May 22, 2018
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Keep petty and personal out of bills

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Senate assistant majority leader Troy Jackson

Gov. Paul LePage has made policy decisions in the past that Democrats and Republicans alike should oppose. For instance, his plan not to release voter-approved bonds until the Legislature backs his proposal to repay hospital debt is a political move that has no benefit for Maine people.

But opposing LePage’s policies and politics with more bad ideas, as some Democratic lawmakers did recently, is no way to gain respect or the political upper hand. At least the Legislature’s state and local government committee retained its common sense and on Monday rejected bills that could have cut the governor’s retirement benefits and put his residence up for sale.

Though the decision was not unanimous, “ought not to pass” was the logical vote for the committee to take on one bill, LD 490, sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, which would have sought a statewide referendum to amend the Maine Constitution to prohibit a governor after January 2012 from qualifying for a retirement allowance unless the governor served at least two full terms.

The committee went further with Portland Democratic Rep. Diane Russell’s bill, LD 858, which aimed to make the governor ineligible for a pension or health benefits and would have put the historic Blaine House up for sale and transferred sale proceeds to the General Fund. The committee moved directly from a public hearing to a work session, where members voted unanimously against the bill.

Legislating against one person is a waste of lawmakers’ time; it’s retaliatory and petty, not constructive. If legislators want to make a point that LePage mistreated state workers by limiting their pension benefits, they should do so with reasoned arguments or policy proposals, not vindictive legislation designed to punish him individually. If they want to show they are superior to LePage, they should act like it.

Also, if legislators want LePage to know what it’s like for Maine people who struggle to afford health insurance or a place to live, they don’t need to teach that to him. He personally knows those challenges too well, and they haven’t changed his mind on certain policy positions yet. The bills are pure politics, and many Democrats, to their credit, recognized them for what they are.

“The governor did not affect state retirees and teachers on his own,” said Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, about Jackson’s bill. “We also voted on the budget. The governor cannot impact the retirement program without our help, and we helped. This is political showmanship.”

Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, called Russell’s bill “spurious legislation that has no serious purpose except to inflame passions” and testified that Jackson’s bill “does nothing to further the goodwill needed to productively engage in the hard work of leading Maine through these difficult times. In fact, even its consideration makes the environment required for cooperation and collegiality more toxic.”

And on Tuesday, communications staff made clear the bills did not reflect caucus priorities. Speaking about Jackson’s bill, Ericka Dodge, communications director for the Office of the Senate President and the Maine Senate Democrats, said, “Democrats certainly believe in fairness and equitability, but this bill does not reflect the Democratic caucus position or priority.” Ann Kim, communications director of the Maine State House Majority Office, concurred in reference to Russell’s bill.

Rational heads prevailed, but Democrats should hope the irresponsible proposals aren’t used against them later in the session. There are many important debates to be having, and talking about selling the Blaine House or eliminating LePage’s pension aren’t among them.

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