The Maine Senate’s ruling GOP is beginning to look like a Gang of Panderers.

Logic would suggest that the Republican majority in the Senate, seeing as it’s in control and all, would by now have stopped playing to its increasingly right-tilting base and instead be actually governing– you know, doing the hard stuff.

But at least a few of them can’t seem to help themselves.

We begin with Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, and “An Act To Establish a 180-day Residency Requirement for Welfare Benefits.”

Presented by Brakey on Wednesday to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, the bill would render MaineCare along with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the state’s food supplement program and local general assistance off limits to anyone who has been in Maine for less than six months. Including, of course, immigrants – although Brakey goes to great lengths to insist they’re not the folks he’s targeting here.

“Anyone arriving in Maine to seek the American Dream – an opportunity to find honest work, put food on the table for their family, and contribute to our Maine economy – should be welcomed with open arms,” Brakey, who co-chairs the committee, said in a prepared statement.

(Just as long as those open arms don’t include a food or housing voucher.)

Brakey goes on to decry Maine as a “welfare magnet,” adding, “We must instead build a strong economic magnet, attracting immigration to Maine because of a vibrant economy with plentiful work opportunities.”

Oh, please.

For starters, even Department of Health and Human Services spokesman David Sorensen conceded this week that only 93 out of 14,000 people on TANF (less than 1 percent) moved to Maine within the last six months.

Then there’s the fact that a similar bill already went belly-up back in 2011 when the Republicans, now the minority in the House, controlled both chambers. If it couldn’t pass then, what makes Brakey think it will now?

And if it does pass, there’s that pesky issue of whether it’s constitutional. Which, the U.S. Supreme Court has twice declared, it is not.

No matter, Brakey told The Associated Press on Tuesday: “I think this is a situation where the courts have it wrong and if it’s something that has to be fought in court again, I think it’s a fight worth having because our welfare system is out of control.”

Not unlike the GOP’s anti-welfare hysteria.

Next up we have Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and “An Act to Provide Access to Infertility Treatment.”

Sounds straightforward enough – the measure would require insurance companies to cover at least part of the cost of infertility treatments.

Except there are a couple of catches: First, you have to be married. Second, if your infertility stems from a sexually transmitted disease, no insurance benefit for you!

Lest anyone get too excited about these two holier-than-thou stipulations, Mason assured the Insurance and Financial Services Committee on Tuesday that he’ll be happy to take them out if it will help get his bill passed.

“This is the original draft of the bill,” Mason told the committee. “I’m totally willing to do something that fits Maine better, and that is why we have the committee process.”

So why include the married/STD stuff in the first place? A wink and a nod to your religious conservative friends that you haven’t given up on the sanctity of marriage? A disapproving wag of the finger at those who commit the sin of gonorrhea?

Finally, there’s the on-again, off-again effort by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, to run Maine through the bed of hot coals that just scorched the entire states of Indiana and Arkansas in their disastrous efforts to short-circuit the national same-sex marriage juggernaut.

A beleaguered Burns announced Wednesday that he’s withdrawing “An Act to Enact the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” (somebody sound the redundancy alarm) because we media types and other “opponents” have unfairly cast it in the same light as all-but-identical legislation that last month caused a backlash of biblical proportions in Indiana.

There, you’ll recall, lawmakers passed a bill mandating that state and local governments cannot “substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion” unless it’s “to further a compelling governmental interest” in the least restrictive way possible. Translation: If you make wedding cakes and have a religious problem with homosexuality, you can refuse to make wedding cakes for homosexuals.

That’s when all hell broke loose. Human rights groups, businesses large and small, you name it, saw this for the end run around same-sex marriage that it was. With “Boycott Indiana” fever sweeping the land, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence blamed it all on a “perception problem” and frantically urged Indiana lawmakers to make clear that the bill is not meant to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Around the same time in Arkansas, a similar backlash on a similar law prompted Gov. Asa Hutchinson to perform a similar backpedal quicker than you can say “swimming against a swiftly swirling sociological tide.”

Enter Sen. Burns, who nonetheless forged ahead with his bill with the explicit backing of the entire Republican leadership of the Maine Senate – in the first state to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, no less – until the protesters were literally gathering outside the State House. By Wednesday, Burns, probably envisioning himself atop the national network news, shifted quickly into reverse.

“Opponents of this bill and some in the media have poisoned the well of public discussion,” Burns complained in a written statement. “They have been guided by an unwillingness to discuss factual information and inaccurate comparisons to the events in Indiana.”

Baloney. What those opponents have done is exercise their democratic right to speak out against a measure that is as duplicitous as it is, in fact, discriminatory.

And for Burns to now claim “inaccurate comparisons’ between his bill and those elsewhere falls somewhere between downright delusional and flat-out fiction: As Press Herald State House staffer Steve Mistler reported this week, 14 of the 16 states where such “religious freedom” bills have been proposed this year recently legalized same-sex marriage.

What makes Burns’, Mason’s and Brakey’s bills so maddening isn’t just that they have no chance of actually passing the Democratic House and thus are an utter waste of the Legislature’s valuable time.

Rather, it’s that they’re so personal, so rooted in judgment of others, so wrapped in the threadbare far-right mantra, “You don’t align with our moral compass, so we’re going to pass a law making your life more difficult. Or at least we’ll raise a ruckus trying, which also makes your life more difficult.”

Pander on, Maine GOP, pander on.


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