2018-04-26 / Editorial

Senator: dysfunction at Maine statehouse

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

By now you’ve probably heard in some form that the Legislature is crippled with partisan gridlock and currently in recess until we head back in to deal with the governor’s long list of vetoes.

I’d like to provide some perspective on this situation.

Last week, a small group of House Republicans voted to block an extension of the legislative session, blocking our ability to continue working. They essentially shut down the Legislature from finishing the work we had left. Bills like transportation bonds for roads and bridges, Medicaid expansion, funding for our schools, banning conversion therapy, implementing marijuana business licenses, expanding student loan assistance, and how to deal with state level changes from the Trump tax plan. Important pieces of legislation destined to just die without debate, without a vote.

This childish display of strategic antics is unacceptable. We were elected to do a job and it’s time to do it. We can’t just negate our duties because you want to go home. I’m here, ready to work until the job is done whether it’s today, tomorrow or two months from now.

The very afternoon this all happened, I was still in the middle of negotiating a compromise regarding how to handle changes to the tax code from the feds – trying to find a more progressive alternative to the governor’s plan of mirroring Trump’s tax plan to ours. It’s taken months to get to a place of being extremely close to a deal. As the ranking Democrat on the Taxation Committee, it’s my role to work with my counterparts on something we can send to the full body for a vote. Them blocking more work days prevents this deal from seeing the light of day. Surprising, since it’s the governor who wants it so bad.

It should be noted that over in the Senate, we voted unanimously to continue working. Unanimously. How often can you say anything was agreed to in government with that level of support? Senate Republicans, while I may disagree on certain policy points, have been real partners in preserving the institution of government to ensure it runs smoothly. Democrats and Republicans came together to say let’s finish the job we started. House Republicans, on the other hand, have once again thrown a wrench into civility and common sense. Keep in mind these are the same individuals who also helped orchestrate the first state shut down since the 1990s just last summer.

This is not even about party or partisanship, it’s pettiness. We need state government to function without this level of dysfunction. You deserve better from your elected officials.

Keep in mind it’s typical for us to run a few days over when we are supposed to adjourn. Much like schools have to make up their large amount of snow days at the end of their school years, we have to do the same. In fact, one of the longest sessions we’ve ever had was when Republicans controlled both bodies and the Blaine House in 2012, so it’s not party dependent on the outcome.

There isn’t usually a debate over extending a few extra days. It’s almost automatic and expected. Legislators stopped getting paid weeks ago, so it’s not a question of pay. What I find interesting is when session is extended, we aren’t paid for those days, but if we come back in for a special session because of the governor, we do. At this point, that is very likely. So the House Republicans voting not to extend and using the excuse of it costing taxpayers is not accurate. It’s actually going to cost taxpayers more by following this route.

Divided government requires give and take. It’s been a long slug of a session. Legislators want to go home back to their districts and back to their day jobs. I get that. I really do. The longer session rolls on, the more stress is placed on my employers and my ability to earn a paycheck to pay my bills. And let’s not forget it’s an election year. Some folks are so eager to get campaigning that they forget the job they were sent to do in the first place.

We are literally so close to being done. The bills left on the table have had public hearings, committee work sessions and even some debate. They deserve a vote. Deserve an outcome. For the betterment of our state and our people. It’s time to get back to work and do our jobs.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president of Saco Main Street. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or follow updates at www.Facebook/ JustinChenette.

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