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As someone who chairs the Government Oversight Committee, I always look for ways to engage with stakeholders, bring things out into the sunshine, listen to all involved, build consensus if possible, and hold everyone accountable. It’s the former journalist in me. I enjoy the mechanics of collaborative governance and hearing from a variety of voices. When you do both things, it yields to better outcomes.

Governors are in a difficult spot. There is no winning. When navigating a once in a lifetime public health pandemic, there is no playbook, no magic solution that will make everyone happy. Everything you do will be under a microscope and critics will seem louder and more emboldened. Governor Janet Mills is no exception. She is really trying her best to walk the fine line of protecting public safety and protecting people’s livelihoods using science and the latest data to inform her decisions. Like every other governor in this country, she has the weight of peoples’ lives in her hands.

It’s become clear, however, that the Legislature needs to be more involved in the ongoing oversight of departments, this administration, and the decisions being made regarding the impact of COVID-19 on our public health, small business, and overall way of life. We are a separate but co-equal branch of government and it’s critical we have an outlet to provide the feedback we are getting from you and have a direct way of questioning and relaying info to the agencies in charge. When we as legislators aren’t at the table, you aren’t at the table.

If the governor brings this process out into the sunshine everyone, the public, industry stakeholders, public health officials, and the Legislature will have buy-in on the chosen result. Public buy-in is critical to decisions being made around the safe, gradual, re-opening of our economy. Collaborative governance is the right approach to achieve it. We’ve seen other states, with Democratic governors, do this to much success. People or businesses might still disagree with the governor’s decision, but at least there is a clear understanding of the process and expectations every step of the way. Transparency isn’t letting people know your decision after the fact, it’s involving people in the decision itself.

This can be achieved two ways. One, we need to immediately form a Re-Opening Task Force. This would bring together members of Governor Mills’ cabinet, public health experts, business leaders, labor and employment interests, and the public. The proposed task force would be immediately focused on the reopening of Maine’s economy in a safe and sustainable manner and work in concert with Governor Mills’ Economic Recovery Committee. Many New England states, including New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts, have established similar advisory boards to aid in the re-opening process and we should add Maine to that list.

Alongside that group, would be to start up legislative oversight hearings and committee meetings on other aspects of running state government during a pandemic. This is something I’ve been pushing my colleagues to do for quite some time and I’m happy to report that we’ve begun this part. We held our
first meeting last week to provide oversight on aspects related to unemployment issues, the unique challenges faced by agriculture and our small businesses, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, our schools, the impact on medical facilities, how to use Federal relief dollars, and the high risk of outbreaks in our long-term care facilities. I think our input, your feedback, could be helpful and useful to the administration. Aside from the Appropriations Committee, these of committees are also set to the meet this week and in the coming weeks: Labor & Housing, Health & Human Services, Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, and Education & Cultural Affairs.

Governmental accountability is hardest when it involves members of your own party. I would know having fought for issues like campaign finance reform and increasing ethics rules, that aren’t usually the kinds of issues either side jumps for joy over. This effort is meant to be constructive, not adversarial.

Government accountability has to happen regardless of who is in power and regardless of party affiliation. It’s what’s right, over what is easy. It will undoubtedly mean a greater exchange of ideas to keep the public safe and ensure Mainers have what they need to survive economically.

Justin Chenette is serving his second term in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He is the chair of the Government Oversight Committee, co-chair of the Democracy Reform Caucus, a member of the Environment and Natural Resources and Ethics Committees, and serves on the Maine Climate Council’s Coastal & Marine Working Group. He is also a Citizen Trade Policy Commissioner. Outside the Legislature, Justin is in real estate at the Bean Group, owner of a digital marketing firm, and is vice president of Saco Main Street. Follow updates at

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