With few exceptions, first session of 126th Legislature saw high vote attendance

Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland.
Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 02, 2013, at 3:47 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 02, 2013, at 8:25 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — There’s a political adage that nobody cares about government when it works like it’s supposed to.

Still, it’s worth noting that for the most part, Maine’s elected representatives in Augusta showed up when they were called on for their most important task: voting.

According to figures released by the House and Senate offices this week, the average attendance for roll call votes under the State House dome was just less than 95 percent. Twenty-seven of the state’s 186 legislators — 17 senators and 10 representatives — had roll call attendance rates of 100 percent.

The overwhelming majority of legislators had attendance rates higher than 95 percent, with only six legislators falling below 80 percent. GOP senators had the highest roll call attendance average, with 99.4 percent. House Democrats had the lowest, with 93.2 percent.

However, the comparisons between figures in the House and those in the Senate aren’t apples-to-apples. Senate rules allow the Senate president, Justin Alfond, to excuse members who are unable to attend because of health problems, work or family obligations. And senators’ records aren’t tarnished by excused absences.

So even though Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, missed 45 roll call votes and five confirmation votes, he had a reported roll call attendance rate of 98.8 percent. That’s because all but four of his absences were excused.

The House figures represent a strict calculation, in which every representative is docked for missed votes, regardless of whether he or she had a good reason to be absent.

For example, Rep. Matthew Peterson, D-Rumford, had a roll call attendance record of just 16.2 percent — the lowest in the Legislature. That’s because an injury in March left him with broken bones, out of work and bedridden for several months.

“I was able to make it for a few votes at the very tail end of the session, but I was forced to go out of work on long-term disability,” Peterson said Thursday. “This was beyond my control.”

Similarly, Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford, had an attendance rate of 25 percent because of health problems.

Peterson and Beaudoin both expect to be back in force for the second session, beginning in January.

Rep. Brian Bolduc, D-Auburn, had an attendance rate of 58.6 percent. Bolduc did not return repeated calls for comment this week, but House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said there were “many factors” conspiring against Bolduc that kept him away from the State House.

“I understand that he was doing a lot of substitute teaching, which is a job that he spends time at in order to make ends meet. I think there may also have been some health issues at play,” Berry said. “The vast majority of those absences were very early in the session, and as the votes became more important, major issues like the budget and the energy bill, Brian was right there. … He certainly intends to be there regularly through all of the next session.”

Other legislators with rates below 80 percent include Rep. Jeremy Saxton, D-Harpswell, with 72.1 percent; Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, with 72.8 percent; and Rep. Wayne Werts, D-Auburn, with 79.8 percent.

Werts said he missed 95 votes out of 456, and that nearly all of them came the last week of the session, when the House saw a rapid succession of last-minute, procedural roll calls.

“I had to leave to deal with some family issues. I did manage to make it back one day, during that week I was gone,” he said. “Many of these were bills that had come back for a second or third time. I had voted on them during earlier roll calls, but I wasn’t there just at the end.”

House Minority Whip Alex Willette, R-Mapleton — 95.4 percent — said Libby is a farmer and missed some votes during planting season.

Instances such as that are the reason for most legislative absences in a citizen legislature, where many of the members have day jobs, Willette said.

“A lot of times, the folks that have a 98 percent rating or so, might have children with graduations to go to,” he said. “My little sister was graduating high school, and those are the kind of instances where you might miss something. That’s why a lot of folks with 98 percent don’t have a perfect rating.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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