Fasten your seat belts



You’re familiar with the nautical term “Nantucket sleigh ride?” Back in the whaling days, a harpooned whale could drag a whaleboat over a long distance at considerable speed, until it tired out. So it is with the new legislature, which has its harpoon embedded in some big issues and is about to go for a ride.

There is the matter of a forensic mental health facility, meant to move the state off the dime in terms of compliance with a consent decree imposed decades ago. Gov. Paul LePage has abandoned any effort to site the facility adjacent to Riverview in Augusta, which frees him from the fetters of legislative approval. Legislators, nonetheless, held a hearing last week on doing just that.

There is plenty of noise about the recently passed citizens referendum on marijuana, a clamor that showcases the downside of these initiatives. There was an inadvertent omission, that of prohibiting possession of marijuana for people under 21 years of age. There seems to be universal agreement that that needs to be addressed quickly.

But there are further objections that have more to do with opponents’ desire to make fundamental changes in the new law. As referenda are passed fast and furiously, the legislature is losing its reticence about altering what the voters have passed.

The marijuana initiative, the minimum wage proposal and the new tax surcharge to fund education all are the subjects of intense debate and likely will face challenges to the language as passed. Several legislative leaders have suggested that the nine months allowed by the new marijuana law to develop regulations is not enough.

Excuse me, but in what universe can a functional bureaucracy not develop the process needed to manage a change in the status quo within nine months? Government at all levels is woefully slow. No business would stand for a management team that said it would take more than nine months to adapt to a new requirement.

LePage revealed his New Year’s resolution, which is not to call legislators names. This did not prevent him from calling the entire 128th Legislature “relatively irrelevant,” because he said it ever so calmly, without a hint of rancor.

At the federal level, one tally of our delegations’ votes said Rep. Chellie Pingree voted “no” on everything on which Rep. Bruce Poliquin voted “yes,” and Sen. King voted “yes” on everything on which Sen. Susan Collins voted “no.”

U.S. House Republicans opted to start the New Year by weakening the process for investigating House ethics complaints. Those who accuse Poliquin of waiting to see which way the wind blows before taking a position, take note. Poliquin was quick to denounce the effort, even before President-Elect Trump weighed in with a similarly negative opinion.

One news source quoted the chairman of the Judiciary Committee as saying the ethics change would “provide protections against any disclosures to the public… .” Disclosures to the public! We can’t have that. Republicans withdrew their proposal, an inauspicious – and embarrassing – beginning by the majority party.

The chief executive-to-be has softened his stance on repealing the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have yet to offer more than Tooth Fairy health care – put the old plan under your pillow, and the Tooth Fairy will come in the night, take it away and leave money that will fund something else, we know not what.

Across the board, the Maine delegation is making noises about the impact on Mainers of repealing the ACA absent a proposal that will continue to provide coverage for those who have finally found it.

Maine Democrats, who gained seats in the Senate (but remain in the minority) and lost seats in the House (but remain the majority) have taken steps toward future success. Starting with a missive from House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, the Democratic House chairs of policy committees began introducing themselves to the public through a series of letters to the editors of the daily newspapers.

Rep. Charlotte Warren, House chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said she is focused on “ensuring that fewer Mainers enter the criminal justice system.” The “failed war on drugs?” It’s over.

Rep. Patricia Hymanson, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and a doctor herself, said she will “build on the progress … to address the worsening drug crisis.” Childhood poverty, infant mortality and “quality care of the developmentally disabled” are high on her list.

Rep. Ryan Fecteau, House chair of the acronym-unfriendly Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, intends to “meet … hard-working Mainers where they are.” Investing in vocational schools, the minimum wage increase, “empowering home-grown jobs” and preserving collective bargaining all are on his radar screen.

These laudable but vague goals are unlikely to impress those who supported the ostensibly straight-talking Donald Trump. The desire to strip politicians of the mind-numbing, canned rhetoric to which we have become reluctantly accustomed is not likely to welcome the editorial flourishes of the nervous left.

If nothing else, both parties seem energized by the earth-shaking presidential election. Legislative proposals are likely to be sharply focused and hotly contested. Let’s hope they also lead to results.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.

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