CONTRIBUTORS

LePage’s blockade: Prohibiting legislative testimony is inexcusable

Posted Nov. 11, 2013, at 11:49 a.m.

Mainers from all over our state sent lawmakers to Augusta to do the work of the people.

The first-of-its kind workforce skills gap legislation is one of the best examples of getting a job done for Maine people. Crafted by the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, the legislation strengthens the state’s economy and working families by helping our friends and neighbors compete for 21st-century jobs.

Democrats, Republicans and independent lawmakers came together to equip Maine’s workers and workplaces with the skills they need. The unanimous, bipartisan legislation won kudos from the business, education and labor communities. It was work in which we all can take enormous pride.

Yet the administration of Gov. Paul LePage is hindering our work. In an unprecedented development, commissioners, department experts and even those whose job it is to be “legislative liaisons” will not appear before legislative committees as we tackle issues key to Maine’s prosperity — areas including workforce training, small business development and the state’s innovation economy.

How can we govern if one branch of government is working in the dark and under a gag order?

This problem is not isolated to the committee we co-chair. Time and time again, commissioners are prevented from appearing before committees. There have been approximately 30 instances of this gag order in play in recent weeks.

Lawmakers — the citizen legislators sent to the State House to represent the people — cannot get reliable information from the administration to make informed policy decisions on some of Maine’s biggest challenges.

We have never encountered such unfathomable behavior. There is no precedent in Maine for it. No governor in Maine history has gone to such lengths to block proper oversight by the people’s representatives.

Three equal branches — legislative, executive and judicial — make up our government. They need to cooperate to make government work best. In this case, one is throwing up unprecedented roadblocks to the detriment of the people we serve.

We don’t boost our economy and strengthen our middle class by giving an entire branch of government the silent treatment just because we don’t always agree with it.

The governor has decided that communication between departments and committees will be in writing. We live in a fast-moving digital age, but the governor may as well have us relying on the Pony Express. Committees are instructed by the governor to send written questions and receive written answers. Where is the opportunity for follow-up questions? For the dynamic conversations that take place in committees?

The obstructionism of this gag order goes beyond the departments of state government. The governor’s gag order has extended to independent groups as well.

Recently, our committee was looking forward to hearing from the Maine Technology Institute and the Maine International Trade Center. The first, an industry-led, publicly funded group, helps to advance the state’s innovation economy by helping businesses bring new products and service to market through early-stage capitalization and commercialization assistance. The second, established by the state and partly funded by member businesses, helps Maine exporters gain access to international markets with technical assistance, educational programs and leads.

Sadly, these groups were blocked from attending our public meeting. Because of the environment created by the LePage administration these groups opted not to attend.

Such political gag orders, especially when it comes to the health of Maine’s economy and middle class, ought to be unthinkable. But here we see the governor’s hand, undermining dedicated efforts to improve the lives of Maine people.

Collaboration between Republican, Democratic and independent members of our committee has been a hallmark of our successful, bipartisan work. It stretches out to the many players invested in improving Maine’s economy.

Our omnibus legislation renewed the partnership between educational institutions, government and the private sector. Together, we made it easier for workers to update their skills and go back to school to complete their degrees, increased the capacity of training programs for high-demand, high-wage jobs and enhanced industry partnerships. Those are just some of the highlights of what we did together.

This effort earned unanimous approval from the committee — and garnered accolades from every stakeholder from the Maine AFL-CIO to the Maine State Chamber.

This is the kind of work the governor is putting at risk. We, lawmakers and Maine people, need him to stop playing these senseless games. Enough is enough.

Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, is the Senate chair of the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future. House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham is House chair of the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future.

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