A review of this year’s legislative session looks remarkably similar to a competitive swimmer’s disqualification report. “Out of sequence.” “False start.” “Toes over lip of gutter.” “Delay of meet.” Legislators are guilty of almost everything except “early take-off.”
There are many contributing factors to the unprecedented failure to complete the work of a legislative session. Two may take prominence. First is the governor’s helter-skelter submission of bills up to and including on the last day of the session.
Second is the failure of House Republicans to negotiate in good faith with any other caucus. Instead, they switched course unpredictably, voting for bills one minute and against them when the governor issued a veto.
In his summary from the point of view of an Appropriations Committee member, Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) pointed out the logistical challenges of coping with randomly submitted gubernatorial bills. They came in no particular order, with no cohesion of purpose and far too late in the session to receive full consideration.
Any bills not completed when the session finally adjourns are lost, dead. That means all the work put into them during the session to draft, print, hear and work them is wasted effort.
There are policy consequences of incomplete bills. Rules for the sale of recreational marijuana remain unfinished, so the referendum voted by the people of Maine remains unfulfilled. Ranked-choice voting, also approved by the voters, has been a wrestling match from day one in a Legislature that would just as soon maintain the status quo.
The really bad news is the school funding bill. Failure to complete that particular legislation leaves every school in Maine hanging, unable to finalize a budget since they do not know how much state money they will receive. This may mean the extra effort and expense of a special town meeting if a town’s guesstimated budget falls short when the state figures come in.
There are over a hundred bills sitting on the Special Appropriations Table awaiting funding decisions. Though some of them would remain unfunded even if taken up, every single one of them will die if the table is not “run.” Then there are all the bills on the calendars of the House and Senate, which have not been finally enacted, dozens and dozens of them. All will die.
There is even a battle over adjournment. The legislature adjourns to a “time certain” when it ends for a day or two or three. It adjourns “sine die” (“without day”) at the conclusion of a session, only to be recalled by the governor or by a two-thirds vote of each party. This year, the Senate unanimously approved a motion to extend the session for five days to complete unfinished business. The House refused to go along. But the House debated through the midnight hour, thereby extending the session “by implication,” no adjournment motion having been passed. Stand-off by stand-off, the temperature under the dome continued to rise.
Despite convening on Tuesday of this week to see if they could salvage any more bills, it is likely that when all is said and done, they will have checked off the DQ box for “did not finish.” It is an ignominious end to a difficult session.
Meanwhile, high-level debate in the campaigns continues. Gubernatorial candidate Garrett Mason called primary opponent Shawn Moody a “rookie.” A Moody campaign staffer said Mason “never really held a job.” Democratic candidate Eryn Gilchrist reproached the Lewiston Democratic Committee for raising funds, ostensibly for her race, and diverting them to other purposes.
U.S. Senate would-be candidate Max Linn called official candidate Eric Brakey a “creepy pervert” and a “drug pusher.” Linn has possibly or probably or maybe definitely been thrown off the ballot for having too many invalid signatures on his petitions. His response via Twitter: “The Swamp doesn’t want a primary folks, but come hell or high water they are going to get one.”
The governor asserted that Democrats have a “total incomprehension of economics and finance … .” Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon called Republican obstruction “terrorism.” The governor said Gideon should “stop blaming others for her failure to lead.”
If this is all the comity we can muster, we should not be surprised that our state government ends up with an “incomplete.” For eight years, the state has been led by a governor who defied the conventions of civil discourse, strewing discord in his path with little regard for the negative atmosphere he generated or the obstacles his approach raised to any hope of fulfilling his agenda.
The November election brings an opportunity to elevate the discourse. That improvement in our political climate needs to start now, during campaign season. Candidates who avoid negative campaigns should be rewarded. The future of our state depends on their commitment to this.