This morning, the sun shone on a splendid outdoor scene, as smiling legislators from both political parties gathered around a beaming Gov. Paul LePage, who praised their work on significant reforms of our unbalanced system of taxation.
Yes, indeed, it is April Fools’ Day. But we can dream, can’t we?
I am more grumpy than gleeful as April arrives this morning. So let me share some of this burden with you. First, the Legislature must reject the governor’s demand that they allow a lot more harvesting of trees on our public lands. It doesn’t matter whether you think this idea is good or bad. The governor’s demand was issued with threats as he bullied the Land for Maine’s Future Board and jeopardized many outstanding conservation projects, one of which, Howard Hill, he can see every morning as he walks from the Blaine House to the Capitol. Does he not glance to his right and see that beautiful hillside?
The Legislature ought not to respond to threats like this. In my experience, legislators don’t do well when they are bullied, threatened and insulted. I can tell you that it didn’t take long after I began lobbying in 1992 to figure out it was essential to make friends here, rather than enemies. I don’t understand why the governor hasn’t learned this.
If he is determined to find more money to help folks heat their homes, instead of cutting trees on public lands, perhaps he could sell the Blaine House. That would achieve two heating goals, generating money for home heating aid and eliminating the cost of heating that behemoth of a building.
And while we are on the gov, why should we even be considering a pay raise for that job? Many Mainers don’t know all the benefits the governor receives, including housing, food and beverages, transportation and a generous retirement package. He even receives $30,000 cash each year for anything he wants to spend it on, with no record keeping required. And really, do we have any shortage of candidates for this job? Do we think higher pay will get us a better governor? Well, that is really an April Fools’ Day joke.
The proposal to elect our constitutional officers is another bummer. Are you thoroughly enjoying political campaigns these days? What? No, not at all, you say? They are nasty and negative, you say? Well, yes. So why on Earth would we want more of them? We have been blessed with many great constitutional officers, including the current group. And after all, the folks we elect to the Legislature choose those officers. If we don’t think legislators are doing a good job of that, then we need to get ourselves some new legislators.
Speaking of that, we’ve made that easier by endorsing term limits. Term limits really should be called voter limits, because they eliminate our opportunity to elect legislators who are doing a good job for us. We decided that we would rather have inexperienced legislators doing our bidding in Augusta, and many people still seem to think that is working well for them.
I can tell you firsthand, however, that term limits have been disastrous, but you’d have to spend some time at the Legislature to understand this. And don’t I wish you would. There are no term limits on lobbyists and state agency staff, so of course, they dominate the process these days. They are the Legislature’s institutional memory, the folks who work both in public and private to direct legislative action their way. And they are very effective. Inexperienced legislators — not so much.
Do we really think inexperience is a virtue when creating a $6 billion budget? When deciding critically important issues involving our health and the education of our children? When creating a fair and effective tax system? When deciding if we should make it easier to mine metals in Maine and to create the laws and rules that will protect our valuable natural resources if mining does occur?
If you think so, well then, you are getting the government you deserve.
While it might make sense to give legislators longer terms, I worry that it will remove their incentive to keep in touch with us. What? You are not hearing from your legislators? Well, I can tell you where to find the answer to that problem. Look in the mirror. Because, my friends, none of these problems will be fixed until we step outside our comfort zone and get involved in the political and legislative process. And that is no April Fools’ Day joke.