GOP should go forward remembering the past

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The makeup of legislators in Maine’s current 129th Legislature is almost identical to Maine’s 115th Legislature. I was first hired as a legislator staffer for the second session of the 114th Legislature. The 115th was my first experience working for a full two-year session of the Maine Legislature.

The 115th is remembered today mostly for the Maine government shutdown; an impasse over a multi-million dollar tax increase vs. modifying Maine’s workers compensation system. The shutdown was ugly, no doubt. It taught this newcomer to politics lessons I’ve remembered about the nature of Republican and Democrat legislators.

A key lesson from the 115th is that Democrat Legislative leaders lied. The shutdown was resolved through a bipartisan agreement on a State Budget with $200-plus million in new taxes, and a fix for Maine’s failing workers compensation system.

The bipartisan agreement included a promise to not amend the agreement when it reached the House and Senate floors for voting.

There was one exception. Both sides agreed to adopt one amendment to correct language in the proposed State Budget.

This agreement resolved the differences for both political parties.

Or so it seemed.

The governor, along with all Democrat and Republican Senate and House leaders, came up with a safeguard plan within the bipartisan agreement for voting. This safeguard plan was in writing, signed by the Republican and Democrat legislative leaders, and the governor.

But when it came time to vote, the Democrats’ word, their signed bipartisan agreement, meant nothing. Democrats introduced and adopted a dozen amendments that stripped away more than half the provisions to which they agreed. In short, Democrat leadership lied.

That’s a matter of public record — including the written implementation schedule signed by legislative leaders.

Another lesson I remember? The strength and good works that can come from a united legislative minority. Key word: united.

Republican legislators were a minority in the Senate and House. Maine had a Republican governor, but with just seven, I think, GOP votes, the Democrats would have the two-thirds they needed to have a tax hike and a workers compensation system exactly as they wanted it.

I’ve written in another Piscataquis Observer column about what the sessions were like for GOP legislators during the 1991 shutdown. Eventually three Republican House members bailed on their caucus and sided with Democrats: Hugh Morrison of Bangor, Donald Strout of Corinth, and Omar Norton of Winthrop, “bringing House Democrats within one vote of the critical two-thirds margin they need[ed],” reported John Hale in the February 14, 1991 Bangor Daily News.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Had the 115th’s state budget/workers compensation bipartisan agreement happened, we could say the shutdown was awful, but, in the end, both sides toughed it out and reached agreement.

But the bipartisan agreement didn’t happen. Since then we’ve seen Democrat majorities react by ignoring or steamrolling checks-and-balances standing in their way. Requiring a two-thirds vote from the Senate and House to pass the state budget is one such casualty. Ignoring legislative bill public hearings is another.

The minority 129th GOP legislators face greater odds than their predecessors in the 115th. They have no chance of passing bills Democrats don’t want passed and, for the most part, their ideas will get little help from Maine’s press.

How can GOP legislators best spend their time over the next two years? Meeting with and listening to the public, having accurate voter lists, and developing alternative media networks are a few ideas.

I will discuss more in future columns.

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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