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Political tensions mount as Legislature wraps up work for the summer

Posted July 09, 2013, at 10:50 p.m.
Last modified July 10, 2013, at 7:04 a.m.

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Political tension that has been building throughout the legislative session went into overtime Tuesday as lawmakers scrambled through dozens of gubernatorial vetoes and other business in an attempt to adjourn for the summer by the end of the day — some 20 days later than the targeted adjournment date of June 19.

While most of the veto votes went as they have for most of the session — with Republicans mostly backing the governor — overtures by Republicans trying to force Democratic leaders to pass a $100 million transportation bond proposed by LePage created new tension.

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, attacked his Democratic colleagues in a midday press release.

“Democrats are proving once again that they are willing to jeopardize the passage of a jobs initiative that enjoys broad, bipartisan support just so that they can get their way on contentious spending initiatives,” said Fredette. “The problem is, over the years, our roads and bridges have fallen victim to a liberal spending addiction that crowds out funding for some of the most basic functions of government, including maintenance of our transportation infrastructure. … Now Democrats are jeopardizing its passage by insisting on rolling it together with their spending wish list.”

Democratic leaders, who say they previously agreed with Republicans to work on the bond package over the summer on the Appropriations Committee, shot back by blaming LePage for holding up previously approved bonds and Republicans for ignoring the merits of some of the $1.2 billion worth of bond proposals on everything from education infrastructure to conservation money to research and development funds.

“While Gov. LePage has held these critical job-creating investments hostage, Republicans were silent,” said House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “While LePage held these bonds hostage, Maine earned the rank of third worst in the nation for job creation. … Now, on the last day of the Legislature’s work, House Republicans demand $100 million in new special borrowing just for the governor? The same governor who held up voter-approved bonds to fix our roads and bridges and to rebuild our communities for more than two years? This is a political stunt.”

The situation was exacerbated by a Republican-led vote in the House on Tuesday morning against a bill that contained technical fixes to the $6.3 billion biennial budget, and later by a surprise rejection of a bill that forces public schools to allow military recruiters on school grounds while in uniform. The fact that 20 Democrats abandoned their previous votes in support of the measure deeply angered Republicans.

“I think it’s a slap in the face to the military in general,” said Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, a veteran of the Marine Corps. “It’s wrong to say to a military recruiter, ‘Thank you for your service but leave your uniform at the door when you come into one of our schools.’ I can’t believe it.”

Assistant House Minority Leader Alexander Willette, R-Mapleton, agreed.

“We received countless calls and emails expressing shock and disappointment that Democrats would vote against our troops for no good reason,” said Willette. “The most common message I got was that Democrats actions reminded people of the way our troops were treated when they returned from Vietnam. It really is disgraceful that it came to this.”

Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said he saw no problem with LePage’s 82 vetoes this session, including 21 on Monday evening, and blamed Democratic leadership for holding contentious measures until the end of the session.

“They’re trying to undo what we did in the last session,” said Timberlake. “This is work that should have been done a long time ago.”

Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said the discourse among the two parties had deteriorated on many issues.

“It’s unfortunate that there are some politics being injected into this last day,” said Goodall, who will resign from his position on Wednesday to take a job with the Small Business Administration. “We’re supposed to have differences of opinion and we’re supposed to have strong advocacy and debate at times. But today, people seem to be motivated by politics and not the merits.”

Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, said her frustration level had peaked Tuesday afternoon after she learned that a bill she had worked on to allow the town of Livermore Falls to attempt to switch from Androscoggin to Franklin County had been negotiated to failure by leadership.

“I’m a little steamed because I don’t think grown-ups should behave this way,” said Hayes. “People use the word ‘politics’ like it’s a cuss word but it actually can have a very positive impact if we choose to do it that way. It’s how we choose to do politics that makes it nasty. It is that part of this work that I am most ashamed by.”

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