Jim Thiel of Kenduskeag has two important campaign messages to convey to the people of District 122 as they head to the polls Nov. 5.
The first: If you elect me to the Maine House of Representatives, you will not regret it.
The second: If you elect my opponent, you probably won’t regret that either.
For the record, his opponent, Chris Greeley of Levant, feels the same way about Thiel.
In a campaign season distinguished more by mudslinging than insightful debate, Thiel, a Democrat, and Greeley, a Republican, have decided to give the voters a thoroughly dirt-free political alternative. Not only have the two men agreed never to speak badly of one another, they’ve gone so far as to trade compliments in public.
“The only two things I dislike about Chris,” said Thiel, a volunteer lobbyist and activist for injured Maine workers, “is that he’s younger than me and better looking than I am.”
In a recent letter to the Bangor Daily News, Greeley wrote: “Whether you folks in Orono, Glenburn, Levant and Kenduskeag decide to vote for me or my opponent, Jim Thiel, who by the way has never been anything less than a gentleman the half-dozen times we’ve met, I believe you’ll get a state representative who will work hard for the people of District 122.”
Since this is the first political race for both men, neither of them is sure how the voters will respond to their decidedly anti-negative campaigning tactics.
“This may be political suicide for all I know,” said Greeley, a former police detective and weekend TV weather reporter who is married to Donna Gormley, the communications director for U. S. Rep. John Baldacci. “I don’t know if saying nice things about Jim is potentially helping his campaign or not. But if so, the hell with it. It feels right to do it.”
The two men didn’t necessarily enter the race with such gentlemanly intentions. Their good will evolved instead from a mutual disgust with all the negative TV attack ads, from Maine to California, that have become so commonplace in high-profile races this campaign season.
“It’s really gotten out of hand,” said Thiel. “I was talking to an elderly couple the other day and they told me that whenever a negative ad comes on TV, they turn the channel. A lot of people feel the same way. If you have to rely on trash, dirt and mud to win, then you should get out of the race.”
Greeley, who teaches criminal justice at Beal College in Bangor, said that running a friendly race is actually quite easy when the only differences between him and his opponent are their political party affiliations.
“Neither Jim nor I have held office before, so we don’t have voting records that separate us,” Greely said. “The party thing doesn’t matter to me anyway. We both want affordable health care, and to get Maine out of its position as the most-taxed state. We both want to work on the state’s budget problems. So what would be the point of a knock-down, drag-out fight? Is a job that pays only $9,000 a year worth making enemies over? I don’t think so.”
Thiel doesn’t think so, either. Which is why he doesn’t hesitate to characterize Greeley as “a hell of a nice guy” to anyone who asks, or even to make sure that his opponent’s political signs are standing.
“We’ve always had an agreement about that,” Thiel said. “If I see his signs are down, I have his permission to put them back up, and he has my permission to do the same with mine. We’ve been helping each other like that right along. Of course, I want to win as much as Chris does. But if I lose, I know he’ll do as good a job in Augusta as I would, and that’s all that matters. When it’s over, by the way, the winner takes the loser to dinner.”
Greeley said he doesn’t remember making any such deal.
“But I’d go along with it,” he said.