WINTERPORT — It was a year ago last week that I stood behind the rostrum of the Maine Senate, brought the gavel down and called the Senate to order. It was my first official act as Senate president.

The journey to get there was long, and one that I hadn’t envisioned when I was a young man working in a gravel pit in Winterport. Yet there I was, looking out at the faces of my fellow senators, who had elected me to be their leader.

It was a surreal moment, and I remember being overcome with awe and respect for the institution of Maine state government and those who had held the office before me. (I am, by the way, proud to be the first Senate president from Waldo County in nearly a century.)

When I was sworn in, I promised to do everything within my power to live up to the expectations of my fellow lawmakers and those of the people of the great state of Maine. While my Republican colleagues and I weren’t able to accomplish everything we wanted, I am very encouraged with what has been done at the halfway point of the 127th Legislature.

The past legislative session promised to be a hostile one, with a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. While the cynics predicted gridlock and perhaps even a government shutdown, I am proud to say that we were able to put our partisan differences aside and put the people of Maine first.

We passed a two-year budget that is true to Republican principles. It includes the largest tax cut in state history, with about 580,000 Maine families set to receive a reduction in their income taxes.

We made military pensions exempt from taxes, which will allow our military families to come back home to Maine. It will also encourage veterans from out of state to make Maine their new home.

We also aligned the inheritance tax with federal standards, which will allow Maine’s small businesses and family farms to be passed on from generation to generation without a huge financial burden.

We did all of this without raising the sales tax and keeping the state revenue-sharing plan, which is an important source of property tax relief to our local communities.

In my swearing-in speech, I also spoke of a young man from Waldo County with significant disabilities whose mother carries him from their car to the house. He qualified for services, yet the state doesn’t have the resources to get their federal match that would take him off the waiting list. One of the most fulfilling moments for me from the last legislative session was helping approve $16.2 million to help reduce waitlists for Mainers with disabilities.

The Legislature also provided much-needed additional funding for Maine nursing homes.

There were, to be sure, disappointments. One of my top priorities was to finally take action on the welfare reform that Mainers have been demanding. They want common-sense fixes that will prevent people from abusing their benefits by using them to buy liquor, tattoos, cigarettes and other non-essential items.

These measures passed in the Republican-controlled Senate, but failed in the Democratic-controlled House. I am hoping for more progress on this important issue in the legislative session that begins next month.

By now, you have likely heard about the heroin epidemic that is sweeping the state. Drug overdoses, many of them fatal, are becoming a regular occurrence in Maine.

I think all of us in Augusta agree that immediate action is needed before more of our young people succumb to the poison that out-of-state dealers are peddling to our citizens. The governor has asked for additional drug agents to go after these dealers, and I am confident that the Legislature will take quick, decisive action on this when we reconvene in a few weeks.

It has been, to say the least, an interesting year for the state of Maine. I am pleased to have been part of the progress that we have made on so many important issues. When I return to the rostrum, I will never lose sight of the enormous responsibility that has been given to me to find real solutions for the people of Maine.

We cannot allow Maine to fall prey to the dysfunction we see in Washington. The 1.3 million people of Maine are counting on us to enact good public policy, and we cannot allow personality conflicts to derail our responsibility to them.

The lives of all Mainers are affected by the decisions that we make. If we can improve their lives, even in a small way, by passing good public policy, we need to do it. Partisan differences and personalities should never be allowed to get the way of this work. It’s just too important.

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