I know I’ve been a bit of a hard-ass
While getting to know my readers;
But it is time to show a little class
With a thank you to our leaders—
Jumping into political blogging in the middle of the first session of 127th Legislature was like jumping into the current of the Sandy River as a first timer to cool off on an early summer day. It’s a shockingly refreshing experience, and I am trying to learn to veer around the ginormous glacier crumbs that shape and command the riverbed.
Some of these boulders have sharp parts that jut up under the water in deceiving ways, and it’s easy to bruise a toe.
I jumped in hot with plenty of pent up frustration — frustration from too much professional time at the juncture of government and the citizens it’s supposed to serve. That time taught me there is an information gap between policymakers and citizens on the receiving end, especially when it comes to things that fall under the costly Department of Health and Human Services umbrella.
All the power grabbing and personality playing in both the legislative and executive branches made for a strong current for a first timer to ride. Gov. Paul LePage placed precedence on his national party platform grandstanding. Each time he dramatically vowed to eliminate the income tax, he pushed himself further and further away from having say in the myriad of issues legislators faced this year.
Should LePage survive the consequences of a pending OPEGA investigation, his most dramatic performance will be transforming himself from the persona non gratis he has become back to the politician who could garner 48.2 percent of the vote. Putting down the pig might be a good start. Stopping the talk about what it may or may not resemble probably wouldn’t hurt, either.
The more LePage tried to force his agenda, the more legislators were forced to grab at power themselves. This power grabbing culminated with the two leaders of the House and the two leaders of the Senate making significant decisions unrecorded and behind closed doors. The budget is easily the most important piece of legislation handled in a biennial session, and those four men, albeit well-intentioned I’m sure, essentially nullified the votes of the 96 percent of voters they do not represent.
But, navigating this political stream also requires balance, and it’s important to acknowledge our legislators successes, and there were many. Both the House and Senate voted for LD 1378 sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. If enacted, this bill will force LePage to release the Land For Maine’s Future bonds that he has been using as bargaining chips all session (though it may be too late to sell all the bonds at market even if the bill passes). More importantly, though, LD 1378 gives us all hope that LePage won’t be able to use these tactics again.
And when the governor pledged to waste time with vetoes, our legislators came together and executed brilliantly. The House and the Senate plowed through and overrode each of the line-item vetoes in a way that sent a clear rebuking message to the governor. These nearly united actions are also a hopeful message to voters: Legislators can work together effectively, even in polarized times.
Legislators have shown a willingness to work across the aisles on polarizing issues like General Assistance to asylum seekers, softening the “welfare cliff” as part of the budget, and eliminating the concealed weapons requirement.
I hope this idea of collaborative problem solving continues as the Legislature wraps up and adjourns. Voters would be well served if collaborative problem solving and well-informed discussions became the norm in Augusta as this group of leaders continue through the biennial cycle.
And I hope legislators know I appreciate their service even as I critique. Working within the constraints of their part-time, term-limited, high-pressure positions can’t be easy. And I hope their well-deserved summer break is full of refreshing “jumping in Sandy River-type” moments.