Republicans sending mixed messages on reconvening of Legislature

Will they or won’t they? That is the question for the Maine Legislature as discussions continue about whether to convene for one last special session. At the end of May, it was Republicans who requested a meeting between the Legislative Council (the Legislature’s leadership group) and Governor Janet Mills for a “discussion … on issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak.” That didn’t happen.

In a July 8 letter from Republican leadership to Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Sara Gideon, Republicans said they had “repeatedly asked for the Legislature to return to Augusta in order to address a very narrow agenda.” Yet last week, when the presiding officers began the process necessary to call in the Legislature, Republicans declined.

To be fair, Republican calls to action were qualified. They made it clear that they “will not return to an open-ended session to conduct legislative business as normal,” and there is certainly merit to that — not that that is what Democrats were proposing. But it must also be pointed out that if Republicans were attempting to negotiate a special session in good faith, they would have refrained from referring to Democrats as “a bunch of politicians returning to Augusta to pad their re-election resumes.”

There is also irony in Republicans’ concern about exposing legislators and staff to the coronavirus through extensive committee work when, in the same letter, they appear to object to limits on numbers of churchgoers, businesses operating at “half or less capacity,” the stay-at-home order and restricted gatherings.

Chafe if you will against the Governor’s emergency measures. She may not have turned in a flawless performance, but with Maine as one of two states in the country with declining case numbers, she seems to have done as well as anyone could. If the Legislature cannot even agree on the terms of convening, how likely is it that it can improve on Governor Mills’ management of the pandemic? Especially in a two-day session.

Republicans warned that “without a public agreement, on a clearly outlined, narrow scope of work that ensures a limited time of exposure for all participating, there will be no support from our caucuses for a legislative session.” They were true to their word. When leadership issued a poll to see if the requisite number of members were willing to come in, most Republicans did not respond.

In other news, we are now past the primary election. Once again Maine’s town clerks turned in stellar performances and Election Day went off without any serious hitches. The biggest challenge clerks reported was the processing of absentee ballots. Voters leery of going to the polls cast their votes early in big numbers. Even though many towns took on extra help and the state allowed counting to begin the weekend before Election Day, it was grueling.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is already thinking about ways to help, since it is anticipated that voters will favor absentee ballots in the November election and vote in much higher numbers.

The three-way Republican primary in the 2nd Congressional District did not produce a majority winner, triggering a ranked choice vote count. Dale Crafts won 45 percent of the vote and both his opponents conceded, but the RCV law requires reaching 50 percent to be declared the winner and makes no provision to short-circuit the full process.

Crafts, a former legislator, called the completion of the RCV process “a dog and pony show” and said he will help draft a bill to change Maine law and allow the declaration of a winner in these circumstances. Um, no? Skipping ahead to victory based on opponents’ concessions circumvents the intention of ranked choice voting and should be resisted.

It is mathematically possible, if politically unlikely, for Adrienne Bennett to get enough second-choice votes to win. Furthermore, suppose a new law said that if the opponents concede a winner is declared. Think of the pressure on the opponents, and the opportunity for enticing offers to be made for that concession. The RCV law is clear, fair and transparent. It should be left alone.

When the results were in, a choked-up, third-place Eric Brakey laid out the condition for throwing his support to Dale Crafts. Crafts must, said Brakey, agree to end the war in Afghanistan “and other unconstitutional wars.” Given the fact that Crafts outpaced Brakey by a 2-1 margin, Brakey’s support would be a very small pinch of fairy dust. The RCV tabulation of the race began on the weekend and was expected to be completed early this week.

A razor-thin win by Sen. Kimberley Rosen of Bucksport in State Senate District 8 led to challenger Larry Lockman’s announcement that he would request a recount. The candidates are polar opposites. Rosen is a bridge-builder, Lockman a divider. Stay tuned.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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