Two years ago we knew where we were headed.
Republicans had control of both the Maine House and Senate for the first time in decades, and our agenda was detailed, clear and open: health insurance reform, tax reform, welfare reform, regulatory reform, budgetary reform and more. We had talked about our goals for decades, and we worked hard in the following two years to fulfill the detailed promises we had made.
Now the Democrats are back in charge, but there seems to be something very important missing: an agenda. We were told by pundits throughout the campaigns that the Dems could not run on a simple anti-Gov. Paul LePage or anti-Republican agenda and would need more than that. But the Dems did in fact run on that simple anti-Republican agenda, albeit with some dramatic distortions, and it worked.
Sure, Democratic candidates on the campaign trail spoke passionately in favor of the usual left-wing standards: single payer health care, higher taxes on the rich, a higher minimum wage, tougher labor laws and stiffer environmental regulations. But the question remains: What are their goals for this session?
The speaker of the House, who once said in an OpEd that cutting MaineCare is “immoral,” is interested in “tweaking” PL 90, the health insurance reform law. Great. I hope he reads and understands the law first and then looks at the results from only the first year of its partial implementation. It has worked. Tweaking it could result in, yes, more people on MaineCare. Let’s hope that is not his intention.
ObamaCare was touted by Democrat candidates and the need for a “state-based” health-care exchange, as well. But Rep. Sharon Treat, long-time Democratic legislator and the presumptive chair of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee, said in a recent interview with Maine Public Radio, “At this point I don’t think a state-run exchange would be better, to be honest, because we have a governor that has made it clear that he wants it to fail.”
It appears that major health insurance reform may not be part of the Democrat’s plan for Maine. That’s actually a good thing, but it still leaves us guessing.
Other Democratic leaders have been vague with their goals for the 126th Legislature as well. Rep. Terry Hayes, former minority leader of the House and recent candidate for speaker, wrote in a recent BDN column about her priority: to bring back a version of the Legislature’s Labor Committee. OK, not exactly earth shaking, but at least it is something.
There is no question that with LePage as governor, Democrats won’t have a cake walk to bill passage of any of their hard-core, left-wing bills. But why should that stop them if that is what they believe? Republicans put forward their bills year after year when we were in the minority — the same ones we did when we gained the majority. We believed in them and still do.
The Democratic Party, the “party of ideas,” has no new ideas. Since the election, we’ve heard little more from them than platitudes like, “We want to work together to move Maine forward.” Obviously that’s not an agenda, and it’s certainly not a plan. Simply focusing on winning the next election isn’t, either.
Democrats know the issues that plagued the Maine electorate in 2010 were finally being addressed in the 125th. Their own ideas, however, have all been tried in the past, and they haven’t worked. Under 40 years of Democratic rule, Maine became the worst, the lowest, the highest or the most in all the wrong categories. What are their new ideas for creating jobs, balancing the budget, reducing the cost of healthcare, creating a pro-business environment and reducing poverty? They now have to lead — and leadership can’t be done in secret.
In this session, we can expect the requisite paybacks and corresponding legislation to supporting special interests and dozens of left-wing nonprofits will all need to have their existence justified.
And we can’t forget big labor. The Maine State Employees Association, the Maine Education Association, and the AFL-CIO invested big time in the last election, and they will want their dues paid — and not just from members. They have already flexed their muscle in the 126th Legislature, and they will continue to demand obedience.
As for the taxpayers, ratepayers, premium payers and the rest of us that support this state and this government? Don’t hold your breath expecting any kind of relief. You aren’t on the agenda.
Republican Jonathan McKane, of Newcastle, served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives.