May 27, 2020
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Maine’s only independent senator wants to reinvent government

Pat Wellenbach | AP
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Sen. Richard Woodbury

AUGUSTA, Maine — Changing government is far from easy.

Every so often, a well-respected, often bipartisan or nonpartisan group gets together to outline a vision for Maine and to set goals for achieving that vision.

Sometimes certain details of those voluminous reports get parsed out and lead to meaningful change. More often, though, the reports sit in a drawer.

Sen. Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth, the only independent state senator in Maine, wants to take the best of those reports and create an all-star commission to turn them into a plan of action.

“While these reports vary in specifics, they share a similar vision for how Maine must change for our economy to thrive,” Woodbury said recently while introducing his bill to the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. “The reports emphasize Maine’s unique reputation or brand, and our quality of life, as foundations for a dramatically more vibrant state economy than we have now. But they call for investments in human capital and innovation, and a restructuring in public policy and governance that makes these investments possible.”

Woodbury said his goal is to create something that is truly nonpartisan. In the past several years, he said many policy initiatives have suffered because they were created and passed largely by one party. For many years, that was Democrats but over the last year, Republicans have been in charge of the Legislature.

Woodbury said the Democrats’ tax reform plan in 2009, which was overturned by a people’s veto a year later, and the Republicans’ health insurance reform plan in 2011, which Democrats continue to criticize, are prime examples.

“In the political environment today, proposals tend to be developed and praised by one party and one set of interest groups, only to be discredited by the other party and another set of interest groups,” he said. “A great thing about these reports is their origination far outside the realm of partisan politics.”

Among the reports or studies cited by Woodbury were:

• Charting Maine’s Future, prepared by the Brookings Institution in collaboration with GrowSmart Maine.

• Measures of Growth, produced annually by the Maine Economic Growth Council.

• Making Maine Work, a three-part series by the Maine Development Foundation and Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

• Reinventing Maine Government by Envision Maine.

The challenge lies with the fact that Maine’s Legislature turns over every two years. Another is that the proposals could bypass or conflict with the vision set out by the executive branch.

Laurie LaChance, president of the Maine Development Foundation, spoke in support of Woodbury’s bill.

“People are hungry for that action piece,” she said.

The bill, LD 1437, would create a Commission on Reinventing Maine Government, composed of established statesmen and stateswomen who have earned broad respect for their leadership, vision and commitment to Maine, according to Woodbury.

The Legislature’s labor committee is expected to hold a work session on the bill at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9. Woodbury said he has been tasked to bring back more specific details at that meeting.

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