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“Memento mori,” quoth the auriga.
America, at her birth, was inspired by the Roman Republic. George Washington was the new Cincinnatus, a great military leader who willingly surrendered power. The Capitol was capitoline and built to evoke the architecture of the Eternal City. I’d even suggest they borrowed Latin grammar to build the Constitution, with particular emphasis on the Second Amendment.
Democrats might need a little more such inspiration today. Maybe even their own auriga.
When a Roman general returned to the city after a successful campaign, they were occasionally awarded a “triumph.” The victor displayed his spoils — captured weapons, treasures and people — and was effectively deified.
But, the legend goes, a gladiator-slave — an auriga — rode in the chariot with the general. This individual whispered in the ear of the honoree, reminding him that he is mortal. Despite the laud, the pomp, the circumstance, he was simply a mortal human and would, one day, pass away.
This tradition arose because power and praise can often go to people’s heads. It is simply human nature. It happened in Ancient Rome and it can still happen today.
Last November saw Democrats sweep to victory both in Washington and Augusta. With unified Democratic control, they have great power at their disposal.
Congressional Democrats — and allies like Sen. Angus King — are openly flirting with the idea of abolishing the longstanding Senate filibuster. Meanwhile, Maine Democrats are on the verge of enacting a “majority budget” for the next two years without input or assistance from Republicans. This gambit has never been done by Republicans in modern history, and only twice by Democrats in the past 30 years.
Back in 2013, then- Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid led the charge to abolish the filibuster for judicial appointments other than the Supreme Court. Then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Reid that “the shoe is sometimes on the other foot.” So, five years later, with the footwear firmly swapped, McConnell led Republicans to take the logical next step and abolish the filibuster on all judges.
Which led to the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Meanwhile, the “bipartisan budget” requirement of the Maine Constitution is even more arcane and even less enforceable. It is an accident of history, yet one that has worked well to force cooperation in Augusta.
The state fiscal year begins July 1. New laws normally go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. The exception to that rule is when legislators declare an “emergency;” then the law can go into effect immediately.
But an “emergency preamble” requires two-thirds support. In practice, this means a bipartisan vote. So if a majority party — in this case, the Democrats — wants to avoid a government shutdown without involving Republicans, they need to enact the budget before March 31.
Then they need to immediately adjourn to start the 90-day clock.
Of course, there is still a lot of work for Augusta to do. The “normal” session generally goes through June or July. However, if Democrats end the “normal” session on March 31, they can then return to a “special” session on April 1. A distinction without a difference illustrating the pure gamesmanship of their maneuver, which is why some elected independents are crying foul as well.
For all the accusations that Republicans wield power with Machiavellian efficiency, it has been the Democrats who have leveraged paper-thin majorities to push their will roughshod over historic practices. And, legally, they are absolutely entitled to do so.
But “memento mori.” Midterm elections are almost always bad for that party that occupies the White House. There are very real scenarios where the GOP finds success at the 2022 ballot box. In 2010, Republicans took charge of the Blaine House and the State House; it can happen again.
Yet, back then, Republicans refused to force a majority budget, despite calls to do so. If Maine Democrats persist in their efforts to do so now, there will be no reason for the GOP to refrain in the future. And the triumph they celebrate today will be a fleeting memory. Legislative majorities are mortal, too.