‘Tis a most confounding time of year

‘Tis the season. It may be the “most wonderful time of the year,” but Christmastime is also one of the most confounding. The day meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus is a day at which many of us arrive exhausted, broke and stressed out trying to live up to the expectations of the season.

Plenty of Mainers have the spirit and do their best to provide food, shelter, clothing and warmth to those in need. Gifts of cash distributed to low-end wage earners, layaways paid off at stores, baskets of food and boxes of presents dropped off on porches, all reflect the impulse of so many to help a neighbor.

Truth? Mainers excel at the helping hand. They are not showy about it. A driveway gets plowed, a woodpile gets replenished, a casserole is delivered, a sidewalk gets shoveled, and not a word is exchanged. It’s what you do.

If there is joy to be had despite the commercial extravaganza that Christmas has become, it may be in the lights. Freeport, Maine’s shopping mecca, is a fairyland of colored lights. Wandering among them with snow falling and a hot coffee in hand is surely one of life’s great pleasures. But few people are inclined to wander. Instead, they’re rushing straight for the stores, lists in hand.

Even way out in the Maine countryside, Christmas lights dot the landscape. Winter seems a little less forbidding when a gnarled old apple tree is bedecked with tiny white lights. Candles gleam in windows, doorways are illuminated, fences outlined. For the month of December, the long dark seems a little more bearable.

It will take more than candles to brighten the darkness for new District Attorney Matt Foster. Mr. Foster may have won the election battle, but right now it looks like he is losing the war. He dismissed two assistant attorneys in the Ellsworth office immediately after his election but invited a third, his election opponent, Bill Entwisle, to stay on.

Mr. Entwisle declined, so all three are moving on, and as it turns out they are taking their salaries with them. Mr. Foster is now three positions short, with no money to refill them until June.

Assistant district attorneys’ salaries are funded by the Maine attorney general’s office. The new Republican district attorney is now trying to negotiate some kind of solution with Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills. The situation is weird.

Individuals are funded but positions are not? Assistant district attorneys start at $42,000 regardless of experience? Surely there is a reasonable explanation for this system. Anyone know what it is? Perhaps the Hancock County legislative delegation, with its track record of bipartisan cooperation, could check it out. It doesn’t seem right that District 7 should be left without prosecutorial resources for six months.

Speaking of things that don’t seem right, there was the question of legislative standing committees that, through the math of a Republican Senate and a Democratic House, would all have had Democratic majorities even though the Senate is in the hands of Republicans.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette strenuously objected, and while he didn’t manage to win control of as many committees as he wanted, he did get some of them into the Republican column. Slowly but surely the pieces of the 127th Legislature are falling into place. Committee assignments were finally announced this week.

The deadline for legislators to submit bills is Jan. 2. Usually some titles have been released by now. This year, nothing, except for those submitted by administrative departments and agencies. Maybe the party of small government is not going to propose legislation this year.

After all, Maine’s statute books and their accompanying regulations are growing longer every year. Our lives are regulated to a fare-thee-well, much of it with little effect other than to annoy us. The trouble is, legislators go to Augusta to legislate, and those who run no bills get no recognition.

One’s attitude toward government over-reaching can change quickly in the face of constituent requests to sponsor bills. Legislators are readily persuaded to seek a statutory fix for every situation in which a citizen has suffered an alleged injustice. In fact, some legislators think it is their duty to submit any bill a constituent requests.

Sometimes tough love is in order. A bill that has been submitted repeatedly and failed repeatedly might provide an opportunity to help a constituent understand why it is a non-starter. If a legislator does not believe in a bill, he or she would be doing constituents a favor by helping them find a sponsor who does.

Bills do not run along under their own volition. They need an advocate who can make a good case in front of the committee, dog the bill through work sessions, defend it on the floor and come to the rescue if the bill is circling the drain. None of this will happen if the sponsor cannot summon any enthusiasm for the cause.

Republicans continually advocate for smaller government. We will soon see whether they are more restrained in proposing new legislation than their Democratic colleagues are.

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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