MATTHEW GAGNON

The Legislature you deserve

Posted May 17, 2012, at 3:53 p.m.

This November, the election most people will be paying attention to is the presidential race. But as important as it is, if you glance several inches downward on your ballot as you vote, you will see a place to register your choice for your local state senator and state representative. This will be, for you, a far more important choice to make.

In the most recent polling by Portland-based Critical Insights, President Obama held an eight-point lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. I am of the mind that Romney can make Maine competitive, but it will be wholly dependent on spending some time and money here, which he may or may not be willing to do depending how the other states shape up.

Still, Maine is likely to vote for President Obama, so the vote you register for president isn’t necessarily going to decide the fate of the national election. Famous last words, I realize.

The state legislative battles, however, are entirely undecided, and truth be told the results will likely have more immediate and real impact on your everyday life than who becomes our next president.

The Republican Party captured the Maine House and the Maine Senate in 2010, controlling the Legislature for the first time in four decades. How they have acquitted themselves once in office, punctuated by their actions this past week, make them deserving of retaining control in 2012.

For forty years of Democratic rule in Augusta, there seemed to be one truth: the Legislature would put off hard choices, take the easy path rather than the right path, raise taxes, increase spending, grow government and fail to reform or innovate.

This caused a slow but noticeable trend. Like a man trying to squeeze an ever shrinking bit of toothpaste out of an increasingly abused and vacant tube, Maine’s Legislature continued to spend more money, tax its residents to pay for that spending, be shocked when Maine’s economy failed to grow or shrank, and then squeezed the tube more.

Innovative and creative solutions, genuine government reform or simply the capacity to say “no” to just about anyone were all things that seemed to be lacking from Maine’s government.

That all, mercifully, has changed in the last two years.

To be fair, the Republicans didn’t have much of a choice. When they took over, the state was in pretty rough shape, budgets were busted, cost overruns in state departments were astronomical and things were generally a mess.

But they could have done what so many Democratic Legislatures had done and simply punted down the field in an attempt to be popular, rather than reforming government. They could have handed the problems they faced to future Legislatures and congratulated themselves on their own cleverness, like so many Democratic Legislatures had done. But they didn’t.

This Legislature enacted the largest tax cut in Maine history and cut your taxes multiple times. They removed 70,000 lower-income filers from having to pay taxes in the first place. They increased deductions and eliminated the marriage penalty.

All things you would expect from any Republican Legislature. But they didn’t just rely on the “tax cuts” mantra so often repeated by the GOP.

They reformed Maine’s health insurance system, and we are seeing the results now as rates for individual health care plans in Maine will drop as much as 60 percent in July.

They reformed Maine’s pension system, reducing the unfunded state government pension debt — a black hole in the budget — by nearly two billion dollars.

They reformed Maine’s welfare system in an attempt to be accountable to the people of Maine and help lift people out of government dependence — not keep them on it in perpetuity.

They then did the hard work of dealing with massive cost overruns in DHHS, reforming that department as well.

You may not agree with everything the Republicans did in the Legislature, but you can’t deny things feel differently in Augusta. Where the status quo once ruled, and stagnant, uninspiring leadership once called the shots, there are now bold, reform-minded Legislatures trying to clean up state government.

That change of attitude by itself is refreshing. They deserve an opportunity to continue what they started.

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at matthew.o.gagnon@gmail.com and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.

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