In 2010, this state was fortunate enough to elect not just a Republican Legislature, but a reform-minded one. We had a majority in the State House dedicated to changing how Maine worked, in both parties. This was about more than just reducing the size of government — it was about making Maine government work better for all of us.
Flash-forward to 2012, when voters reinstated a Democratic majority for the 126th Legislature. Unfortunately for the state, this is not a Democratic majority restrained by a relatively moderate Democratic governor, as was the case before 2010. Instead, it’s a majority run by typical left-wing politicians, whose only solutions to the state’s problems involve raising taxes and growing government.
One of the first things this Legislature did was ram through tax increases in an overtly partisan move with a bare minimum of Republican support needed to avoid a shutdown. The two parties’ leadership did not work together to craft a less controversial budget. This stands in stark contrast to the two-year state budget passed in the 125th Legislature, which passed with wide bipartisan support — and to budget discussions in previous legislatures. This was because legislative leadership on both sides worked hard to craft budgets that would pass with little rancor, despite pushes from some to pass a partisan majority budget.
Though you might not think it with the their attempts to rewrite history, the budget passed in 2011 with bipartisan support included the tax cuts Democrats have denounced. Over 85 percent of the Senate and the House voted for the tax cuts, including current House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland — so remember that the next time you hear them rail about “Republican tax cuts for the rich.” Democrats voted for the tax cuts before campaigning against the tax cuts.
It wasn’t just taxes where Republicans and Democrats were able to come together for the good of the state in the 125th. Regulatory reform, which many initially thought would be a huge partisan showdown, eventually passed easily. The special committee, led by former Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Springvale, and former Rep. Jon McKane, R-Newcastle, worked effectively across the aisle. Many of the governor’s initial proposals were discarded or changed, and they crafted a proposal that found widespread support. They turned what could have been a partisan football into a cooperative effort.
On other issues, bipartisan cooperation carried the day, too. By combining the Agriculture and Conservation departments, Gov. Paul LePage was able to implement a longstanding goal of former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci’s: merge state natural resources agencies. LePage was able to finally get this done by scaling back Baldacci’s plan and merely combining two departments, rather than immediately creating a new “super-agency” from four. He adapted an idea of his predecessor’s and made it work, rather than just rejecting it out of hand.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t partisan fights last session; there certainly were — such as over the health-insurance reform law, PL 90, and the attempt to repeal same-day voter registration. However, they were by far the exception rather than the rule.
The opposite seems to be true this session, when partisan battles have erupted over relatively innocuous bills. The rancor has even extended to the Appropriations Committee, normally a home to consensus-building.
As legislative candidates gather their signatures and prepare to come knocking on our doors, we as voters need to prepare to ask them good questions about the future of our state. We need to know if they’re interested in solving problems or just spouting rhetoric. We need to know whether they have their own ideas or just talking points.
Elections are an opportunity to have an honest, open, serious discussion about the problems facing our state. We deserve a Legislature that will listen — to voters, to each other and to the governor.
We saw that last session. Let’s make sure we see it again.
Jim Fossel, an Alna native, has worked for Sen. Susan Collins and Maine House Republican Leader Josh Tardy. He has volunteered on numerous campaigns, including Peter Mills’ 2006 campaign for governor.