6/7/18, by Rep. Larry Lockman,
Is it any wonder so many Mainers regard Augusta as a fetid swamp that needs to be drained? The crash-and-burn conclusion of the recent legislative session was just the most recent and dramatic piece of evidence that all the happy talk about the benefits of bi-partisanship is a giant crock of steaming compost.
The session began with all the usual and customary hand-holding across the aisle, as naive Republican leaders agreed to let the Democrats introduce scores of self-serving, non-emergency bills that clogged up the legislative pipeline before the session even started. And what did GOP leadership get in exchange? An angry, unhinged, hyper-partisan rant from Madame Speaker at the end of the session, when she accused Gov. LePage and the House GOP caucus of being obstructionists and engaging in….are you ready?…”terrorism.”
And Maine’s lying, dying Fake News media rushed to the Speaker of the Swamp’s defense, blaming the failure of the Gideon/Thibodeau legislature on House Republicans, like the good little lap dogs they are.
When will Republicans ever learn that Democrat leaders are not the least bit interested in any sort of compromise or accommodation unless it moves their far-Left agenda forward? Watching this spectacle play out from my vantage point in the front row in the House chamber, I was reminded of conservative commentator and Presidential speechwriter, Patrick J. Buchanan, who dubbed the GOP, “The Stupid Party.”
Bear in mind that the second session of the Legislature is limited by the Maine Constitution to budgetary matters and emergencies. And our Constitution defines emergencies as “only such measures as are immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”
Despite that clear language, the Legislative Council voted to allow dozens of non-emergency bills to be considered when the Council met last November prior to the convening of the second session in January. The Council is made up of ten legislative leaders from the House and Senate (five from each party) who act as gatekeepers for proposed legislation. House Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Mike Thibodeau preside over the Council.
Among the “emergency” bills that were green-lighted was a proposal to allow veterans free admission to the Maine State Museum, sponsored by House majority leader Erin Herbig (D-Belfast), who is termed out in the House and is now running for the state Senate. Herbig also sponsored a bill “to promote innovation and growth in Maine’s traditional industries.”
But if those bills were truly emergency measures, wouldn’t you expect Rep. Herbig to have draft language for the Council to consider? But no, all she offered was a “concept draft,” nothing more than a bill title and one sentence of summary. That was enough to satisfy Senate majority leader Garrett Mason (R-Lisbon), who is termed out in the Senate and is now running for Governor as a Welfare for Politicians candidate. He cast the decisive vote to allow Herbig’s so-called “traditional industries” bill to move forward.
This is what they call “bipartisanship” at the swamp.
Herbig quietly withdrew her empty shell of a bill several months later, and never bothered to flesh it out with any statutory language.
You’ve heard of Fake News? This was Fake Legislation proposed by a far-Left legislator who wants to fake her way into the state Senate.
Voters should understand that before the session even started, the swamp critters on the Legislative Council spent weeks engaged in backroom bipartisan back-scratching and horse-trading to get their pet bills before the Legislature. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this entire process is an open invitation to political grandstanding in an election year.
Special tax cuts for a handful of lawyers only, pronouns changes in municipal codes, censoring the speech of therapist; it was a parade of pet projects — most of which don’t scratch the surface of the definition of “emergency legislation.”
By statute, the session was scheduled to adjourn on April 18. Given this legal deadline, legislative leaders should have prioritized budget bills that needed to be passed before statutory adjournment. Instead, funding for schools and nursing homes took a back seat to the load of politically-motivated rubbish dumped in our laps by leadership.
We had to dispose of all the feel-good, non-emergency bills before we took up the budget work that should have started on Day One of the session.
As everyone at the Colosseum on the Kennebec knows, the Speaker’s office controls the flow of legislation and the House calendar. Speaker Gideon used that power to stall and delay consideration of budget bills. Then, at the last minute, with the clock ticking toward statutory adjournment, she insisted on rolling the individual spending bills into one big pork pie. House Republicans said “no” to extending the session under those conditions, prompting Madame Speaker’s “terrorism” meltdown the morning after.
Bottom line: Legislative leaders of both parties set us up for failure by mimicking the worst of Washington DC-style politics.
Speaking for myself, I will not vote to go back into session until we have written assurances from Speaker Gideon that she will allow straight up-or-down votes on individual spending bills. That’s the only way to ensure accountability for how we spend the people’s money. And given the break-neck speed at which House Democrats killed dozens of good bills in the final hours of session, I’m confident we can pass critical funding needs in a matter of hours while voting on each bill independently — no pork pie needed.
Enough of the grandstanding and posturing. It’s long past time to drain the damn swamp in Augusta and start putting Mainers first.
Lawrence Lockman (R-Amherst) is serving his third term in the Maine House of Representatives (District 137). He is co-founder and President of the conservative non-profit Maine First Project. He may be reached at [email protected]