Party Mix: In changing its House seating plan, Maine removes the aisle between Democrats and Republicans.

Author:Wolf, Mark
Position:On the Some Page Successful bipartisan efforts in legislatures across the country
 
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Principles are where you stand. Civility, sometimes, is where you sit.

When Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon (D) was thinking about the 2019 session, the first in eight years without combative Governor Paul LePage (R), an idea she'd had for several years began to percolate seriously.

The notion: Dispense with the House's seating plan, with Republicans on one side of the aisle and Democrats on the other, in favor of interspersing lawmakers without regard to party. The Maine Senate had moved to mixed seating this year also.

"It was always on my mind, the more I saw in my first two years as speaker, arguing in ways that weren't always civil, to say the least," said Gideon, who plans to challenge veteran U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R) in 2020.

Gideon was first elected speaker in 2016 but didn't quite have enough confidence in running a chamber back then to make the move, she said.

That changed when she was reelected speaker in 2018 and her party won the majority back. "I really started thinking more seriously and floating it to my members and the other side as well."

Given the response, you would have thought she had proposed outlawing lobster rolls. "It was largely negative. Any change can feel alarming to the status quo. Because we had allowed ourselves to become more divided, leaders had a lot of concerns. I also heard things like, 'It's too soon after some difficult years to make this change.'

"I heard, 'I won't feel comfortable in the chamber. I want to be surrounded by people like me.' Every one of those arguments made me think this is something we have to be able to do to restore integrity to the body and press the reset button on civility.

"Nobody was going to give me their blessing on this."

Not the First Attempt

This wasn't the first time Maine lawmakers had been interspersed in the chamber, however.

"The seating change... is not a new concept," said Maine House Republican Leader Kathleen R. J. Dillingham in an email. "When my...

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