King battles carelessness, clichés in tax reform fight



With the Legislature at ease until January, the action just now is all on the federal side. Congress is in session and likely to remain there until just a few days before Christmas.

Republicans in the House and Senate are attempting to reconcile differences between their two versions of tax reform. Democrats have not been invited to participate. This is just one way in which our state legislative process seems better than the federal.

In Maine, each policy committee has members from both the House and Senate. A single version of each bill comes out of these “joint standing committees” and goes to the floor. Only if a bill is amended on the floor must it shuttle back and forth to see whether one body will concur with amendments approved by the other.

Sometimes agreement is achieved; sometimes the bill dies “between the bodies” in non-concurrence. Rarely, a bill on the verge of death is sent to a committee of conference to see if a small group of legislators from both chambers can work out an agreement acceptable to both House and Senate. At the federal level, each chamber works a bill of its own. Virtually every bill must be conferenced to reach agreement between House and Senate.

That is where the tax reform bill is now. In a recent op-ed, state Sen. Eric Brakey took on U.S. Sen. Angus King for King’s position on the tax reform bill. Sen. King was blunt in his assessment of the reform bill. “It stinks,” he said. It is no surprise that Brakey, a Republican and the current challenger to King for the 2018 election, disagrees.

Praising the “much-needed tax reform bill,” Brakey claimed that King “didn’t focus his opposition on substantive policy debate.” Assuming that there will be televised debates in this race, we shall see who is capable of substantive policy debate. In the meantime, it is difficult to have substantive policy debate when a bill is developed behind closed doors and not available for perusal even by other senators until it is marching toward the chambers for a vote.

You bet Sen. King “opted for procedural maneuvering,” as Brakey charged. King tried everything he could to slow down the course of the bill in the hope that it could be read before the vote, let alone debated. At one point he was close to getting it referred back to committee, but Republican pressure was too great.

Brakey’s funniest claim was that King “tried to ram through a procedural motion” on the bill. It is safe to say that independents in Congress, just like those in Augusta, don’t ram through anything. Intensive study of the issues and careful building of delicate relationships are the only tools at an independent’s disposal. Sometimes they lead to success.

Sen. King also wrote an op-ed, in November, detailing seven reasons why he does not support the tax reform bill. Sen. Brakey took on none of them. Instead, he vowed vaguely to “work hard” for us, our families, our property and our liberty, but he was not specific about what that would mean in a practical sense.

There are honest differences of opinion about the merits of the Republican tax reform proposal. Angus King is a man with whom one could have a reasoned debate, a debate that could do much to inform the rest of us about the many complicated aspects of the proposal. Slipping into the tired clichés of “swamp-style Washington politics,” ramming things through and stuffing government coffers, as Brakey did, does little to enlighten the public and a lot to keep passions running high.

On top of that, it violates the caution on repeating ad nauseam the lame and overused rhetoric of party copyboys to the point where voters want to screech, or swear never to vote again. The “swamp critters” which another writer invoked? Please, spare us. If you want to lambaste your political opponents, could you not at least be creative and original? Adopting the latest, trite buzzwords does not distinguish you as a dazzling wit. It signifies nothing more than that you can repeat what you hear, and it makes us sick and tired.

Some time ago it seemed that Eric Brakey might have a primary challenge from none other than Governor Paul LePage. That was then. Will the Governor run against Angus King for U.S. Senate? No, says he. How about First Lady Ann LePage? “Whaaa…?” says she. Will Congresswoman Chellie Pingree run for governor? Stay tuned, says she.

You would think with the amount of ink dedicated to politics, we would be trampling each other to get to the polls. Sadly, that’s not the case. Hancock County voter turnout last month was 34 percent. In only one town, Great Pond, did turnout reach 50 percent. Even in 2014, with all legislators and the Governor up for election, we did not quite hit 60 percent. At that, we were first in the nation for turnout. When it comes to politics we talk a good game, but don’t ask us to get out and vote.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.