June 17, 2019
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The six Republican ‘walkers’ who killed Maine’s solar bill

RICK WILKING | REUTERS
RICK WILKING | REUTERS
A solar facility in Pueblo, Colorado.

This legislative session, we could have passed a historic solar bill into law. But too many House Republicans caved in to their leaders and the governor, throwing away that opportunity and all the jobs that would have come with it.

LD 1649 would have made solar power more accessible to everyday Mainers, to municipalities that want to reduce their energy costs as well as to companies, farms and other agricultural businesses that want to be more competitive. Opening up these markets would have created 650 new jobs.

My area, Somerset County, needs all the good-paying jobs it can get, especially with all the losses we’ve seen in traditional manufacturing. But these Republicans killed an incredible job-creation opportunity and put existing solar jobs at risk by plunging the Maine’s fledgling solar industry into uncertainty.

We could have finally joined all the other New England states that have a comprehensive solar policy. We could have at last moved out of last place in New England in terms of solar jobs and solar development. We could have done all this while saving people money on their electric bills.

You might be asking, “What’s not to like?” It was, after all, a carefully crafted bipartisan bill resulting from more than two years of work. It had the support of stakeholders that don’t always see eye to eye: solar businesses, utilities, environmentalists and, notably, Maine’s public advocate, whose sole mission is looking out for ratepayers. Lawmakers from both parties worked on it, and the final version was improved by an amendment from two leading Republicans on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. That final version sailed through the Republican-controlled Senate with a unanimous 35-0 vote.

But the governor was opposed. I can’t explain why, because his reasons don’t always make sense to me. And his veto message was filled with inaccuracies.

What I do know, as anybody who spends time at the State House does, is that House Republican leadership will pretty much stand by the governor at all costs. Even, as they demonstrated in this case, if it puts their own members in a really bad situation.

We had two override votes. On our last chance to keep the bill alive, 49 House Republicans voted to sustain the veto.

Meanwhile, six others “took a walk,” as it’s known around the State House. Not a stroll around Capitol Park or grabbing a bite downtown but purposely being absent to avoid a “no” vote that would blotch their record. Here it was about appeasing their leaders and the governor while pulling the wool over their constituents’ eyes. But it didn’t work out that way for them because dozens of solar advocates saw five of them go into hiding in the House Republican Office during the crucial vote. One remained in the chamber but would not cast her vote.

Five of the walkers — Reps. MaryAnne Kinney of Knox, John Pichiotti of Fairfield, Michael Timmons of Cumberland, Brian Hobart of Bowdoinham, and Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford — had voted to override only about an hour beforehand. Rep. Timothy Theriault of China no-showed both times.

I can’t say exactly what happens in the House Republican caucus. It’s got to be hard when your instinct tells you one thing but your leaders are demanding that you to do something else. I’ve even seen one member crying in such a circumstance. In the end, however, it’s up to the member to make his or her own choice.

When I was a child, my father would remind me daily to really think about my decisions and to take responsibility for my actions. I tell my own two kids, “Be honest. Be accountable for your actions.”

The same lesson should apply to politicians. But now that some of these Republicans are feeling the heat for what they’ve done, they are lashing out on social media and in the press. Instead of owning up, they shift blame. It’s my fault, they say, because I used a parliamentary strategy — that they ought to be familiar with by now, given that it’s been used about a dozen times this session alone — to have a second override vote. It’s the media’s fault for reporting the facts. It’s someone else’s fault, somehow.

“Shameful,” I would tell my kids if they acted that way.

In the end, their bad choice isn’t only hurting them. It’s working Mainers, small businesses, local communities and our economic future that will bear the brunt of their poor decision.

Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, is the House majority leader.

 



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