All’s well on the Fourth of July

Oh, the glorious Fourth. A stretch of weather the likes of which we have not seen in far too long arrived just in time.

The streets were packed with parade-goers, and after the last of the marchers and floats and fire trucks rolled by, the crowds streamed off to eat, drink and be merry.

Legislators have been released back into the wild, albeit temporarily, and in Bar Harbor, local Rep. Brian Hubbell and Hancock County Sen. Brian Langley, the former a Democrat and the latter a Republican, marched side by side in the parade. Liddy Hubbell, Brian Hubbel’s wife, went along to help, carrying two signs, a blue “Brian” and a red “Brian.” Good message.

Little babies waved their feet in their strollers. Grandmas wrangled grandpas. Little kids dropped their ice creams and wailed. And up above it all was Gus, 88 years young, on his first ever biplane ride. That’s the spirit!

For all of the strife, grief and disharmony that plague us, it is still a pretty fine place, this country of ours. Though it might have been hard to see the bright side in Augusta a week or two ago, the Legislature managed to pull one out of the fire and make the best of a lot of bad possibilities.

Lumpy it was, and messy it was, but ultimately, the Legislature decided to be the grown-ups in the room. In the face of an unprecedented series of moves by an angry and vindictive governor, the center held. House Republicans were late to the party, but they finally arrived.

Republican budget debater Rep. Deb Sanderson made a last ditch effort to convince the House to sustain the governor’s budget veto, saying, “We have a tool available to us to pass an interim budget.” But even her own caucus leader, Rep. Ken Fredette, who had held out against a budget until the 11th hour, warned his colleagues they were reaching the point of no return.

“Less than 13 hours from now, in my opinion, if we don’t have a state budget, I think we are faced with a state shutdown,” said Fredette. He was right.

The “tool” Sanderson referred to was presumably LD 1450, a governor’s bill submitted to the legislature on June 30. It was 175 pages long, never referenced to a committee and purported to “provide for the obligations of the state necessary for the operation of state departments through July 31, 2015.” It contained policy changes that were not only unexamined, they would have wreaked havoc with the Legislature’s ability to create a budget to follow on from this “interim” measure. Governing at its wackiest.

Speaking of wacky, Governor Paul LePage sent the Legislature a budget veto letter the likes of which has never been seen before. Replete with photographs of alleged drug traffickers, a crying baby (three photos, same baby), Mainers lacking services and a forlorn, unidentified elderly lady, it accused legislators of everything from “dilly-dallying” to playing “shell games” to funding “piggy projects.”

The budget, said the governor, is “driving us backward down the wrong road.” If you were on the wrong road, you would want to be driving backward, wouldn’t you?

His parting shot? “My budget proposal was widely acknowledged as a bold and comprehensive plan to modernize, reform and restructure how Maine does business. Unfortunately, it proved too big a concept for some of the small minds in the Legislature to grasp.” Ouch! And all this in a letter that begins: “Dear Honorable Members of the 127th Legislature!”

The boiler-plate language used by the governor in a number of his other veto messages was similarly scathing. He spoke of the “exclusive, club-like atmosphere of the State House,” the “giddy eagerness” of legislators to “get along with colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” and legislators “busy high-fiving each other for hastily passing bills they haven’t even read… .”

The trouble is, you cannot back up from this stuff. Recovering from a political disagreement is one thing. Getting past a full-court press of public humiliation is entirely another. With that level of contempt from the chief executive for the legislative branch, the well is truly and strictly poisoned.

In all, 1,452 bills were fed into the hopper for the first regular session of the 127th Legislature, but do not think that 1,452 bills were sent through to completion. The legislature may have put its collective foot down in the face of the governor’s unprecedented veto rampage, but overall it did not turn in a flawless performance.

What happened to all those bills floating around on the House and Senate calendars in the final days? A single order was passed to hold 114 of them over to “any special and/or regular session of the 127th Legislature.” Later, baby.

There were more than 20 “non-concurrent” matters remaining, which might have been worked through to agreement between the House and Senate but which will now presumably die “between the bodies.”

It was a Legislature that had more loose ends than usual, and though the governor’s veto festival did not help, it is not entirely responsible for the failure to get all the work of the Legislature done.

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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