Wonder of wonders. The Senate District 25 election “investigation” went off without a hitch and showed off our valiant legislators to fine advantage. Dark mutterings of election fraud notwithstanding, the problem proved to be an error during the initial recount in the secretary of state’s office.
The obsessive compulsives among us had the opportunity to learn a lot about Maine elections by tuning in to Radio Free Augusta and streaming the proceedings live. Yes, the opening statements were on the mind-numbing side. Both candidates were lawyered up, and neither side could resist unnecessarily long initial salvos.
Nevertheless, by early in the afternoon, it became clear that the mysterious “phantom” ballots were simply a batch of ballots that were put in the wrong box, and therefore counted twice. The outcome reverted to the initial result: Democrat Cathy Breen was declared the winner. It was also abundantly clear that election officials in Maine municipalities are earnest, careful, hard-working and eminently reliable.
The members of the Senate Elections Committee were courteous to a fault. There was fulsome praise from both sides for both candidates, who had indeed remained statesman-like throughout the ordeal. Breen did not spike the ball nor do an end-zone dance. Manchester did not have to be dragged screaming from the seat she had occupied for just one legislative day.
The committee, with a 4-3 Republican edge, found in favor of the Democrat in a Republican-controlled Senate. Election officials in Long Island had performed their duties flawlessly. Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn was mortified to discover that her office owned the error and apologized profusely to the senators and to the candidates.
It is to Senate President Mike Thibodeau’s credit that he appointed Republican Senator Roger Katz of Augusta as chairman of the Elections Committee. Katz has a reputation as a moderate who will give open-minded consideration to any question.
The process washed out some of the bad taste left in the mouths of the electorate after a costly and often nasty election. So, we should take a moment to acknowledge that the legislature and the politicians who serve within it can sometimes get things right, right? Of course not.
Governor Paul LePage was quick to issue a press release berating “liberals [who] falsely accused Republicans of trying to manipulate the election with so-called ‘phantom ballots.’” The secretary of state’s office received a gubernatorial slap upside the head, too.
Not to be outdone, Phil Bartlett, new chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, issued his own nastygram. “Despite the GOP’s best efforts to turn a blind eye and dismiss the facts, our Party fought tooth and nail to ensure every vote counted fairly.”
Bartlett? Governor? Did you not get the memo? We are sick, sick, sick of this stuff. Couldn’t you have let it go with a “job well done” comment and saved your ammo for the big issues sure to come up in the new legislature?
The threat of a drawn-out process to seat the appropriate legislator now over, leadership can turn its attention to arranging committee membership and naming committee chairs. House Speaker Mark Eves may be a true believer in Democratic principles, but he does not display the overt partisanship of days gone by when it comes to naming committee members.
Sure, Democrats who turned out to assist colleagues in squishy seats, or who rounded up contributions or performed other party duties without complaint, have earned extra credit in the “let’s make a deal” arena. But under Eves’ leadership, one can believe that other factors, such as policy experience, general smarts and people skills come into play as committees are assembled.
Priorities, or at least interests, of the administration for the coming session are beginning to emerge. A list of 120 bills submitted by state agencies and departments is now up on the legislature’s website. Tax law, spruce budworm, animal welfare, death investigations, methamphetamines, economic development, carbon emissions, water quality, educational outreach, child support, spat collection, boiler inspection, breath testing, community paramedicine, the green power offer, motor vehicle laws and aviation regulations are all on the docket. As for the legislature itself, no bill titles are available as yet.
A significant change has taken place in the internal world of the legislature. You will hear nothing about it. Grant Pennoyer, former director of the Office of Fiscal and Program Review (OFPR), which staffs the Appropriations and Taxation Committees, has moved over to serve as executive director of the Legislative Council, the leadership body that manages the affairs of the legislature.
Pennoyer took on OFPR duty when the legendary Jim St. Clair left Augusta. Pennoyer was an extraordinarily diligent and conscientious public servant representing the best of the professionalism the nonpartisan staff has to offer. Into the void steps Chris Nolan, an OFPR staffer who knows more about one of Maine’s biggest agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services, than any human should have to know. Grant Pennoyer, thank you for your service. Chris Nolan, thank you for taking on this most important assignment.