The Negotiator

A couple of weeks ago Sally and I went to the World Affairs Council to hear George Mitchell talk about his new autobiography, "The Negotiator".  I subsequently read his book.

In the book Mitchell talks about his working relationship, when he was Majority Leader of the Senate, with Bob Dole, then Minority Leader.  Their relationship was built on mutual respect.  They had many disagreements.  However, they forged even more understandings and accommodations that resulted in the passage of significant legislation, including a landmark Clean Air Bill.

I was reminded of that aspect of Mitchell's book last week when our current Governor, Paul LePage, went on another of his public rants about the Democratic leadership in Augusta because of their opposition to his proposal to abolish the income tax.  He was crude, personal, and entirely inappropriate.  And he was ineffective.  He will need Democratic votes for any significant tax reform.  God knows the state needs significant tax reform.  With Republicans in charge in the Senate and State House, we should be able to pass meaningful reform.  Yet here again our Governor would rather threaten and posture than discuss and resolve.

It is the Governor who should read and take to heart Mitchell's book.  If one thing is clear from reading "The Negotiator", it is that in Mitchell's success in leadership in the Senate and as an international negotiator, he never berates those he is working with - certainly not publicly.  As he explains in the final section of the book:  success in negotiation starts with good listening, requires considerable patience, and a sense of when one must take risks to get to a reasonable solution.

All of this will no doubt be lost on our Governor, which is unfortunate for those of us who care about the state.  And to think we have three more years of this to endure.

For the rest of you let me recommend "The Negotiator" regardless of your political persuasion.  The power of this book is not in the politics or the global negotiations - though both areas have plenty to keep your attention.  The power of this book is the story of the making of the man that George Mitchell became.  The last page of the book has a picture of his mother.  The inscription reads in part:  "All that I have done, all that I am, I owe to my mother, the most influential person in my life."

I knew that Senator Mitchell was the son of immigrants and grew up in difficult circumstances in Waterville.  I did not realize how difficult these circumstances were.  Both of Mitchell's parents worked at low-wage jobs.  His mother worked the night shift at one of Waterville's (at that time) several textile mills.  But from the perspective of George, his two older brothers and his younger sister, she was always there for them.  When she got home from the mill in the morning she got them up and made breakfast.  She then did the shopping and household chores, caught a few hours of sleep, then made dinner for the family before going off to work again - a routine she maintained for forty years.

She had no formal education after the fourth grade, but she was adamant that all her children would graduate from college - as they all did. George has a story near the end of the book about his mother making a trip back to her homeland of Lebanon late in her life. It is lovely and poignant. I will not say more except that for me that story was the real message of this work.

George Mitchell has become a global statesman.  He has resided in Washington or New York City for most of his adult life.  However, he is a son of Maine.  His experience growing up in Waterville, attending Bowdoin College and serving as our Senator have given him an enduring love for the state.

It is quite a wonderful thing and not quite what I expected from "The Negotiator".