Dog days come early for Maine Legislature



Could it be Groundhog Day? Didn’t we just go to bed after the November election? But when we awoke, Emily Cain was running again. The unsuccessful candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is going to give it another shot, declaring her candidacy for an election that is still 20 months away.

What’s the rush? Well, the ever-present need for money means an early start is a big advantage. And the more successful the money hunt, the less likely anyone else will get into a primary. If Ms. Cain can own the primary, she can hoard her resources for the November 2016 election and avoid a tussle with other Democrats who already are pointing out her shortcomings in the previous race.

The Cain campaign says her presumptive opponent, Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, is already campaigning, too. He has registered as a candidate, a requirement if he is to accept funds, and extols his every move in Washington. Well, yeah. That’s the prerogative and the advantage of being the incumbent. But if the 2016 election wasn’t actively on Poliquin’s radar screen, it is now. It will force him to focus more on re-election and less on working for the district.

Augusta paused only briefly to say “We knew that!” before going back to the work of the 127th Legislature. Big stuff going on there. There is the crisis of the state dog, the nominee being the Labrador retriever, a breed specifically named for somewhere else. Why not make the Philly cheese steak the state sandwich? Or the New York minute the state time increment? Happily, the Senate voted down the dog bill (pun intended) 24-10.

Most states that have an official dog (11, according to Wikipedia) selected a canine born, bred or related in some way to its state history. Colorado also made a bid for the Lab, but ultimately crowned rescue dogs (and cats) as the state pet. Cute!

A pedigreed animal does not suit us. It would be like naming the official state person the summer person. Shouldn’t we celebrate a dog more like the rest of us? Maybe the boatyard dog, already recognized as holding a special place on the Maine waterfront, should be the one. Or maybe we should just forget the dogs and try to succeed with tax reform.

Freshman Sen. Eric Brakey’s bill to repeal the state’s seat belt law was also a dog. The bill failed in committee with the unanimous Ought Not to Pass vote that sends it straight to the dead file. Sen. Brakey considered it “unfortunate” that the bill came up for discussion two days after the 75-car pile-up on Maine’s Interstate. Or was it fortunate? The incident was a graphic reminder to legislators of the hazards of winter roads and the life-saving value of seat belts.

It was a curious cause for the senator who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee. Brakey says he supports seat belt use, it is the mandate to which he objects. But failure to wear a seat belt is not exactly a victimless crime.

To the extent an accident victim suffers injuries exacerbated by his failure to buckle up, it may be you and me who are paying for his medical care, recuperation, therapy and unemployment compensation, as is the case with drivers or passengers who are uninsured, underinsured or publicly insured. New Hampshire is the only state in the union without a seat belt law for adults, hence their state motto, “Feel Free to Die.”

Another of Sen. Brakey’s bills is faring better. His “Act to Authorize the Carrying of Concealed Handguns Without a Permit” was met with a virtual stampede of legislators signing on as co-sponsors, 95 to be exact. Law enforcement is not crazy about the bill, but unless they can propose a way to address Senator Brakey’s concerns about the bureaucratic difficulties of obtaining a permit, the bill has enough momentum to take it across the finish line.

Finally, the battle of the budget is really escalating. One newspaper described the Governor’s reception at the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center luncheon as “subdued.” If he can’t make it thre, he can’t make it anywhere. The Governor’s idea to raise one tax in order to lower another is not appreciated.

Supporters of the budget are as scarce as spring daffodils, and last week even Republican leaders voiced their disaffection. Senate President Mike Thibodeau and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason both issued statements indicating reservations about the Governor’s tax plan.

Governor LePage has made it known that he intends to “spend the rest of my days…going after those people,” “those people” being legislators who do not support his tax reform plan, regardless of party. President Thibodeau had a wink and a nod for the Governor’s well-known incendiary rhetorical style, and reiterated the Republican commitment to “reducing the overall tax burden on Maine citizens,” including “property taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes.”

The budget, not unlike this winter’s snowbanks, appears to be in danger of melting all at once and creating the messiest mud season in living memory. A gradual thaw would be best, but appears unlikely.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.
Jill Goldthwait

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