A civics lesson

To the Editor:

During the recess of the Legislature between June 30 and July 16, more than 3,000 customers visited my restaurant, the Union River Lobster Pot. A great many were area residents. They asked countless questions about the experience of the first session of the 127th Legislature, as much was made of it in the news.

In short, this session was a humbling experience, humbling, in part, because the Senate and its leadership demonstrated incredible respect for the institution. Senate President Mike Thibodeau deserves public commendation for his statesmanship. Majority Leader Senator Garrett Mason deserves public commendation for maintaining decorum and poise while conducting the business of the Senate during budget negotiations. Thibodeau and Mason kept the focus on the issues of good governance and good policy making during unprecedented pressure from outside of the senate chambers. And minority Democrats opted for partnership over partisanship.

As the session wore on, the Senate found itself in uncharted waters uncertain about boundaries, procedures and jurisdiction related to the separation of powers. As mere citizen legislators, senators had to reference the Constitution, Masons Rules, Senate Rules and even Roberts Rules in the performance of its duties. And yet, a constitutional scholar pointed out that while this particular group of senators may have felt they were sailing in uncharted waters, the chart exists. They were charted by the founders of the constitution.

A recommendation to reread certain essays on the separation of powers in the “Federalist Papers” galvanized the position that the Senate, as constitutional officers, should with thoughtful and considerate leadership, uphold the oath of office taken last December. Let there be no mistake, this session was grueling. Passion and emotion filled the halls. Heated debates filled the chambers.

What was truly humbling was the wisdom and foresight the founders had in building a constitution that has withstood both the test of time and the test of men. Among many possibilities, this particular passage from the “Federalist Papers” seemed particularly appropriate for this session.

“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

The Maine Senate made its first priority “the constitutional rights of the place” and the desires of its membership second. As citizens of Maine look to this session for its shortcomings, it must be pointed out that the framers of the constitution provided the tools for its elected leaders to preserve liberty. Those tools were aptly used by the membership of the Maine Senate. It is a humbling experience to see that writings from the late 1700s still have relevance in today’s world. Civics and government teachers all over the state of Maine can point to this session for concrete examples, in contemporary times, of why it is so important to have an understanding of the constitution, history, government and civics.

Senator Brian Langley

District #7, Hancock County

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