Cutler addresses ‘moderate caucus’ at State House, says tide is turning from political extremes

AUGUSTA, Maine — It may not feel like it at the State House some days, but the Legislature does have a moderate caucus.

Co-chaired by Republican Rep. Les Fossel of Alna and Democratic Rep. Chuck Kruger of Thomaston, the moderate caucus draws anywhere from a dozen members to two dozen on any given day.

On Wednesday, an invited guest helped draw a bigger-than-usual crowd.

Former independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler spent about a half hour addressing lawmakers and answering questions.

Afterward, Cutler said he thinks Maine and the country are at a political turning point.

“I think there is a lot of frustration about our ability to work together, to compromise,” Cutler said. “I think we’re going to see a shift that draws the two parties back to the middle.”

The 2010 elections in Maine saw Republicans wrest control of the House and Senate for the first time in decades, forcing Democrats into the minority role.

That shift in dynamic hasn’t been easy for either party.

“I think I find strength in talking to those I disagree with,” said Fossel, a two-term House member who is running for the state Senate in 2012. “If you only talk to people you agree with it’s like breeding from the same gene pool.”

Kruger agreed.

“I think there is an opportunity to create common ground between the extremes of both parties,” he said. “I hope this [moderate caucus] grows and has the ability to carve out a greater role next year.”

Fossel recently criticized the national group Americans Elect for failing to disclose its donors. Americans Elect has been pushing to get an independent presidential ticket on the ballot in all states and Cutler is the group’s Maine chairman.

“I disagreed with him on that,” Fossel said. “I’m a believer in keeping everything as open as possible.”

It will be interesting to watch how the Legislature shapes up following the 2012 elections. Democrats hope to win back one chamber or perhaps both (most agreed the House is more likely to flip) while Republicans want to retain the majorities they worked so hard for.

As the 125th Legislature’s 2nd regular session has wound down, the debates have become increasingly partisan, but both Fossel and Kruger said that doesn’t reflect some of the compromises that have been forged.

Each referenced the budget process and the work of the Appropriations Committee as an area where moderation has ruled the day.

As for Cutler, he’s continued to keep his name out there as the voice of independence and moderation. Most assume he’s primed again to run for governor in 2014 and he all but admitted it on Wednesday.

“It’s looking likely that I will run,” he told the caucus.