A full menu of indignation

Last Friday, the Maine Legislature ripped through 33 gubernatorial vetoes, overriding 20, sustaining 12 and sending one to its doom through a procedural maneuver.

The session is now truly and strictly over.

One bill that went down to defeat was LD 1579, a bill to ensure sufficient funding for the Maine Clean Elections Program. Over half of the Senate Republicans went along with the bill, while almost all House Republicans voted against it. It passed the legislature but fell to the governor’s veto pen.

House Republicans were the deciding factor in sustaining the governor’s veto. So isn’t it curious that 25 incumbent Republicans, all of whom voted against the bill and in favor of sustaining the veto, have signed up to run for the House as Clean Elections candidates? Talk about having it both ways.

Those 33 vetoed bills were not the only items to which Gov. Paul LePage said no recently. Following a tiff over the exclusion of the public from the first meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission to Reform Public Education Funding, the governor said on the radio that he had “withdrawn the executive branch from that group … . The executive branch will no longer be participating, period.”

Apparently sort-of-Commissioner Bill Beardsley did not get the memo, as the department he leads (sort of) stated that he would continue to chair the commission. Beardsley heads the Department of Education, though the process of making him the actual commissioner was sidestepped by the governor, leaving him the acting or deputy commissioner of the department.

The attorney general called the closed-door meeting a violation of Maine’s Right to Know Law. The governor doubled down, saying that if it were up to him, all the work of the commission would have been done in private. “I would have set it up by executive order, and it would have been executive meetings,” he said, presumably referring to executive sessions that are permitted only for narrow, specific purposes.

House Speaker Mark Eves asked the attorney general to officially sanction the governor. Headline: “Pot calls kettle black.” The legislature has plenty to answer for when it comes to secret meetings. All those private caucuses that take place during House and Senate sessions, all those partisan tête–à–têtes which interrupt committee meetings, all those leadership meetings at which it is decided how the deals will go down – what are they if not secret meetings? Yes, state commissions should function in full view of the public, but spare us the outrage, Mr. Speaker. The legislature does it all the time.

In fact, Sen. Garrett Mason, a Republican from Lisbon, just made a run at the practice of recording and archiving legislative committee meetings. These meeting are, of course, open to the public, not only in person but also via online streaming. This allows interested citizens to see or hear these sessions remotely, in their entirety, at their convenience.

The senator’s move to stop such recordings was described as an attempt to protect individuals’ privacy. What privacy? An individual has just gotten up in public, stated his name and where he is from and offered up his thoughts on the subject at hand. How can there be an expectation of privacy? Instead of having to rely on the snippets of a meeting a reporter decides to pass on to us, we have the opportunity to witness the full proceedings. That’s a good thing.

This particular bid for less transparency is not over. The Legislative Council will take up the question of recording and archiving committee meetings between now and when the next legislature convenes in 2017.

But back to the governor’s negativity streak. His stormy response to a pair of protestors holding signs up during the dedication of a building at the University of Maine in Farmington led to another “just say no” moment. “Since I am such a distraction to the media, I will no longer attend some of these public events,” he vowed.

A governor, any governor, is not a distraction to the media. He (or she) is the media’s lifeblood, its bread and water. When a governor chooses to erupt as regularly and colorfully as LePage, so much the better. More ink!

Just which public events the governor would avoid was not clear. But a few days later, he cancelled his plans to appear at the birthday party of Clara Swan, a 104-year-old pillar of the Husson University community, his own alma mater. He attributed his absence to last-minute negotiations with legislators as “veto day” approached.

No State of the State, no Blue Ribbon Commission, no public events … . What will the governor do with his time? There is some irony in remarks he made at one of his “town hall” meetings in Biddeford last month. On the subject of discipline in the classroom, he said, “There’s a lot that can be done, but it has got to start with discipline.”

The governor would do well to heed his own words and start with a little self-discipline. He might find himself making a little more progress if he could control his frequent outbursts.

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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