Parties’ gain, everyone’s pain



Due to unanticipated turnout at the recent presidential primary caucuses, Maine voters waited in line for hours to get in to do their duty. In response, a bill is being hurried along in Augusta to switch the state to primary elections.

That might result in a more efficient primary process for the parties, but it raises a question for Maine’s “independents,” the 37 percent of us who are not enrolled in a party. We will pay a share of taxes to cover the cost of the primaries, but as the bill is written, we will not be permitted to vote in them. Taxation without representation, no?

Be it a caucus or a primary, the purpose is to nominate party candidates for November’s general election. Currently, the cost of caucuses is covered by the parties, but primaries would be paid for by the state. The cost is anticipated to be between $1 and 2 million.

They shouldn’t be state-funded unless everyone is allowed to vote.

The solution, from the perspective of many party members, is that independents should just knuckle under and join a party. But why should we have to enroll in a party we do not wish to support in order to vote in an election for which we are paying?

Those “Right to Work” laws periodically floated by Democrats in Maine? Republicans oppose them, claiming that workers should not be forced to pay for workplace unions they prefer not to join. How is this different?

Despite endless hashing over, rules regulating party caucuses, conventions and nominations never quite seem to suit the occasion. Just when a party thinks it has covered all the bases, along comes a brand new scenario that upends the process.

Last presidential cycle, it was the Republicans who were in disarray, with one county’s caucus snowed out, votes that went missing, tabulation errors, a recount and a resolution of censure against the state party chairman by a county committee. That led to an attempt by then-Sen. Kevin Raye to switch the state to primaries.

The effort failed, but Republicans made some changes that increased the efficiency of caucuses on their end. Things went relatively smoothly for them this year. It was the Democrats who were unprepared.

For better or worse, the caucuses are now behind us, and the legislature is nearing adjournment. But there is still no shortage of turmoil under the dome. Time may be running short, but there are still plenty of ways to stir the pot.

Gov. Paul LePage, who may submit legislation any time he pleases, tossed in a bill to cut the size of both houses of the legislature by about one third. He attempted to sweeten the pot by proposing a pay increase for the smaller legislature. Prediction: DOA.

A senior policy adviser was reported to have said that increasing a legislator’s pay from about $9,000 to $11,000 might help attract more qualified candidates. Ha. The pay is a pittance, and do not start with how they only work a few months of the year. Any legislator serious about the job – and that is most of them – will be on the job year-round with constituent work, meetings, bill preparation and the other myriad details that go into serving the public.

Adding $2,000 to legislators’ pay is not about to make a difference in luring more talent into the pool. It still would not begin to compensate the members in any meaningful way.

The past week also saw a special election to fill a senate vacancy, resulting in a newly minted senator from Biddeford. Democrat Susan Deschambault won the seat with a decisive 57 percent of the vote. Flush with victory, Senator-elect Deschambault presented herself at the State House at the appointed hour for her swearing in, her proud family in tow, only to find out that the governor was having none of it.

Furious that the Democrats had sunk his nominee for the unemployment insurance commission, the governor’s spokesperson said the governor would take the full five days allowed to certify the election results.

“Welcome to Augusta. Now go home.” It doesn’t get smaller than that. Virtually every legislator ever elected feels a thrill upon approaching the State House and realizing that he or she is now part of an institution that has existed for almost two centuries.

To enter either of the modestly beautiful chambers, to sit at a desk where so many have sat before, to see your name listed on the voter board up front is to experience a humbling sense of wonder. To have that extraordinary moment dashed in front of one’s family by a petty fit of pique, and by the chief executive of all people, is an undeserved day-dampener.

The governor has ambitious plans for our state and is constantly frustrated by the legislature’s failure to support them. How does he think that treating a new legislator this way is going to help? Deschambault had nothing to do with the confirmation vote. Where he could have offered a gracious welcome, he has likely made another opponent for his final two years.

 

 

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.
Jill Goldthwait

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