Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman hold another Smart or Not Smart discussion.

Phil: With all that is happening, it is clearly time for another edition of our Smart or Not Smart.

Ethan: How about I be Smart this week, and you be Not Smart?

Phil: That would certainly be a change of pace. Here’s your first topic.

• Republican Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, sponsored a bill to force Gov. Paul LePage to release the Land For Maine’s Future bonds, then hosted a press conference to hype his bill. Smart or Not Smart?

Ethan: Smart, baby, Smart! He’s right on the policy, and he’s right to stand up against partisan orthodoxy. While he may never again be elected to Republican leadership, when your party does something you disagree with, you should speak up.

Phil: Putting Katz’s action aside for the moment, what is Smart is how the governor is using his office to leverage what he sees as best for Maine people. Every gov before him did the same for what they believed in (see Gov. Angus King and laptops).

Ethan: Perhaps. But this gov has taken the meaning “held hostage” to a whole new level.

Phil: Now, back to Katz. Did you see the smackdown the governor gave him? Said he was not interested in keeping Mainers warm in the winter. Ouch.

Ethan: I can imagine that Roger must be feeling pretty lonely right now. I was in the same place when I refused to support my leadership’s proposal to sell future lottery proceeds to plug a hole in the budget. But, if Republicans aren’t careful, Katz might just leave the party. Not a good idea to publicly attack your own. So Phil, Smart or Not Smart for Katz to sponsor the bill?

Phil: Not Smart. LePage, like he did on the hospital repayment bill, is saying if you want more land to be owned by the government, then let me use a forest management plan to sell state-owned trees. In turn, he will use that money to help install heat pumps for low-income Mainers. I think most Mainers think that makes good sense and support him.

• Emily Cain and Bruce Poliquin have remained silent on their involvement in the Cate Street deal that cost Maine taxpayers $16 million, and left Millinocket with no jobs. Smart or Not Smart?

Phil: Smart, especially for Cain, who co-sponsored the bill that allowed this to happen, which is now turning into an embarrassment and a costly mistake. Regretfully, Cate Street demonstrates the ruthlessness of talented lawyers and selfish investors who were aided and abetted by legislators who voted for something they didn’t understand.

Ethan: Smart? Are you crazy?! Not Smart. Both of them need to explain their actions to try and put this behind them. Assuming Cain has a primary, a competing Democrat will use her sponsorship of the bill against her. And for Poliquin, he is culpable because, as treasurer, he voted for the actual deal that wasted taxpayers’ money.

Phil: The reason I say Smart to stay silent is that I expect the race will end up being between these two. And since they both have mud on their mittens, so to speak, this will be a non-issue.

Ethan: Unless someone decides to run as an independent and uses this as their differentiation point.

Phil: Maybe the third time will be the charm for Blaine Richardson.

• LePage has submitted a bill to block local municipalities from raising the minimum wage. Smart or Not Smart?

Ethan: Remember the good old days when Republicans believed in a thing called local control? Those days when they opposed the state mandating how local people chose to live their lives? Remember those days? Because they were like last week! This one is Not Smart.

Phil: We do believe in local control of our property and lives. However, like different laws for marijuana, immigration and sales tax, nothing could be worse for the state than a patchwork of minimum wages. Talk about winners and losers between towns and counties. This proposal to block locally set minimum wages is Smart.

Ethan: The winners would be those towns that raise the minimum wage and attract workers. And once the workers in surrounding towns start moving to the towns with higher wages, then the surrounding towns will have to step up.

Phil: You’re missing reality with your utopian vision. The opposite will occur. If Portland raises its wage to $15, your job market will be squeezed with fewer entry-level jobs, more layoffs and workers will start flooding surrounding markets keeping those wages down. LePage’s policy is Smart because he is saving you from yourselves, and us from the consequences of your actions.

Ethan: What would be most Smart is if the state just raised the wage to $12. Then you wouldn’t have all these local ordinances. Until then, it should remain our right.

• Portland City Council bans vaping (using e-cigarettes) in public. Smart or Not Smart?

Phil: Are you progressives capable of not expanding the nanny state? Do you know the mixed message your city is sending? Not Smart.

Ethan: What are you talking about? We stand for public health and clean air. Nothing “mixed message” about that.

Phil: Really? So why is it now OK to smoke an illegal marijuana cigarette as you walk down a Portland street, which is clearly proven to be bad for one’s health, while at the same time it’s now against the law to consume a legal vapor for which there is yet little evidence that it is worse than a joint?

Ethan: Hmm, that is actually a pretty good point. Maybe you were able to be Smart this week.

Phil: Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.

Phil Harriman is a former Republican state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling is a former Democratic state senator from Portland. They can be contacted on Facebook at Agree to Disagree or Twitter: @senpeh and @ethan6_2.


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