We have just concluded the first legislative session in Augusta since Democrats retook the majority from Republicans who held it for a brief two years after decades of one-party rule. The results are in and the difference is clear.
Although I applaud several bipartisan initiatives, such as energy reform and workforce development, there were too many missed opportunities, too many close calls and too many hard blows to Maine’s economy.
With liberal politicians back in control of the state Legislature, we saw tax increases where two years ago we saw tax cuts. We saw liberals throw more money at the educational status quo instead of initiate systemic education reforms to help our children succeed. We saw a hard-left turn on everything from business regulations to debt management to welfare reform.
But it wasn’t just the ideological extremism that steered Maine off its new course and toward the same old track our state had been taking since the 1970s; it was the atmosphere of political opportunism and duplicitous sniping — aimed directly at Republican Gov. Paul LePage — that determined virtually everything majority Democratic lawmakers did this year.
We saw it in the hospital debt repayment initiative. Instead of recognizing good policy in the governor’s proposal, Democrats first tried to stop it, then tried to take credit for it, and finally jeopardized the whole thing by linking it to an unrelated welfare expansion initiative they wanted. Ultimately, they agreed to pass the measure, but not after needlessly delaying payment of $500 million in unpaid bills and costing Mainers millions in extra borrowing costs for a measure they ostensibly supported.
We saw it in the petty bills that Democrats spitefully threw at Gov. LePage, such as bills to sell the Governor’s Mansion and eliminate LePage’s pension. We saw it when they refused to even let the governor speak at a meeting of the Legislature’s budget committee.
And we saw it in the hyper-partisan agenda rolled out by Democrats, an agenda so extreme it guaranteed a record-breaking slew of vetoes that should have come as no surprise. They tried to expand Maine’s already excessive welfare system, roll back bipartisan reforms to our workers’ compensation system and bloated public pension plan, crush charter schools in their infancy and enact the largest tax increase in Maine’s history.
A look at the bills carried over by Democratic leadership into next year’s session reveals that, with proposals to socialize our health care and further attack popular education reforms, they have every intention of keeping this extreme agenda alive.
These are not the actions of collaborative and sincere lawmakers; they are not the actions of anyone interested in seeing Maine’s economy thrive. Democratic lawmakers did not, as they claimed in a recent Bangor Daily News column, “take the high road.”
Maine stands at a crossroads. We can continue down a path of fiscal ambivalence, bureaucratic protectionism, and government greed — a path taken by the recently bankrupt city of Detroit, Mich., during decades of one-party Democratic rule — or we can forge a new path of prosperity, opportunity and growth.
We walked the latter path briefly in 2011 and 2012 when Republicans held the state Legislature and the Blaine House for the first time in decades. It put us in the direction of job growth. Today, 13,700 more Mainers are employed than when LePage took office, and Maine has its lowest unemployment rate in five years. Republican reforms also took the long view, helping to defuse fiscal time bombs in our welfare and pension systems.
Democrats are quick to make excuses as to why Maine can’t compete with other states, blaming demographic factors such as our aging population. They have their causation reversed, however. It is their failed policies — policies that have failed everywhere from Detroit to Greece — that have driven young people to greener pastures. Republicans aren’t interested in excuses; we seek solutions to make Maine competitive.
In multiple recent rankings of the best states for business and careers, states led by Republican governors implementing pro-growth policies like those of Gov. LePage dominate the top 10. Most of those states have been “red” for a while. Furthermore, a public poll released earlier this year revealed that 62 percent of Mainers agree with those policies.
It’s no wonder that Democrats spend so much time focusing on the governor’s words and employing “trackers” to film his every move.
Democrats simply don’t have the issues on their side.
Mainers overwhelmingly support the idea that we should focus on expanding our economic pie, not dividing it up as it shrinks smaller and smaller.
I sincerely hope that next year, Democratic leaders will relegate the vilification and extremism to the campaign trail and bring governance back to the Legislature. We have work to do if we are to build a better Maine for future generations.
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, is the Republican Leader in the Maine House of Representatives.