The first regular session of the 126th Legislature has come to an end and the administration of Gov. LePage is more than half way through its third year. With the echoes of a long and sometimes contentious session still clearly audible, it is time to consider who won and who lost in Augusta this year.
Admittedly this will not be a comprehensive list.
The hospitals won. The Legislature passed the governor’s plan to repay about half-a-billion dollars in debts owed the hospitals going back four years by leveraging the state’s liquor contract. Along with prior changes made to the payment system for current services that will prevent additional debts from accruing, the hospitals will no longer be an unwilling financier of fiscal mismanagement in Augusta.
LePage signed the hospital debt bill, perhaps his most prominent political pledge, without fanfare or the big checks I had envisioned for the signing ceremony. I want to point out that anyone else in elected office would have made huge political hay out of this level of accomplishment. But not Paul LePage.
His tactics and policy priorities certainly can be questioned, but not the fact that he is unorthodox across the board. As a communications professional I found it frustrating and limiting. As a citizen I find it sincere and compelling when he does the right thing without taking a political bow that we have come to expect.
Municipalities won. It is commonly accepted in Maine politics that state revenue sharing equates directly to property tax savings. Cities and towns did not get all they wanted in funding, but it will clearly take far more than a budget proposal from the governor to upend state support for local government spending.
I have made it clear in this space that I believe Maine’s approach to local decision-making and service delivery is expensively inefficient and redundant. But my belief that there is a better way does not diminish my respect for the practitioners of local control and municipal government.
Serving on the city council, a planning committee or school board is the purest and noblest form of community service. It is not about financial gain, power or prominence. The same applies for the vast majority of professionals working in local government.
The solution and savings I envision are too transformational to happen across any one community or even a region. The change I seek is statewide in scale and is probably still generations away.
State Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, won. He ascended to Senate majority leader with Sen. Seth Goodall’s decision to take on the regional director position with the U.S. Small Business Administration. And Jackson achieved a great deal of prominence with the classy way he handled being a target of LePage.
Jackson has announced his candidacy for Maine’s Second Congressional District, a now open seat with U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s all-but-certain bid for the Blaine House.
Jackson will face at least one very worthy and accomplished opponent in State Sen. Emily Cain of Orono. While I cannot speak directly to the hearts and minds of Democratic primary voters, I believe the adage about the enemy of my enemy being my friend probably applies. And among these voters, LePage is public enemy No. 1.
Centrist Republicans, dubbed the governing caucus by this pundit in the weeks after the last election, had influence and impact that far exceeded their number in the 126th Legislature. These governing-focused lawmakers ensured that the governor’s veto remained a viable deterrent against overreach by Democrats.
As I predicted, they also found ways to reach agreement and bipartisan solutions on the budget, a comprehensive energy bill and other matters of importance. Win for them. Win for me.
I think Democratic Legislative leaders, led by Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves, won as well. The Legislature is a slow moving institution comprised of 186 lawmakers with thousands of priorities. The presiding officers presided over a relatively smooth and productive session. Well done.
There are examples of entities or persons who interests were not well served by the First Regular Session of the 126th Legislature. The one that comes first to mind for me is potential independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.
A state shutdown was long a concern given the political makeup and personalities at the State House. The closure of state offices and temporary suspension of state services would have sent a clear message of dysfunction to voters. The last and only time Republicans and Democrats failed to keep state government operational the voters elected independent Angus King in the subsequent election.
Cutler’s bid for the governor’s mansion would have gotten a big boost had a standoff between the two major parties shut down state government. I would never suggest Cutler wanted a shutdown, but it would have sharpened his point concerning a need for a new approach.
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at:
[email protected] Twitter: @demerittdan