With Republicans controlling state government for the first time since the 1960s, Maine progressives no longer can count on whispering in the ears of Democratic legislators to further their agenda. Now, they must choose between building coalitions among more moderate Republicans and their traditional allies among the Democrats, or they can stand outside and shout in the hopes that people will rise up to support their causes. At least one progressive voice in Maine is taking yet another approach, firmly asserting its “to do” list for the new governor.
Mike Tipping, communications coordinator of the Maine People’s Alliance, issued a statement earlier this week outlining issues his group wants the new governor and Legislature to tackle, calling them “common-sense policy actions.” Mostly a list of general positions the alliance wants Gov.-elect LePage to pledge his support of, it provides a glimpse into progressive priorities. It also may predict flash points between the new government and the left.
Mr. LePage has made his red-tape reduction his top legislative priority, arguing that economic development in Maine is hampered by a labyrinth and onerous business regulatory regime. At the very least, a fresh look at these regulations is in order, and given the lack of job growth, changes are more than likely necessary.
The Maine People’s Alliance offers a goal that piggy-backs on the cutting red tape initiative. It asks Mr. LePage to meet with workers who have lost their jobs and develop a red-tape reduction plan to ease access to retraining and assistance programs. A trained and educated work force is an essential component for a growing economy, so this is practical and fair.
Access to affordable health insurance is a second demand by the alliance. LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt has written that the Governor won’t eliminate the Dirigo health insurance program “until we have a plan in place that is better.” The alliance asks the new administration to define “better,” and suggests it means providing at least as much coverage as the much-maligned Dirigo provided. The alliance also calls on Mr. LePage to oppose private health insurance rate hikes.
Again, these are practical and reasonable suggestions. But given the new administration’s goal to join in lawsuits seeking the repeal of the federal health care law, how health insurance rates are lowered and how coverage is expanded will likely divide progressives and conservatives. This is where Republicans must transform from critics to problem solvers.
The alliance’s other three bullet points call for the governor to oppose “unconstitutional actions against immigrants in Maine,” to support civil rights teams in public schools to combat bigotry and harassment, and to pursue a cleanup of the HoltraChem site in Orrington. Laudable goals, all, but perhaps not worthy of making the short list.
Democrats and progressives are out of power in Maine. They must choose their fights carefully with an eye to killing the very worst ideas, tempering the bad ones and improving the others. Knowing which bill falls into which category is key.