Former state Sens. Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman look back at the week that was in Maine politics with a game of “Smart!” or “Not Smart!”

Phil: Are you old enough to remember the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson?

Ethan: More of Letterman guy, but sure. Why do you ask?

Phil: Because he used to appear from time to time as “Carnac the Magnificent,” dressed in a robe and turban while cosmically revealing the answer to questions he had not seen yet.

Ethan: And your point?

Phil: With all the closed-door meetings in Augusta this past week, I foresee our popular “Smart!” or “Not Smart!” column where we call out the top issues of the week. Lo and behold, here it is!

Democratic leaders ended negotiations with Republicans on the budget. “Smart!” or “Not Smart!”?

Ethan: Smart! More importantly, they never should have allowed this latest round of negotiations to begin. A deal was agreed to by the Appropriations Committee that received bipartisan support from more than two-thirds of the members. Just because a rogue group of House Republicans start making crazy demands, you don’t enable their behavior by inviting them to reopen the deal.

Phil: A “rogue group?” “Crazy demands?” This was 68 elected officials who were asking for an income tax cut for Maine people and basic welfare reform. Hardly some fringe posse making outrageous demands. To that end, this was “Not Smart!” of Democrats. Negotiations are always hard and always hit bumps. True leaders stay engaged and always keep their door open.

Ethan: Sure, but you don’t keep the doors open when the demands are unreasonable and only one way. If House Republicans wanted changes, they needed to offer something in return, which they didn’t. Thankfully, Dems walked away before they gave away the farm.

Phil: You may recall Democratic and Republican leaders speaking at press conferences promoting their income tax reduction plans. Seems to me they all would be smart to look each other in the eye and get the job done for Maine.

Gov. LePage tried to prevent the charter school Good Will-Hinckley from hiring Speaker Mark Eves as their next president. “Smart!” or “Not Smart!”?

Phil: Although it is a bit of a contradiction for Speaker Eves to seek and accept a job at a charter school (since he has fought so hard to block them from opening in the first place), this was “Not Smart!” on the part of the governor. Private corporations must be free to make decisions on their own and not fear their elected officials. Let them suffer the consequences if they get it wrong.

Ethan: What you said. Although I don’t accept the contradiction in Mark accepting the job. He has worked with at-risk youth for 15 years. Plus, the biggest problem with charters is how they are funded. Democrats have always opposed sucking money away from struggling public schools and giving it to a private school because it becomes a race to the bottom for the kids left behind. But the Legislature fixed that problem this year with a bipartisan solution, which Mark supported.

Phil: Democratic opposition to charter schools has run a lot deeper than simply funding. Think unions and government control. Sure hope he succeeds for the kids’ sake, but now Mark becomes the second Democratic speaker to accept Good Will-Hinckley’s six-figure salary. But hey, if Mark needs to learn first hand that Republicans were right all along, more power to him.

Ethan: Maybe the same way Republicans always learn the importance of government when they start collecting Social Security and Medicare.

Phil: Hey Carnac, those programs are insurance that workers and their employer paid for.

Ethan: Yes. Efficient, effective, vital examples of Democratically designed government programs.

Democrats killed LePage’s constitutional amendment to eliminate the income tax. “Smart!” or “Not Smart!”?

Ethan: The only person who would say this wasn’t “Smart!” is someone who wants a $1.5 billion hole in the state budget and is looking to double their property tax bill. Or close half our public schools.

Phil: You definitely must have gone to drama school. Probably think your Mets will win the World Series as well. Have you noticed that we have seven states in the union with no income tax, and they still seem to have an adequate number of schools?

Ethan: Hey, if you are able to find oil in Aroostook County like they found oil in Alaska, I’d be more than willing to eliminate the personal income tax with all that new corporate revenue (although I would rather use it to reduce property taxes). Until then, the income tax pays for too much that the state needs in order for us to be prosperous.

Phil: Two points. Republicans acknowledged other sources of revenues will be needed to make up the difference. Second, it’s a fact that when towns spend money and then demand the state pay the bill or raise property taxes, it becomes a vicious cycle where the wealthy say sure and middle income folks say it’s time to sell.

Ethan: Although I am not sure I have heard of the wealthy saying “sure” to increased taxes. you have made my point. End the income tax and the middle class will be forced out by the property tax increase.

Phil: Or maybe they simply shouldn’t raise local taxes in response.

In response to the rejection of the above constitutional amendment, LePage launched a flurry of vetoes against bills sponsored by Democrats. “Smart!” or “Not Smart!”?

Phil: I will give the guy credit when he does right, but he has earned his second “Not Smart!” in a week from me. Petty. Partisan. And undignified of the office.

Ethan: Not to mention ineffective. With the legislature overriding 90 percent of these vetoes, even his own party has bailed on him. He better be careful or he will become completely irrelevant.

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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