With stacks of unfinished bills still in the system, Maine’s 129th Legislature has decided to make like Congress and do nothing. Democratic leadership made a bid to reconvene in mid-July, but that requires bipartisan cooperation. That’s a quantity in short supply.
Both sides want a short session, but to Democrats that means working quickly to get a lot done, while Republicans want to take up only the bare essentials. Without satisfactory restrictions, only three Republicans even deigned to reply.
Meanwhile, legislative committees are going about the work of processing bills in their possession and reporting them out to be voted on the floor, should that floor ever be full of legislators ready to work. In these last days of August, that’s an increasingly big “if.”
In June, Troy Jackson, Maine Senate president, said the Legislature was “getting close” to reconvening. It hasn’t. A June news report predicted the “Maine Legislature may soon reconvene…” It did not. Another, on July 7 reported: “The Maine Legislature is going back to work this month.” Nope. Still another said the Legislature was “likely to reconvene in August.” So far, it’s still a no-go. A second attempt to reconvene was made by leadership on Aug. 4. Republicans were still not having it.
With campaign season in full swing, the parties picked up their cudgels and entered the fray, railing about who supported and who opposed a session. Democrats claimed Republicans refused to convene because legislators cannot fundraise during a session. Republicans called for a “brief, safe meeting of the Legislature,” but the parties cannot agree on the terms.
Republicans called out the “partisan rhetoric and cheap false implications” of the Democrats. Democrats said Republicans were “playing political games,” making it “crystal clear that they’re more interested in political posturing than mitigating the hardships Maine families and small businesses are facing.”
For the rest of us, it’s a big ho-hum, a lot of blah blah blah from the political classes from whom we have grown to expect very little. On the whole, we have had more faith in state government than in the federal level. Now the scourge of inaction seems to be taking hold in Augusta, though maybe some of that is a function of the election cycle. Let’s hope we return to form when the election is over. At the federal level we hold little hope.
Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King made no secret of his frustration with his colleagues in Washington. In May, after three weeks in session without action on a relief package for coronavirus, he made his feelings known. Calling his feelings “a mixture of anger and sadness,” King’s final indictment was this: “For all that we’ve done, it’s like the Senate was never even here.”
And so it goes, with the best-intentioned legislators at both state and federal levels stymied by the political interests of leadership and caught in a morass of political crossfire between the major party organizations. Facing the largest modern threat to our national security in the pandemic, our leaders have abdicated their duty and turned their attention to political victory and personal gain.
Where lies hope? Where it always has — with the people. We have the capacity, even now, to force our elected officials to reckon with our opinions, but in this huge and widely diverse nation our opinions do not often reflect a consensus. Collaboration? Compromise? They are no longer respected values.
It is within the power of every one of us to reform our own political habits. There are plenty of organizations trying to promote dialogue between people who disagree on issues, but one does not need a classroom nor a facilitator to rethink the ways in which we engage with one another.
There are more bad examples than good, including the ones cited above, when it comes to how we speak to and about each other. How often do we try, really try, to understand the other person’s point of view rather than simply waiting for our turn to speak — if we even do that — before leveling a broadside at the listener?
If we disagree on one opinion, belief or position, do we assume everything else that person thinks is rubbish? How is it that we can engage with another Mainer and find him or her good-hearted, funny, caring and clever until we learn they are a Democrat? Blecch! Or a Republican? Horrors!
It is easiest to blame the current mess on Washington or Augusta, but we have a choice. We can sit at home and grouse, or we can work toward agreement among the broad middle of us. Never mind the outliers. Let’s be sure our elected officials know where that broad middle is, and that there will be repercussions for legislators who don’t help get us there.