The second regular session of the 128th Maine Legislature convened Jan. 3 and adjourned, unceremoniously, May 2 — two weeks past its statutory adjournment date of April 18.
In 15 weeks of committee meetings and hearings, the Legislature fiddled with hundreds of non-emergency bills, while deferring action on the critical legislation affecting the majority of Maine citizens.
House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) controls the flow of bills, committee actions and actual votes. While it has been easy to point fingers at House Republicans and Minority Leader Ken Fredette as obstacles to extending the legislative session, failure to properly address important legislation such as school funding, tax code conformity, Medicaid expansion, health care worker funding, opioid program support and bond expenditures — all items that voters have already supported — is a dereliction of duty that pays homage to the partisan stagnation for which Washington, D.C., is infamous.
The non-performance of Maine’s House is in sharp contrast to the bipartisan civility fostered by Senate President Mike Thibodeau. He has shepherded his divided legislative body to negotiated agreements on almost all of the bills now languishing in the House. Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook County) went out of his way to thank Thibodeau for the respect extended to Democratic members of the state Senate.
In the House, Gideon and Fredette seem to be engaged in a second grade cage match for all of the toys, with the victor receiving the spoils no matter what the result. There is much emphasis on winning and the politics of thwart, defeat, demean and deflect — the time-honored recipe for bad legislation. There is little effort at true governance grounded in respect for multiple perspectives and concerns. There is even less evidence of a commitment to the exercise of negotiation and compromise — the time-honored recipe for getting things done.
Bottom line: Poor time management and no planning to meet the deadlines that Maine’s communities need met for appropriate school funding decisions and other town meeting business.
Everyday Maine taxpayers don’t have paid lobbyists in Augusta. They don’t rub elbows with connected people who can fix their problems, help with their budgets or fill their oil tanks. Lacking lobbyists, Mainers rely on their legislators to represent them, to be their advocates.
When the leadership of the Legislature fumbles that charge and turns politics into a blood sport, we all lose. The current blame game and power struggle in the Maine House is an embarrassing display by Gideon and Fredette. Let us hope they resolve to work in the interests of the people, not the parties, when they convene the inevitable emergency session to do complete their work in Augusta.
“If we don’t pass a lot of these bills on the table, it will be a massive failure on the part of the Legislature,” Hancock Republican Rep. Richard Malaby said last week.
“Failure” means an “F.” The grade now rests on the heads of House Speaker Gideon and Minority Leader Fredette. It is not a becoming crown.