Opinion

Memo to Maine GOP legislators: Be prepared

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It’s November 7, 2018. The morning after the 2018 midterm elections, the first day of campaign season for the 2020 general elections.

I hope Maine Republican legislators will start the first session of the upcoming 129th Legislature with specific legislative goals, plans for having the goals become law, and the discipline to focus during the next two years on achieving those goals.

Very soon, if it has not already happened, winners for the Maine Legislative Senate and House Districts will be decided. There may be one or a few ballot recounts among the Legislative races, but….

My point is, soon the Maine Republican Party will know exactly which GOP candidates will be serving in the Maine Legislature during the next two-year legislative session.

On December 5, 2018 the Members of the 129th Legislature will have their swearing-in ceremony. At that point, the Maine GOP Legislative Team is in place. Barring some unknown occurrence — a death, a resignation — the Republican legislators sworn-in as of 12/5/18 are Team GOP.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Senate and House caucuses will choose leaders and assistant leaders. Again, barring an unknown occurrence, legislative leaders will serve as leaders for the next two years.

The Legislature really starts getting down to business in early January. December brings legislators freshman orientation, and elected officials and State House staffers dispersing for Christmas and other December holidays with family and friends.

That leaves a month when the new GOP legislative leaders can convene their respective caucus members, outside the State House, to begin crafting plans to enact into law key legislative goals. Chances are, legislative leaders will know, or will have a good idea, about the caucus’ key legislative goals. If so, leaders can come to the meeting with a draft plan.

The standard operating procedure for GOP caucuses all the years I worked with them was to arrive in early January at the real start to the first session with no plans. A few weeks later leaders might hire a facilitator and host a retreat. Half the caucus members were no-shows. The members who did show, came up with a list of session priorities which, in short order, fell apart or were forgotten. Morale among caucus members was low.

Being the minority party is tough. Being the minority party with no team spirit, no team agenda is nearly impossible.

Suppose GOP legislators used the time between now and early January to hash out a real session plan. In a private setting, a meeting of equals. Three goals is about right. More goals than that risks scattering caucus energy when it needs to be laser focused.

Is there disagreement among caucus members about the goals? A private setting is the place to reconcile differences. If a goal disagreement can’t be reconciled, swap it for another goal. Republican legislators on tv, on radio, in newspapers, online, launching policy fights with other Republican legislators, or the Governor’s office — is corrosive. Democrat legislators must love it when Republican legislators fight on television.

Republican voters see the elephant meltdowns as leadership failure.
Having an agreed-to plan should avoid such fights.

Treat the goals as campaigns. Planning should include specifics on how the GOP caucuses will move each goal to enactment from the idea phase. In the private and public sectors, who are the goals’ allies and opponents? Make the allies part of the campaign.

Most of all, make the public part of the campaigns — first. I’ve seen good ideas crash and burn because legislators forgot to ask, upfront, for public support. That gave their opponents a chance to negatively define the idea out in the public.

Game over.

My hope for Maine GOP legislators is as age old as the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. Go into the 129th with a plan, focus, and execute it.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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