An uphill push to elections

If politics makes strange bedfellows, it doesn’t get any stranger than this: Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Appropriations Chair Peggy Rotundo, a Democrat, backing each other up on the state budget.

Not on all of it, but on at least one aspect.

The governor has frequently lambasted the legislature for excessive spending and for refusing to put aside “rainy day” funds in sufficient amounts. In an end-of-season wrap-up, Rep. Rotundo also called out the legislature for shortsightedness.

Rotundo pointed to the use of one-time money to cover ongoing expenditures, which leaves a hole in the budget in subsequent years. There is nothing new about getting a program up and running with one-time money (a budget surplus, for instance) and leaving the question of future funding up in the air, but Rotundo labeled it “fiscally irresponsible,” and she is right.

Legislators eager to make a mark during the two-year sessions resort to all kinds of maneuvers to get a program on the books, funding them with one-time money, requiring a department to perform additional work “within existing resources” or providing no funding at all. In the latter case, the theory is that once a program is written into law, half the battle is done and the fight for funding can resume another day.

With a state budget north of $6 billion, it would be interesting to know how much, in the aggregate, will be spent on legislative elections in Maine this year. How many programs that are unfunded or underfunded cost less than what it costs to elect the people that propose them but don’t fund them?

There is plenty of tsk tsk-ing about the money spent on campaigns but little likelihood that anything meaningful will be done about it. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, as of May 15, Congressman Bruce Poliquin has raised $2.2 million for his re-election bid while his opponent, Emily Cain, has brought in about half that.

Numbers in the 1st Congressional District indicate a race where the outcome is more certain. Incumbent Chellie Pingree has raised $309,562, while her three Republican challengers have raised not much more than one third of that between them.

State legislative races have become ridiculously expensive. In 2012, the Democratic Party dumped over a quarter million dollars into the state senate race in Bangor, yanking it away from a one-term Republican incumbent. Outside spending went from $1.5 million in 2010 to $3.5 million in 2012.

In Hancock County alone, $280,979 was spent on the contest between incumbent Sen. Brian Langley (R) and former Rep. Ted Koffman (D). Koffman’s supporters outspent Langley’s, but Langley won by a comfortable margin.

Mind you, we are talking “outside spending” here, and analysis may be complicated. If we mean all spending other than that raised and spent by a candidate’s campaign itself, that would include party money, political action committees and other independent expenditures. Reporting requirements differ for these sources and appear in separate listings.

When it comes to actual campaign spending, it is easier to pin down, courtesy of the Maine Ethics Commission website. The first reporting period for Maine legislative races is coming up in early June, prior to the June 14 primary election.

In Hancock County, there is a rematch between Langley and Koffman. Koffman has a contested primary with Moira O’Neill of Surry, a nurse who also has taught in the Husson University nursing program. With just a month to go until the primary, the race has been relatively quiet.

Will Democrats stick with Koffman, who served four terms in the House of Representatives but was unable to unseat Langley? Or will they shift their support to a new challenger? In an interview, O’Neill said she hopes to take on “the gridlock of partisan politics,” a tall order for anyone, let alone a newly minted legislator with no political experience.

The idealism of first-timers is touching. These courageous candidates really want to improve life in our state. Unbowed by the realities of the political process, they enter the fray with optimism and determination. Given the lumps and bumps they will get if successful, we salute them.

Senate candidate Laurence Willey from Bangor boldly announced, “I have a plan for getting us back on track.” He may underestimate the degree of difficulty. Cut unnecessary spending, balance the state budget and create jobs. Why didn’t we think of that?

Among other ideas that will die in infancy is his proposal to implement a government reform recommendation from the ‘90s to cut the legislature by more than half, making it a single body of 70 members that would meet once a week. Idealism may not be a strong enough word here. Lunacy is more like it.

Bucksport Sen. Kim Rosen will stand for re-election, as will the entire Hancock County slate of incumbents in the House of Representatives: Lockman, Luchini, Malaby, Chapman, Kumiega and Hubbell. Hancock County will benefit from the opportunity to elect a seasoned delegation.

Not to say that the challengers don’t have a lot to offer. We welcome their willingness to serve and look forward to hearing their ideas to move our state forward.

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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