DAN DEMERITT

Public Law 90 is a great example of good policy that could make for bad politics. The law establishes an extremely complicated set of market reforms that will take years to right-size Maine’s health care infrastructure. And during this transition, some Mainers will pay more.

One of the signature achievements of the Republican-led 125th Legislature, L.D. 1333 / P.L. 90, is an effort to reform Maine’s hyper-regulated health insurance market.

Easing restrictions on how health care plans can price risk and manage costs is designed to introduce free-market discipline into our health care delivery system.

Eventually we should see a lowering of our aggregate health care costs and Maine employers will become more competitive.

But Democrats and their allies have dubbed the reform “The Rate Hike Law” and are combing rural Republican districts for stories of premium sticker shock.

It is a catchy slogan and a smart strategy. Republicans seeking re-election in rural districts need to find local examples that justify the reform.

Republican candidates will want to run on welfare reform, but the issue could also raise some hard questions, especially when seniors are involved.

According to the Associated Press, Jean Greenleaf of Winthrop is a 73-year-old widow earning less than $1,400 a month from Social Security and an office-cleaning job. Greenleaf will likely lose $1,200 a year in benefits for hospital visits and is worried to death about paying for her medication.

While Republicans can celebrate and campaign on reforms that get people “off the couch” as the governor says, there are thousands of impacted seniors like Greenleaf across Maine with compelling needs and precious little to spare. Their stories could resonate.

Republicans on the Appropriations Committee, led by statesmen Rep. Patrick Flood and Sen. Richard Rosen, did great work in finding common and safe political ground on the issue of welfare reform. Despite their efforts, there are still some potential political pitfalls.

And if the insurance reforms increase premiums for seniors as some are predicting, Democrats will have the beginnings of a powerful narrative for targeting senior voters.

Same-day voter registration turned what should have been an easy season for legislative Republicans into an embarrassment at the polls.

Legislative majorities that were 40 years in the making cut red tape and taxes, reformed welfare and eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in public pension obligations. Rather than highlight these successes, the GOP squandered this moment by losing a debate over an electioneering issue.

I was among the 60 percent of Mainers who voted to overturn the law. I believe severe punishment rather than higher barriers to participation is the best way to protect free elections.

While the failed law will not be front-of-mind for voters this November, I mention it because of the wasted opportunity to promote Republican achievements.

Republicans seeking re-election to the Maine Legislature have a strong record of accomplishment and have earned another two years. Whether that message gets through to voters is a question still to be decided.

Dan Demeritt can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @demerittdan

MICHAEL CUZZI

The biennial budget included “the largest tax cut in Maine’s history.” Voters can expect to hear this repeated almost endlessly by Republican candidates from now through November.

Conveniently, Republicans fail to mention the tax cut is entirely unfunded, leaving the next Legislature with more than a $500 million hole before its members are even elected.

Pointing that out will require some tricky election-year political gymnastics for Democrats, considering that most of them voted for the budget believing it was the best deal they could get.

But, as the minority party, Democrats have the luxury of campaigning against policies they dislike while promoting accomplishments that support their agenda. Republicans, by contrast, have the burden of owning the legislative process and its outcomes in their entirety.

Democrats, therefore, must turn these cuts from a convincing economic sound byte into an example of Republican-led budget gimmickry and fiscal irresponsibility.

L.D. 1 is the regulatory reform law that sought to reduce red tape and state bureaucracy.

Republicans will campaign on this law as evidence of their commitment to making Maine “open for business.”  But the claim glosses over the significant Democratic contributions to the bill, and Democrats will have to make sure that everyone knows that.

Under the leadership of Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Sanford, and Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, the bill passed out of committee with a unanimous, bipartisan vote, and Democrats were instrumental in stripping the draft legislation of some of its most egregious provisions.

Democrats can appropriate these successful reforms as their own and campaign on them vigorously.

In the process, they can deny Republican attempts to own the “smaller government” and “business friendly” mantles. 

The same budget that included the tax cuts also included pension and welfare reforms.

Republicans will tout these as evidence of their commitment to constrained spending and personal accountability.

Left unsaid is that these reforms were accomplished on the backs of working-class Mainers and the state’s most vulnerable populations. But Democratic appeals to preserving or restoring the social safety net may have significantly less traction this election year.

Mainers of all socioeconomic classes are suffering through the trauma and anxiety of job losses, reduced wages, plummeting 401(k)s and higher health care costs. They are struggling to make ends meet and cobbling together an existence without government help.

In this environment, the right’s “get off the couch and get yourself a job” message may find a more receptive audience than Democratic appeals to “fairness” or “protecting the vulnerable.” 
Simply put, many people are feeling vulnerable and they aren’t expecting a handout.

Of course, even better than a handout is an actual job that pays a living wage, and the failure to deliver in that arena is the yawning hole in the Republican campaign platform.

Fifty thousand Mainers are out of work and, despite the singular importance of job creation to voters, Republicans can make only tangential claims to legislative success in this space.

Democrats must step into this void and articulate a compelling vision for how they will put Mainers back to work – without relying on additional revenues or more government spending. 

If they can do that, the reforms and accomplishments of the 125th Legislature will matter little as voters go to the polls on Election Day.

Michael Cuzzi can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @CuzziMJ