WATERVILLE – State legislators say they do at least two things better than many of their counterparts in other states and in Washington, D.C.: They get along and keep debate civil.

That was a message Maine’s top legislators touted Wednesday at a Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Thomas College.

House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland; House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono; Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco; and Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry; talked about what they accomplished in the first legislative session, including reaching consensus on two-thirds of the budget, and what they hope to get done in the second session – create jobs.

But much of Tuesday’s talk focused on the positive relationship among legislators of both parties and how that allows them to get things done.

“One of our hallmarks has been constructive bipartisanship,” Raye said.

He, Nutting, Hobbins and Cain have dinner together every Thursday night – they wouldn’t reveal where – and discuss everything from their families to political history to sports.

The time spent together building friendships and trust has helped keep debate civil, even though issues were contentious, Nutting said.

He said the communication between the four was vital to legislators’ work.

“In the beginning of the day, we knew what the day was going to be like,” Nutting said.

Hobbins said something Republicans and Democrats have in common is that they want Maine to thrive.

“What I’d hope will happen is we keep bipartisan efforts – make sure we keep Maine moving in the right direction,” he said.

The two parties disagreed on everything from health insurance reforms to re-districting and same-day voter registration, but that did not mean they could not sit in a room to discuss the issues, despite media reports to the contrary, Nutting said.

Cain said legislators work as hard as they can to get along and when they do not, it is because of strong philosophical differences.

“We’re still friends at the end of the day,” she said. “I love this work and I think we all do. It’s not very sexy or glamorous, but it’s certainly worthwhile.”

About 50 business people, legislators, educators and others turned out Wednesday.

During a question-and-answer session, Susan Giguere, founder and chief executive officer of Care & Comfort, a home health business, asked where people should go to get news about what their legislators are doing if not newspapers.

Raye said he agreed with Nutting that television and newspapers tend to focus on the conflict in state government.

“I’m not sure how one could keep totally abreast of the good things happening,” Raye said.
He suggested people call their legislators to discuss issues of concern.

“If a legislator gets three  phone calls on an issue, that issue is highlighted in his or her mind,” he said.

Cain said she thinks the media is still a great place to get a general sense of what is going on.
Hobbins said he takes the position that the more information the better.

“I’m less pessimistic about the Fourth Estate,” he said.

Raye said jobs were a priority in the last legislative session and he introduced a bill to address Maine’s regulatory burden, which was an obstacle to job creation and retention.
Hearings were held from Presque Isle to Sanford and the press predicted failure and gridlock, he said.

“None of that happened. It was a thoughtful process and it was an inclusive process.”

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at: [email protected]