Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Unlike their dysfunctional cousins in Washington, the members of the Maine Legislature have managed to steer clear of the kind of partisanship that gives politics a bad name.
There have been fundamental differences of opinion and party-line votes on major issues, such as last year's health insurance market reforms. But where there has been room for compromise on environmental policy or the state budget, the two sides have found a way to find it, for the benefit of the state.
Much of the credit goes to the Republican leaders in the House and Senate, who came to office promising not to treat the new Democratic minority the way the Democrats treated them when they were in the minority. For the most part, they have kept their promises, and Democratic leaders have responded constructively, keeping the process running.
Now this Legislature is entering a new phase, however. The budget, with its midstream correction that controls state spending through June, has passed with the necessary two-thirds vote that required Democratic cooperation.
The remaining issues on the table, which include dismantling the Land Use Regulation Commission, making sweeping educational reforms and cutting an additional $80 million from next year's Department of Health and Human Services budget, can all be done on straight party-line votes.
That's how it works in a democracy. Not every issue can be decided by consensus, so the majority rules. But Republicans would be wise not to take this opportunity to overreach.
There will be tremendous pressure on conservative lawmakers to use the last weeks of this session to deliver on the promises made to the most radical members of their base back in 2010. Cooler heads should prevail and recognize that Maine has been better off for the collaborative work done so far in this session.
The first test will be the Appropriations Committee, which has so far been able to reach unanimous votes on some very difficult proposals.
If hotheads succeed in tearing that group apart, this could be a very destructive session for the people of Maine, and a very instructive one for voters in November.