AUGUSTA — I have spent the last 12 years at the Maine State House, and as my time in Augusta draws to a close, I still find myself, occasionally, in disbelief. How did a guy with humble beginnings, who grew up working in a gravel pit in Waldo County, become president of the Maine Senate? Good fortune and a wonderful, supportive family are a big part of the equation, but I also believe it is a testament to the unlimited opportunities that are available in this country to those who are willing to work hard and persevere.

I have mixed emotions as the 128th Legislature nears its end.

For the past two years, I have proudly displayed a plaque in the Senate President’s Office that was presented to the Legislature by the National Institute for Civil Discourse in 2016. It names Maine the state “Most Committed to Civil Governance” in the country. That says a lot about the people of Maine and those of us who represent them. But unfortunately, over the past two years, the partisan gridlock and dysfunction that have poisoned Washington have found their way into the Maine State House.

The second session of the Legislature was scheduled to adjourn in April. The final gavel didn’t come down on the 128th Legislature until Sept. 13. Lawmakers’ inability to reach consensus on a number of issues kept us in Augusta for months.

During the first session of the 128th Legislature, our inability to come to terms on a budget led to a state shutdown that I continue to believe was completely avoidable and unnecessary. The budget agreement that ended the shutdown was essentially the same spending package that Senate Republicans had proposed weeks before the shutdown.

When the entire 128th Legislature gathered the day before swearing-in, I asked them to raise their hands if they cared deeply about our state. It came as no surprise that every hand went up. I have always believed that when we pause to find the good in someone, or pray for someone with whom you disagree, you can find a way to come together. Shortly before he died, in his farewell address to the nation, U.S. Sen. John McCain called on all Americans to remember that there is so much more that unites us than divides us.

We can disagree without being disagreeable. Kindness and cooperation are not a sign of weakness, and crass is not conservative.

Despite the dysfunction, over the past two years there are many examples of the Maine Senate rising above the partisan fray and reaching consensus. The Senate stood nearly united in bringing the 2017 shutdown to an end as quickly as possible.

We fully repealed the 3 percent income tax surcharge that threatened our economy: Had it stayed in place, it could have discouraged the highly trained professionals we need for our hospitals and universities and resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs. At the same time we repealed the tax, we also made the largest investment in K-12 public education in Maine history. And at the time the budget passed, we had finally met our obligation of 55 percent state funding of public education. While this was a significant milestone, it should be seen only as a starting point for the Legislature in its ongoing effort to provide more resources to our schools.

In the final days of the 128th Legislature, we passed a tax conformity bill that will ensure our citizens and Maine businesses will be able to compete with other states that had already passed similar measures, and also remove fears that Mainers would have to file twice next year while also not being able to use popular online vendors to file their taxes. Included in this legislation is a significant increase in the property tax fairness credit, which will help low- and middle-income Mainers stay in their homes.

All of these examples prove that we can, indeed, work together at the State House for the benefit of those we serve, without tearing each other down.

It is difficult to imagine that the nation that, time and time again, accomplished the unthinkable – declaring its independence from the world’s strongest monarchy, defeating tyranny, bringing peace and freedom to millions around the world and putting a man on the moon – cannot put political differences aside long enough to find common ground on some of the most pressing issues in Maine.

Partisan rancor has always had a presence in American politics, but it has now reached a level that threatens our most sacred institutions, and our republic itself.

It is my hope that future Legislatures will turn their backs on those who seek to divide us and remember that they work for the people of Maine first.


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