It’s hard not to admire first-term U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, an earnest young newcomer to the national political scene, who possesses the quiet dignity, gritty independence, and solid integrity of the heroic underdog played by Jimmy Stewart in the classic 1939 movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
Although Golden’s GOP opponent in the 2020 election will doubtless try to portray him as a pawn of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a dangerous socialist, he is neither. Instead, he’s a centrist, with the brains to understand public policy and the guts to follow reason and public duty rather than blind ideology, slavish party loyalty or political opportunism.
For those Mainers who at least pay lip service to the notion that the federal government needs more constructive bi-partisanship and less destructive hyper-partisanship, Golden is the real deal.
The 37-year-old Maine native was born in Lewiston, raised in Leeds and attended Leavitt Area High School. After enrolling at the University of Maine at Farmington, he dropped out after the 9/11 terror attacks to join the U.S. Marine Corps and served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. After military service, Golden graduated from Bates College, then worked for as a staffer for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and as a legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. He was elected to the Maine House of Representatives as a Democrat in 2014 and 2016, representing Lewiston, and rose to become the Assistant House Majority Leader during his second term.
In 2018, Golden beat GOP incumbent Bruce Poliquin in a close contest for the Second Congressional District seat, a race which saw Poliquin leading by 2,171 votes in the initial count but losing by 3,245 in the second tabulation under a new rank-choice voting system.
As a freshly minted congressman, Golden immediately demonstrated his independence by voting against the Democratic Caucus nominee Nancy Pelosi for the position of Speaker of the House. It was clear that Pelosi was going to win, so Golden had little to gain by opposing her, particularly since the Speaker’s position is a powerful one with control over all-important committee appointments and Golden, as a freshman legislator, ould be dependent on her patronage.
In Congress, Golden has steered clear of Washington’s high drama and focused on the concrete needs of his district, which is geographically sprawling and largely rural. He has pushed for legislation to benefit the state’s small and legacy businesses, increase job opportunities, improve worker safety and wages, and expand education and access to healthcare in rural Maine. His seats on the House Armed Services Committee and Small Business Committee and chairmanship of the Small Business Contracting and Infrastructure Subcommittee have positioned him well to further these goals.
Golden has worked in a bipartisan fashion whenever possible but has not hesitated to buck his party or even bipartisan consensus when he felt it was the right thing to do.
For instance, he voted against the bipartisan United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade, the successor to NAFTA. He, reasoned that it was nearly the same as NAFTA, benefited only “big tech, big ag, and other huge corporations” and failed to address the challenges posed to Maine’s forest products industry, shipyards, small farmers, fishermen and shipyards by foreign competition. On the other hand, he co-sponsored nuts-and-bolts bipartisan bills to increase federal funding for grants to support fishing safety training and research programs and to reauthorize and expand Small Business Development Centers that provide low- or no-cost business training and advice.
Golden also voted against legislation to eliminate the $10,000 cap on federal income tax deductibility for state and local taxes on the grounds that it would disproportionately benefit wealthy states at the expense of Maine and reduce federal revenues and potential funding for the state.
Although Golden frequently tours his district and his office puts out regular press releases to keep his accomplishments in the public eye, he has been refreshingly low key. You won’t find him pontificating on cable news shows, bombarding his followers with zinger twitter messages, or making provocative public remarks like first-term New York City U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, Golden voted to support one count of the articles of impeachment, becoming the sole Democrat to split his vote. He reasonably concluded that the House investigation “unearthed a pattern of evidence that demonstrates the corrupt intent on the part of the president” but that Trump’s efforts to obstruct Congress didn’t rise to the level of a crime because the House opted not to pursue enforcement of its subpoenas in court. Although his decision, as expected, drew fire from both parties, Golden said, “I voted my heart without fear of politics at all.”
Even in the midst of the current Democratic presidential primary frenzy, where politicians are scurrying to align themselves with a potential winner, Golden has taken a counterintuitive approach, endorsing Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet for Democratic nominee. Since Bennet is a dark horse who won’t appear on the primary ballot in Maine, Golden’s endorsement, like his vote against Pelosi, was not calculated to earn political points.
But he liked Bennet’s moderate politics, anti-corruption stance, and support of rank-choice voting and regretted the pervasive cynicism reflected in a voter’s description of Bennet as a “calm, thoughtful, honest and humble” candidate who “doesn’t stand a chance.”
Since then, Bennet has dropped out of the race.
“Calm, thoughtful, honest and humble” could be an apt description of Golden himself, but Maine’s voters, who have a fondness for underdogs, will have the final say as to whether he stands a chance in 2020.
Elliott Epstein is a trial lawyer with Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His Rearview Mirror column, which has appeared in the Sun Journal for 10 years, analyzes current events in an historical context. He is also the author of “Lucifer’s Child,” a book about the notorious 1984 child murder of Angela Palmer. He may be contacted at [email protected]