Before getting into recent events, here’s the operative term: emergency bill.

An emergency bill that sought to disburse one-time $450 heating and energy relief checks to more than 850,000 Mainers was blocked by eight Republican senators last week on what have been charitably called “procedural grounds.”

Procedural grounds. The temperatures are dropping and the dissonance is jarring.

The decision to block the bill’s passage is inexplicable to us. Indeed, the people of Maine were left without any reasonable explanation for the obstruction last week, which withholds money from people in dire need of it and leaves red tape around available supports.

Let’s take a step further back: We are in a state of emergency.

Quibbling over the presentation of the plan? Reservations over “committee review”? While such considerations didn’t seem to register at the House – where emotive speeches that referred to real things like financial pain and physical suffering led the bill to pass with “overwhelming” bipartisan support, 125-16 – it’s always the case that different elected representatives would have gone about things in different ways.


Respectfully, this is no time for fine print. It’s not a time for arguing about convention or what might have been. Eligibility caps for the checks, which were increased in response to calls by Republicans, were unpalatable to some Democratic senators. Understanding the stakes, those senators voted for the bill anyway.

Again, we’re in a crisis, one that calls as much for ambition and creativity as it does compromise.

That the process last week was expedited and unconventional couldn’t have taken the eight Republican senators who opposed the bill by surprise. That their day-of opposition boiled down to administrative hand-wringing is a grave insult to the people depending on them for support.

The package that reached the Senate floor was one that Maine could afford. With the right vote, assistance would be on its way to households. And instead? A group of jumped-up Republicans seeking to assert themselves have left people already in desperation to wait longer for help.

One Republican voice with meaningful experience in budgeting and balancing books put it well. Rep. Sawin Millett of Waterford said that while he tended to prefer “the normal process,” he recognized the need for urgency – for an abnormal process at an abnormal and exceptionally challenging time.

Millett’s message to his colleagues last week was simple but trenchant: “I urge you all to realize that you will own this one way or another. You need to be honest with your constituents when you go back home.”


And what exactly are the legislators who rejected this plan – Sens. Rick Bennett, Russell Black, Eric Brakey, Matt Harrington, Lisa Keim, James Libby, Marianne Moore and Trey Stewart – saying to their constituents this weekend? Constituents who were very recently and resoundingly led to believe that one of the Republican Party’s non-negotiable goals this winter was to offer help with heating.

Former Gov. Paul LePage made the cost of heating oil absolutely central to his election campaign, repeatedly riffing on the crisis of oil, kerosene, diesel; repeatedly referring to only wanting to “take care of people” – and not just “the poorest of the poor” – and repeatedly highlighting the punishing cost of living as the biggest issue facing Maine voters.

Ultimately, “heating oil” formed the refrain of the LePage swan song on the night of Nov. 8. It’s no stretch to say he ran for governor on the promise of targeted help. Had the Republican candidate been installed, what would the Republicans who voted no have done last week?

There’s still time in December, again acting outside the “normal process,” to pass a relief measure.

Even if the Legislature comes back before the coldest month of the year and something resembling the original offer passes, it will only keep the average Maine home in heating oil for about four weeks at the present rate. More and different assistance will likely be required in early 2023. This bill was introduced quickly because it would only have been a stopgap. And as it stands, we don’t even have that.

Sometimes lawmaking demands speed, sometimes it demands humility, oftentimes it demands both. As we had to learn last week – or relearn – there are many more enemies to good than perfection.

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