Some advice for our legislators from Ernest Hemingway

I have a confession to make:  even though I am an English major, I’m not a fan of Ernest Hemingway. I am a fan about his advice on writing, though:

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
— Ernest Hemingway

I started to think about the different applications for Hemingway’s sentiment, like all you have to do is live one true moment. Live the truest moment you know.

Or, in the case of elected officials: All you have to do is vote one true vote. Vote the truest vote you know.

Sure it sounds simple; but whether writing, living, or voting, the idea of being absolutely true to oneself and one’s convictions while taking those actions usually requires stepping outside comfort zones.

In the case of politics, it may require stepping outside the comfort zone of expected adherence to established party ideology. After a couple years of trying to keep a closer eye on some of the goings-on in Augusta, I’m learning to greatly admire elected officials who dare to do that.

This session has seen a few such courageous actions, and my apologies in advance to any I don’t cover in this post. I know the ones I am about to mention are not the only examples, and I wish I had more space to cover them all — like the Democratic defections regarding reinstating the tipped wage earlier in the session.

First, there’s LD 1408, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Nathan Libby. This proposal would create a citizen’s oversight committee to monitor whether TANF families are being successfully moved out of poverty.  Personally, I think the scope of such a committee should be even greater, but Libby’s proposal is a good starting point.

Hats off to Republicans Rep. Frances Head and Rep. Richard Malaby for supporting this proposal in committee. This proposal should be a no-brainer, so much so that party ideology/alignment shouldn’t even come into consideration for legislators.

So much talk about funds, so little talk about whether those funds finance effective programs that foster successful outcomes. Citizens are the funders, the recipients and the employers of recipients of these programs. Citizens deserve the right to monitor whether or not these programs are working effectively.

It’s not like lawmakers and policymakers have anything to brag about when it comes to how DHHS has been run for years now without any citizen oversight. Given the department’s track record, I’d think lawmakers and policymakers would welcome citizen input, and not just on the TANF programming.

Thanks to Republican Sens. Tom Saviello and Roger Katz, LD 33 was defeated in the Maine Senate. The bill would have lowered the limit on receiving TANF benefits from five to three years. Five years is barely enough time for a family to rebuild after becoming financially compromised enough to be on this program.

Further, given the social turmoil caused by the state’s opiate epidemic, we should be more worried about adequately supporting families with dependent children, than we are about limiting that support. We’ve got parents who might be recovering from an addiction while trying to raise and support children. We’ve got too many extended family members raising small children in the wake of this epidemic to worry about, as well.

I’ve written about a 70-something year old great-grandmother who receives a small TANF benefit to help raise her great-grandchild on her fixed income. I wish our elected officials were more worried about making sure she is able to access TANF with minimal stress and maximum benefit for as many years as she made need it.

I don’t think Republicans are thinking about recipients like that great-grandmother when they draft these proposals, though. However, I am grateful to Saviello and Katz on her and other recipients’ behalf.

The last of my “voting true votes” observations involves Democratic Reps. Craig Hickman and Denise Harlow. They voted to advance a bill that would make lying in testimony to elected officials a crime. The consequence would have been a two year restriction from lobbying at the State House.

Hickman and Harlow joined Republicans in voting true votes for the truth. Opponents of the measure raised fears that the slightest misperception included in any given testimony could be construed as a criminal act. I don’t buy that argument any more than I buy some of the data I’ve heard thrown around the State House about Maine’s medical marijuana program since recreational marijuana was legalized.

Some of that false information made it all the way to the governor’s office and on the radio portrayed as fact. And we’re talking some basic, readily available stuff, like the number of registered caregivers in Maine.

Who do you blame for the false information — the elected officials? The special interests that spread it? And if we don’t make the action a crime, do we otherwise condone it?

Legislative testimony plays a role in policy development and the perceptions of lawmakers. If the lobbyists and other interests who testify before elected officials can’t take the time to draft that testimony from a factual place, then they shouldn’t be testifying.

Consider that last sentence one of the truest I’ve ever written.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.