The first half of this legislative session is now recorded in history. In time, we can measure this session’s impact on the people and economy of Maine. However, it seems that history is being revised even before the ink is dry.
The tone in Augusta is increasingly more politically charged. At times it’s downright negative, mostly as a result of our new leadership’s extremism. Historically, our Legislature has been a place of cooperation and compromise, helping us achieve results. Maine people expect and deserve civility from their lawmakers. And there are some terrific examples of bipartisanship this session.
Early on, the Legislature passed a regulatory reform measure that responded to a variety of businesses’ needs. Lawmakers rejected Gov. Paul LePage’s extreme proposals and instead crafted a less radical, more effective measure without environmental rollbacks. The session ended with bipartisan compromise and support of Maine’s biennial budget. In each case, partisanship was put aside and great work was accomplished.
Last November, voters made it clear that they wanted lawmakers to be laser-focused on job creation and the economy. The governor and the new majority party seemed to get it. They even waved big banners touting the merits of working people. And because of that, I looked forward to working with them.
But then, in January, a different agenda emerged.
The onslaught of rollbacks began almost immediately as Republicans assumed office. Their first order of business was dismantling and discrediting Maine workers by eliminating the Labor Committee. At first glance this might not seem like anything more than an administrative change. But the attack on Maine workers continued.
In fact, anti-worker rhetoric became a theme of the GOP’s platform. Between “ mural-gate” and dozens of anti-worker bills, it was clear that they were not helping Maine workers. This hostility culminated with a Republican House member publicly calling Maine workers lazy.
How does this approach advertise Maine as ” open for business“?
The next priority of the Republican Party was an attack on personal freedoms, starting with a slew of out-of-state, ideologically motivated anti-choice bills, followed by measures chipping away at voting rights. How many jobs did this create?
The governor led the Republican Party on an attack of Maine’s greatest asset, our environment. With rhetoric reverting to the pre-Clean Air and Clean Water Act days, Republicans encouraged Maine to be more “like every other state.” Republicans tried to convince Mainers that littering our roads with billboards would be good for business and good for the economy. Then Republicans offered big, out-of-state chemical companies a reward for their generous campaign contributions: an end to Maine’s ban on BPA, a scientifically proven carcinogen.
Many of these radical bills were defeated because Democrats and, thankfully, a handful of moderate Republicans blocked bad policy.
Finally, the Republican Party decided they would forfeit process and ditch transparency, instead leveraging their “majority” status by ramrodding bills. Most notable was the health insurance bill which was passed without current data or even allowing the time for insurance and health experts to review the details. In retrospect, Republicans have said that they passed this bill to “remove the handcuffs” from big insurance companies. What are the costs of removing those handcuffs? Each and every insured Mainer will pay a new tax. Who benefits when big insurance is unleashed on the people of Maine?
All session long, Democrats worked hard to stay focused to best represent Maine people’s needs. Our tax package was sustainable and responsible. We introduced job creation bills around energy efficiency, microfinance loan programs, tourism expansion and rural job creation. We also proposed employer tax credit incentives to boost hiring.
Much more needs to be done and will be done. Democrats will not be bullied. Nor will we remain silent. We continue to stand with Maine people, workers and families to do what is right for our future.
Justin Alfond, D-Portland, is assistant Senate Democratic leader. Kathleen Parker is on vacation. Her column will return next week.