AUGUSTA, Maine — Like college freshmen going through orientation before their first day of classes, dozens of incoming lawmakers were shown the ropes of the Legislature on Friday before they’re sworn into office.
Mainers this month voted in 53 new members to the House of Representative and another 12 to the Senate in giving Republicans majority control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in decades.
In the first of three orientation sessions, the freshman class toured the State House and met with key legislative employees. They were versed on subjects such as compensation and benefits, Capitol security measures, the filing of bills and the inner workings of legislative committees.
“It’s a little intimidating and exciting at the same time,” said Richard Malaby, a Republican from Hancock. “There’s a lot to learn. In looking over some things, I realize some of the procedural stuff I find frightening. I wish I’d taken a little more Latin in school.”
Two more orientation sessions are scheduled for Nov. 29 and 30 before the new Legislature is sworn in Dec. 1. When that happens, the House will have 78 Republicans, 72 Democrats and one independent, while the Senate will have 20 Republicans, 14 Democrats and one independent.
Of the newcomers, many have served in the Legislature in previous years. But for the majority, walking the halls of the State House is a new experience.
While it’s all well and good to learn what the legislative mailing privileges are and that food, beverages and gum are forbidden in the House chambers, Democrat Walter Kumiega of Deer Isle said the most important thing is learning how to get things done.
“I hope to not be such a newbie, and understand what we need to do to get legislation passed and help my constituents and the state as a whole,” said Kumiega.
Outgoing House Speaker Hannah Pingree and Senate President Libby Mitchell spoke to the group in the House chambers about the role of the Legislature.
Pingree warned that now that they’re in office, they’ll be overloaded with legislative information, fact sheets, annual reports, invitations to dinners and parties, and mountains of mail. It’s easy for first-time legislators to get overwhelmed and feel like they need to do everything, she said.
“It’s important that you stay sane and get sleep,” Pingree said.
Besides learning the ins and outs of the Legislature, the new lawmakers also are getting to know each other.
“We’re just people,” said Kumiega, who’s a carpenter. “It’s not like I’ve been elected to the U.S. House where most of the people are lawyers.”