producing 5-4 decisions that are crippling our country, let’s throw a few more good justices on the Court and straighten things out.”

I should note that I see nothing inherently wrong in the political branches pushing back against the Court, whether through ordinary nominations, through constitutional amendments, or possibly even through proposals to limit the Court’s jurisdiction (though I’m skeptical about the latter). But Court-packing strikes me as a pretty poor idea: It’s nearly certain to lead to partisan tit-for-tat should this be done by one party, and the consequences of such tit-for-tat are likely to hurt the judicial system with little compensating benefit, either for Democrats or Republicans. In any case, I thought I wanted to note that such a proposal was being discussed, though of course I realize that it’s politically very unlikely to succeed.

The full article, reprinted with the editor’s permission, is below:

Candidates Go After King at Machias Democratic Senate Forum

Dill Would Alter Supreme Court; Dunlap Says Long Way to November; Pollard Wants Dems to Be More Centrist

By Will Tuell

Three Democrats seeking to replace retiring U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe, a three-term Republican who sent shockwaves through the political world this spring by abruptly withdrawing from the campaign, met at the University of Maine at Machias (UMM) May 1 to position themselves in advance of a June 12 party primary. The candidates, state Senator Cynthia Dill, former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and small businessman Ben Pollard tackled a host of issues, including healthcare, the federal budget and the tone in Washington, but it was how Democrats were going to beat perceived frontrunner and former Independent Governor Angus King that took center stage.

“I will address the elephant in the room,” said Beals-Islander Ray Beal at the onset of the question-and-answer period. “I’m not talking about any potential Republicans, I’m talking about Angus King. In my opinion the most important issue isn’t health care, or any of the things we’re talking about here, it’s Angus King. I’d like for each of you to tell me what you’re going to do to counter Angus King.”

Pollard, a small businessman from Portland, responded by saying that King is too far to the left, that Mainers are looking for a centrist candidate, and that he considers himself to the right of King and the Democratic Party mainstream.

“I don’t believe we need to send an independent candidate to the U.S. Senate,” said Pollard. “I think we need a strong Democrat, someone who is able to reform the Democratic Party. … I think what it takes is passion, somebody different. The Democratic Party, we need to face the fact that we haven’t been appealing to the political center. We need to realign our priorities. … In many ways, I believe Governor King is more of a party-line Democrat than I am, so I think I could appeal to those independent voters with my youth and my passion.”

Dill took direct aim at King’s candidacy, saying the two-term-governor-turned-college professor and wind-energy advocate is out of touch with everyday Mainers.

“I believe that I can go toe to toe with Angus King, because he has a record and I have a record,” said the lawmaker from Cape Elizabeth. “And his record does not support working families and mine does. When he was governor, Angus King vetoed [raising] the minimum wage twice. He vetoed an amendment to the family medical leave act that would’ve given families unpaid leave to take sick children to the hospital. He spearheaded legislation that would’ve taken the most injured workers off workers’ comp, and he did everything he could to weaken unions. When he left the state for his trip across the country, he left a $1.2 billion deficit. That’s not the kind of record in my view that suggests you’ll have an advocate, a strong voice for ordinary Americans. It suggests we’ll be replacing one millionaire with another.”

Dill also took umbrage at King’s silence on which political party he’ll side with should he be elected, an issue both Republicans and Democrats have pressed the independent candidate on since King entered the race.

“On top of that, King refuses to say who he’ll caucus with. I don’t think that’s acceptable to Maine people. I think Maine people deserve to know whom their elected official is going to caucus with. … The leader of the Senate is the gatekeeper for all legislation, all confirmations and has tremendous power to appoint people to committees. If he’s going to caucus with [the Republicans] we should know that. If he’s going to caucus with Democrats, we should know that. And if he’s not going to tell us, then I want to know why. He either knows who he’s going to caucus with and he’s not going to tell us—in which case that’s not the kind of change I’m looking for in Washington—or he doesn’t know, and that concerns me even more.

“I feel I can challenge Angus King and elevate the discussion to things that matter. And hold him accountable for his record. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s about whose going to go down and have the strongest voice for Maine people and I think that person is me.”

Dunlap suggested that King’s popularity would fade as the race heats up and that he, the former Baldacci cabinet official, would be the best choice for Democrats.

“[King’s] labor record is pretty dismal if you’re someone who works for a living, making minimum wage or in a trade,” said Dunlap. “Clearly his policies were never geared toward working families in the state of Maine. You’re right, Ray, it is the elephant in the room right now.

“If the election were held today it’s plausible to assume that Angus King could pull 70 percent of the vote. People have fond memories of that time; maybe not so much of him. They’ve forgotten about his record. But the reality is, times were quite good when he was governor, and people reflect on that because we’ve had a very tough run since that time. One of his great challenges is that he’s so popular right now.

“We’ve had other forums that have been opened up to all candidates and Governor King has assiduously avoided them. It behooves him to. Why ruin a good thing by talking? The reality is that it’s a long time between now and November. He hasn’t even filed papers yet. None of us can control anything other than what we do as candidates. If I can win the nomination, the campaign I’ve got to put together is one people can rally around,” he said.

“An Independent in the United States Senate is going to be playing in the corner by himself, and they’ll let him know when he’s big and important when they need him,” said Dunlap, “so we’re not going to have the type of representation in Washington that we’re used to having. And the next seven months of debate is going to bring that out.”

Pollard Bills Self as Anti-Establishment Candidate

Pollard said that while his beliefs may be out of step with the Democratic Party line, he feels that is his biggest asset come November.

“I personally have a number of views that cross party lines,” said Pollard. “I think we’re over-regulated. I think, as a small business owner, that the regulations are very stifling to the growth of small businesses. I think we need to reduce the role of government in our lives as much as possible. I also really think the focus of government should be to provide for those most in need. [But] I also think that the Republicans have lost their way when it comes to ecological conservation.”

Pollard said that President Obama’s health-care law has turned a lot of voters off to Democratic Party politics and that while the other candidates support a provision requiring nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014, he is opposed to the “individual mandate,” a contentious issue that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on next month.

“I have said I’m not in favor of the Affordable Care Act because I believe it’s an excessive extension of the power of federal government to mandate a product that individuals or businesses have to purchase,” he said. “But the way I would approach this question is to ask what we can do to create a more prosperous economy. I have a number of ideas on economic development, so that people can afford their own health insurance. And for those who can not, let’s have a system—and I prefer to have it administered through the states and local communities as much as possible—let’s make sure that there’s base level of preventative care.”

On the issue of federal fiscal policy, Pollard also differed from Dill and Dunlap, who he said approve of the way President Obama and Senate Democrats are handling the budget. Pollard said that in his view, both sides are to blame for the impasse and it is adversely impacting the economy.

“I believe that the federal budget deficit is a serious problem. Bigger than the fiscal picture is the political picture, the lack of cooperation that has troubled markets and investors deeply. I think last summer’s loss of our AAA credit rating was a sign of how bad things have gotten in Washington, D.C,” he said, adding that he favors a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

“I would lean toward about 75 percent spending cuts and 25 percent tax increases. As to where I would suggest cutting spending, the first, lowest hanging fruit are the subsidies to the fossil fuel industries, nuclear power, as well as industrial agriculture.”

Dill Would Alter the Supreme Court

The candidates shared views on as education, the environment and civil rights. On the issue of whether the Supreme Court needs to be reformed, Dill, a civil rights lawyer with experience in the federal court system, called for major changes reminiscent of those sought by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“I believe that there should be some reforms to the Supreme Court,” she said. “I worked for Common Cause last year, and they are supporting an effort to have an ethics code applied to the Supreme Court because of some breaches of principles by certain justices such as Justice [Clarence] Thomas,” said Dill.

Dill said she approves of President Obama’s picks and would consider expanding the number of justices on the Court if decisions she sees as unfavorable continue to be passed down. “I think there’s promise, but if we continue to get these poor decisions, I’m not opposed to adding justices. The Constitution doesn’t say we have to have nine justices, and if these nine can’t figure it out and keep producing 5-4 decisions that are crippling our country, let’s throw a few more good justices on the Court and straighten things out.”

Dill, Dunlap and Pollard are joined on the June primary ballot by state Rep. John Hinck, a Portland trial lawyer who was unable to attend the forum due to a conflict with his court schedule. The June 12 primary winner will square off against King and one of six Republicans seeking their party’s nomination. UMM will feature a Republican forum May 11 at the college’s Performing Arts Center.