Legislature folds its tent



The 127th Legislature has folded its tents and not-so-silently slipped away. Early! Statutory adjournment was not until April 20, but Augusta shut down in the wee hours of April 16. They will be back to deal with gubernatorial vetoes, and there may be a bill or two before them on that occasion. But for the most part, the work of the session is over.

The end game drama was minimized by the fact that a budget was not among the final bills. This meant no threat of a shutdown and not much by way of heavy artillery to force agreement between the parties. When the dust clears, a number of bills, maybe a record number, simply will have evaporated.

Bills can die in “non-con” (non-concurrence) when the two chambers cannot agree on a final version. They may be left on the docket without being taken up for final votes. They may be abandoned on the appropriations table without funding.

Senators, too, can be left behind at the end of a session. Seven current senators will not be on the ballot this November. Two are termed out; five more have declined to run again despite being eligible. Three are Republicans; four are Democrats.

The senate majority will be hotly contested, with Republicans hoping to maintain their lead and Democrats longing to wrest it from their grasp. Hopes are high for both parties on the House side, but that is a steeper climb for Republicans, who are currently in the minority.

Gov. Paul LePage is fervently hoping for the 128th Legislature to be more biddable. Good luck with that. If there is any justice, Mike Thibodeau will be back to continue his even-handed leadership at the senate end of the hall, and that is surely not the governor’s preference.

Rumored to be short of fuse and devoutly conservative, President Thibodeau was instead a model of fairness and unfazed by his governor’s flamboyance. When the governor delayed seating a senator elected in a special election, the senate president decreed that all roll call votes would be suspended until the senator was sworn in. An elegant response.

Speaker of the House Mark Eves is term limited, as is Majority Leader Jeff McCabe. Assistant Leader Sara Gideon may serve two more terms, and she is the anticipated successor to the podium, or at least to the top position in her caucus.

Breaking news from the Blaine House last week was LePage’s announcement on radio: “I am all done with drugs.” That’s a relief! But we jest. The governor was simply throwing up his hands when it came time to try to deal with the state war against drugs, having failed to get his own proposals passed.

There is no give-and-take with this governor. It’s his way or the foot-stomping, door-slamming way. There were plenty of proposals on the table, but if they differed from the governor’s in varying degrees, he shot them down.

His veto messages scoured the legislature for positions often unrelated to the matter at hand. In his veto of LD 935, An Act Regarding Alcohol Manufacturing Licenses Issued to Research Facilities, he made his intentions plain.

“I am vetoing all bills sponsored by Democrats because they have stifled the voice of Maine citizens by preventing them from voting on the elimination of the income tax.” Okay. No alcohol licenses for you! “I will not sit by and watch a handful of Democrats disenfranchise the people they were elected to represent,” he continued. “Therefore, any bills sponsored by Democrats must have at least a two-thirds vote and a roll call to get by me.”

In his veto of LD 1682, he attributed the more positive relationship between previous administrations and the legislature to the fact that “they were both controlled by like-minded socialists.”

In his veto of LD 1605, an act to extend the time to begin legal action in a murder case, the governor opined that the bill was “nothing more than pandering to grieved families.” If anyone deserves “pandering,” it might be the families of those lost to homicide. But the governor labeled it “a hollow bill making empty promises for political gain.”

But it is his veto of LD 1532 that is of particular interest. Never mind the substance of this bill. It is his justification of his veto that catches the ear. “What I do not hear,” said the governor, “is there is an epidemic of [people] skipping out on their obligations, at least not to the degree that legislation and state interference in these situations are necessary.”

This is precisely the argument made by those defending welfare programs from the governor’s wrath. The large majority of welfare clients are in genuine need. There is no epidemic of people violating the rules. Yet the governor has acted as though welfare fraud is rampant. It is not.

Never mind all this. Finches are swarming backyard bird feeders, and shorts and bare arms have appeared. The barriers are down on the roads of Acadia National Park. The legislature has decamped. Let summer begin.

 

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.

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