As the new legislative session gets underway, it does so with the Republicans yet again mainly acting as observers of the process.

Not only are Maine Republicans are in the minority, after all, but in both chambers the margin is such that Democrats can even get away with losing a few of their members and still manage to get bills passed. They just have to worry about their own internal divisions. During the last legislative session, those divisions were often on display: Gov. Mills vetoed bills passed not only by her own party, but also even by Senate President Troy Jackson. Since these disagreements mostly remained civil, they often didn’t get much attention, but they still represent a division, one that will show up again this session.

The question is, will Republicans attempt at all to exploit these divisions, or will they continue to bail out the administration, and impose no consequences on them as they have in the past? The last time the Legislature considered a biennial budget, Democrats decided to go it alone and pass the budget without any Republican support. Although the Republican Party had no way to prevent it at the time, they could have held at least held Democrats responsible for it later on in the session. Instead, they acted like it never happened.

They not only completely failed to do that, they completely failed to hold Democrats accountable for it last November in any way, shape or form. Indeed, after the Democrats passed their majority budget, they weren’t penalized for it at all – either by Republicans in the Legislature or by the public at large. That would have required Republicans to actually be effective for a change, either during the campaign season or legislatively in Augusta. Sadly, the early indications are that they’re going to continue that trend of lukewarm opposition this session, rather than learning any lessons from the drubbing they took last year.

Take, for instance, the heating aid bill. Instead of first negotiating with the administration in such a way that a bad bill became worse, then delaying it a few weeks by sending it to a committee, they could have opposed it entirely from the outset. Since the Democrats didn’t deign to consult them on the biennial budget last session, Republicans should simply refuse to cooperate with them on any emergency legislation this session. If Democrats wanted to pass a heating aid bill, they should have been forced to do it as regular legislation, not a hastily cobbled-together bill that gets passed simply because they decided to call it an emergency.

It’s easy to say that this sort of take-no-prisoners approach would be foolish; Republicans were blamed for delaying passage of the bill, just like they were blamed for a government shutdown during the LePage administration. That ignores a crucial change in dynamic, however: They have hardly any power at all.


Sure, Democrats have blamed them for delaying the heating-aid bill, but they’ll never get credit for helping to pass it anyway. That was proven last session, when Republicans fought to get larger “inflation relief” checks included in the supplemental budget, only to see Democrats take credit for it anyway, then pass the next budget on their own. Voters heard that message loud and clearly as well, and rewarded Republicans for their terrific idea by electing more Democrats. Great work, guys.

Republicans in Augusta need to learn that if they are in the opposition, they ought to actually stand up and oppose bad ideas once in a while. Instead, they seem to have decided the best approach is to try to water down the Democrats’ terrible ideas and make them slightly less awful. Maybe they think if they do this, voters will give them credit for it and trust them with greater power. It’s a nice theory, but one that hasn’t panned out for them, yet Republicans keep going for it.

Instead, when Republicans water down the Democrats’ bad ideas, they bail them out twice: by allowing them to paper over their internal divisions and get credit for getting things done. Rather than getting credit themselves, Republicans look like Democrats Lite. That’s not a recipe to turn a minority into a majority, it’s a recipe to stay in the minority forever. If that’s what Maine Republicans want, they should just keep doing what they’re doing. If they want to win either chamber of the Legislature, though, they should consider fighting for their own principles once in a while.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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