The engines of democracy

The hills are alive with the sound of political activism. People are coming out of the woodwork to work toward peace, truth, justice and the American way. To run for office. To help someone else run for office. To speak. To act. To be indivisible.

It’s a beautiful thing. We may be slow to awaken in the land of the free, but now that we are present and accounted for, there’s no telling where it will lead. We are a basket of adorables out to reclaim our democracy. We are dogmatic, ideological and unyielding. We are conciliatory, respectful and consensus-driven. We the People are ready to rumble.

The federal government has been a maelstrom of controversy, focused mostly on the inflammatory tweet of the day. Finally, we are getting some actual policy that we can sink our teeth into, in the form of the Republican proposal to replace Obamacare. Early reviews are not favorable.

Gov. Paul LePage was quick to pan the proposal, calling himself “discouraged and disappointed” with the GOP effort. The governor, along with the rest of us, is waiting for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to “score” the proposal, meaning to render an opinion on the costs of the program and the number of people who will gain or lose health insurance coverage. “But based on what I see, … I don’t think it’s an improvement,” said LePage.

We are a long way from fully understanding the proposal just released by Republicans in Washington, but there are plenty of proposals here at home where we can apply LePage’s test: Is it an improvement?

How about an act to allow overhead garage door installers to install and repair dumbwaiters? Improvement! If you love the guys who just installed your overhead garage door, it seems only right to let them install your dumbwaiter. A “Mattress Stewardship Program?” Yes indeed. Mattresses need supervision. No one wants errant mattresses running amok all over the state.

Likewise “carpet stewardship” and the “stewardship of certain rechargeable batteries.” Who knew that stewardship of our chattel would be a thing this year?

Traveling elephants? No. Carpooling legislators? Yes. A 25 percent increase in mileage reimbursement for every legislator transporting a colleague to the State House. An act to “protect young bucks in northern, eastern and western Maine?” OK as far as it goes.

The young bucks in southern Maine apparently are on their own.

There is an act to “promote safety with respect to touching livestock or other animals.” Rule of thumb: Touch not the livestock, lest ye be touched.

Less than half of the bills expected are in print, so we can look forward to many more, from the edifying to the mystifying. Working with joint standing committees and a single document, as we do in Maine, seems a lot simpler than the federal system of working two bills on the same subject, moved separately through the House and Senate, almost all of which must go to a committee of conference to reconcile differences in language.

Maine’s joint standing committees have members of both parties and both houses. They are the one place where legislators mix it up on a regular basis, exchanging views directly rather than through the partisan filter of their respective leaders. It’s a way to make helpful connections.

Much lamented are the days of yore when many legislators stayed in Augusta during the week, eating and beveraging with their colleagues. No more. Informal gatherings across party lines are rare, and under those circumstances, it is easy for partisan lines to harden.

A look at the legislative calendar shows a Legislature in full work mode, though not at fever pitch. Sessions are still being held on a Tuesday-Thursday schedule. As more bills come through, that will increase a day at a time, and when adjournment draws nigh, there will be double sessions on some days.

Bills are coming through on the chamber calendars, many of them to be referred to the committee of jurisdiction, but work on some bills has been completed, with the dreaded, unanimous “ONTP” (Ought Not to Pass) sending some to the dead file.

The Special Sentiment calendar lists Mainers the legislature honors for athletic achievement, lengthy marriages or retirement. With the basketball tournament just over, there will be sentiments for the winning teams. Go Trojans! Go Eagles!

Committees are in full swing. Those with the heaviest workloads are meeting three times a week, with the workhorse Appropriations Committee in every day. There are designated overflow rooms when hearing attendance is expected to be large based on the subject matter of bills being heard.

There are lists of the ancillary events that surround a legislative session. Campground owners gather in the Hall of Flags, and Maine’s Franco-American community celebrates their heritage under the dome. The Maine Adult Education Association gathered, as did the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Advisory Council.

Students from around the state roam the halls, meeting their legislators and serving as pages in the chambers. Legislators genuinely enjoy these visits and give the kids plenty of time and attention, including at the podium. In Augusta, the beat goes on.

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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