This summer I had the honor of wrapping up my first legislative session as an elected state representative. If you followed the news, you know that this session was historically busy, chaotic, controversial and long. Fortunately, I had nothing to compare it to. And frankly, I loved it.

I serve on two committees. This meant that, in the course of a single day, I could learn about moose hunting, mortgage company notification practices, invasive aquatic species or how tow truck drivers deserve to be reimbursed for the service they provide to towns. I got to talk with people from across the state about whether they thought policy proposals would make their lives easier or harder.

While much of my experience was positive, some aspects of the legislative session were deeply frustrating. For me, the greatest disappointment stemmed from the political polarization gripping both parties. In addition to distracting us from problem-solving and making it harder to connect with colleagues, it has also prevented us from celebrating some of the session’s biggest accomplishments.

Here’s one example: I serve on the Health Coverage, Insurance, and Financial Services committee, and one bill we heard – L.D. 351 – sought to expand access to birth control by granting pharmacists the authority to prescribe it. The initial bill was a good-faith effort, but it didn’t reflect the most recent science. I worked with the bill’s sponsor and key organizations to update the provisions, and in the end we rewrote it into one of the most expansive birth control access policies in the country. We brought together the Maine Christian Civic League and Maine Family Planning (not exactly common partners in Augusta), as well as the Maine Medical Association and many others.

The amended bill received full support from the committee, was unanimously approved by the House and Senate, and was signed into law by the governor. Yet you probably never heard about it. That’s largely because neither political party was inclined to tout it. The bill was sponsored by a Republican – Sen. Eric Brakey, my seatmate on the committee. Neither party tends to celebrate bills sponsored by their political opposition, and it’s unlikely Republicans would promote a bill expanding access to birth control.

Without news releases or any signs of partisan conflict, Maine’s political press didn’t take notice, either. While less expansive laws from states like Arizona received national attention, there was virtually no coverage of Maine’s groundbreaking new law. Instead, Maine voters were treated to endless stories about the governor’s abortion bill without hearing how, in a bipartisan manner, we made real strides toward reducing the need for abortions in the first place.

In fact, although Democrats control both houses of the Maine Legislature, more than a quarter of all new laws this session were sponsored by Republicans. In order to pass, each of those bills required substantial collaboration across a widening aisle. When we don’t celebrate those successes, we give the impression that they aren’t happening. I’m here to tell you that they are – not as frequently as they could be or as they should be, but bipartisan cooperation and success in Augusta absolutely exists.

If I could change one thing in Augusta, it would be to incentivize and reward bipartisanship. One approach would be to allow every bill to have a lead sponsor from each party, and then to ensure those bills are drafted and discussed first. The Legislature could also hire a nonpartisan communications professional charged with shining a light on collaborative legislative achievements. Many other tweaks to how we do business could go a long way to creating a better environment for balanced, pragmatic policymaking.

Maybe we’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to heading back in January and continuing to do all I can to make it healthier, safer, more affordable, more just and generally easier to keep living in this incredible state. Despite the challenges, I love this job and I am honored to serve in Augusta.

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