AUGUSTA – It is not the size of government or the number of bills a democracy considers that matter, but the quality of that government and those ideas.

Think of something you value about our civilization — roads, education, the Internet, healthy air or water, health care when you’re old — and chances are you have legislation and/or public-sector investments to thank.

Yet in his latest piece (“Beware the creeping of more laws,” Aug. 15), columnist Tony Payne continues to suggest we can cut and shrink our way to prosperity.

His bias is that government and democracy itself are what ail us — not corporate greed, climate destabilization or competition from growing, centrally controlled economies like China, which are undertaking public investments on a massive scale.

In the column, Payne accuses legislative leaders of too much democracy and too many bills. He targets an emerging leader from Yarmouth, describing Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes as “trolling for ideas for more laws,” while others have “serious discussions” about introducing fewer bills.

Yet the facts show Rep. Walsh Innes and many other Democrats are performing well even by Payne’s own yardstick — moving Maine not only toward greater government efficiency, but also a stronger economy.

Which facts are these?

First, the entire citizen Legislature — an entire branch of our constitutional government — costs less than 1 percent of the overall state budget.

Second, this Legislature, with the largest Democratic majority in decades, introduced 21 percent fewer bills than the Legislature before it.

Third, Rep. Walsh Innes herself introduced just seven bills in her first two years. The average legislator introduced 10.

Fourth, her contest to inspire democratic activity and Yankee ingenuity promises just one new bill next year. That bill could either repeal or create a law. This excellent civics lesson and example of responsive government should not be attacked with visions of Thidwick the Moose. It should be replicated.

Fifth, as a member of the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Walsh Innes sits through long hearings and spends long hours studying each bill — without being paid extra for more time away from her work as an educator or her three young children. The same is true for others, regardless of party.

It is absurd to think a working mother and legislator has time to “troll” for frivolous bills.

Last but not least, Rep. Walsh Innes focuses her bills on strengthening our economy and environment. One bill repealed an unnecessary prohibition on imported goods. Another will help nursing, working mothers bring up healthy babies.

Her first-in-the-nation product stewardship law sets up a process to ensure market-based, best-practice stewardship of hazardous toxins.

In passing this bipartisan, landmark measure she engaged all sides, unifying the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Environmental Priorities Coalition in support.

Elsewhere in his column, Payne attacks Democrats for not enlarging the size of House districts.

He does not say many rural Republican leaders, including the House Republican minority leader, voted against this measure, L.D. 144.

Nor does he say that Senate President Libby Mitchell and other Democrats voted for it.

In fact, even arguments in favor of this complex bill presented it as a “symbolic” reduction in our citizen Legislature. Had the bill passed to enlarge House districts and reduce membership, the nonpartisan fiscal office put the savings per Mainer at only 67 cents — not starting until 2015.

Rural representatives in both parties opposed the measure on the grounds that it would help lobbyists, reduce access to elected representatives, and save almost nothing.

Instead, the Legislative Council led by Sen. Mitchell and House Speaker Hannah Pingree worked to achieve legislative budget savings two and half times the savings of the legislation to change the House.

The cuts did not require new bills, and were effective immediately. They were proportionate to the difficult, bipartisan cuts made elsewhere in state government, in recognition of the tough times brought about by a national recession.

I agree with Payne about this much: We must all pay attention.

This will be essential over the next few weeks as misleading, misinformed and ideological attacks increase.

And as we seek to strengthen Maine’s recovery going forward, we should also remember what ideology brought us to the present national recession.

Yarmouth can do its part by re-electing Rep. Walsh Innes — a stateswoman, educator and mother who will do her part to keep moving Maine not only toward more efficient and responsive government, but also a more lasting prosperity.


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