What would you think of a member of the Maine Legislature who voted to postpone consideration of a bill because several hundred demonstrators showed up at the State House and shouted, “Kill the bill”?
And what would you think of legislative leaders who caved in to pressure from an angry mob rather than schedule an up-or-down vote on the bill after more than 10 hours of public hearings?
That’s what happened at the State House in recent days. The abrupt cave-in has prompted many observers to ask: What’s the point of having a conservative majority if Republican leaders run for the tall grass every time a flash mob assembles in the Hall of Flags?
The bill (LD 309) would have changed the law governing payment of fees to public-sector unions. Six years ago, union bosses convinced Gov. John Baldacci that state employees who exercise their constitutional right not to join the Maine State Employees Association (MSEA) should be forced to pay fees to the union anyhow. The result was a $700,000 windfall to union coffers. And as everyone in Augusta knows, government-employee unions are huge players in the political and legislative arenas, with 90 percent of their resources expended on behalf of Democrats.
The new compulsory-payment contract with the MSEA was slipped into the state budget with just four hours notice during an all-night session of the Appropriations Committee in March 2005. Then, two years later, majority Democrats passed a new law requiring the state to deduct these “fair share” service fees from all state employee paychecks, in effect making the state of Maine a collection agent for union bosses.
This is the Democrats’ favorite recycling program. Taxes from the private sector fund state employees’ wages and benefits. The state skims a percentage from those paychecks and kicks the money back to the union, which then lobbies for higher taxes and an expansion of the nanny state and works to elect and re-elect Democrats who promise to keep the recycling machine humming.
LD 309 proposed to roll back this corrupt money-laundering scheme and protect state employees from legalized extortion. The bill would have reset the clock to what the law was in 2005, before Baldacci and the Democratic majority rammed their political pay-off to the MSEA through the Legislature on a party-line vote.
Given this history, and the new Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature, why did the GOP leadership back down and agree to carry the bill forward to the next session in January 2012?
Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, the majority whip in the House of Representatives, told reporters that leadership did not want raucous protests in the State House such as those that occurred in Wisconsin and Ohio.
“We don’t want that here in Maine,” Cushing said.
Cushing’s peace-at-any-price comment virtually guarantees that another flash mob will materialize when the bill comes back for consideration next year. He telegraphed to the folks who mobilize and choreograph the rent-a-mob exactly what they need to do to keep the forced payments flowing into the MSEA treasury.
In Wisconsin, a much bigger and better-funded mob resorted to bullying, death threats and physical intimidation to block passage of labor-union reform legislation in March. But those antidemocratic and un-American tactics failed to break the resolve of a governor and a legislative majority committed to fair play and fiscal sanity.
There’s a lesson here that Maine’s legislative leaders should have learned when they were growing up: Never show fear or weakness before a bully — it will only embolden him.
We can only hope that the Legislature’s last order of business before adjournment — the state budget — will be a document that reflects the values of the voters who elected a conservative governor and Legislature to undo the damage done to Maine’s economy during the past several decades of cronyism and corruption.
Larry Lockman of Amherst conducts legislative research in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.