Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman present their Awards for Political Excellence (or not so excellent…)

Phil: With it being Independence Day weekend, what better opportunity to celebrate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than announcing a few awards in honor of the end of the 127th legislative session.

Ethan: Indeed. On this special occasion, let us once again bestow a few Political Excellence Awards, otherwise known as the Phil and Ethan Awards (“PEA,” for short) for the “Best of the Session.”

Phil: Ladies and gentleman, as nominated by a red-white-and-blue-ribbon panel consisting exclusively of the two of us and independently tabulated by the unregistered accounting firm of Dewey, Cheatum & Howe…

Ethan: …and by the power vested in us by absolutely no one, we present to you the top PEAs for legislative excellence in 2015.*

New Law

Best: Eliminating the Welfare Cliff. It has long been debated that finding a way to ease people off of welfare would make more sense than simply taking away all benefits when someone earns a certain dollar amount (pushing them off a cliff). This Legislature and governor finally got it done.

Runner-up: Charter School Funding. Instead of taking funds from a single public school when a parent decides to place their kid in a neighboring charter, the Legislature passed a law to include charters within the statewide school funding formula. Like charters or not, this is a much smarter system.

Worst: Repealing Concealed Carry. By any measure, a strong majority of Maine people do not support eliminating the permit process for carrying a loaded concealed gun in public (including the two of us). Notwithstanding this opposition, the Legislature went against public opinion. People’s Veto?

Rookie of the Session

Winner: Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn. This newcomer from Androscoggin county has definitely made news. Although he may win the former Sen. Peter Mills award for introducing the most bills that don’t pass, Brakey did get several substantive bills to the governor’s desk. And surprisingly, he avoided all vetoes.

Tail Between Your Legs

Winner: Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting. A day after convincing Senate Republican leadership to co-sponsor his “religious freedom” bill, modeled after the controversial Indiana bill that allowed companies to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, Burns declared that he was withdrawing the bill. Nothing like leading your troops up the hill and then turning tail.

Runner-up: Good Will-Hinckley. When threatened by the governor with the withholding of funds over their unanimous decision to hire Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, as the school’s next president, board members turned tail and unanimously rescinded the offer. Perhaps they had no choice, but they sure didn’t seem to put up much fight.

Negotiator of the Session

Best: Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston. For better or worse, depending on which one of us you talk to, this budget reflected Democratic values much more than Republican. The longtime and powerful Democratic chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee deserves the credit (or blame).

Runner-up: House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport. Despite Rotundo’s power, Fredette wrestled the budget from the grips of the Appropriations Committee and inserted an amendment that overhauled a quarter billion dollars of our tax code. If you like the income tax shift, Fredette is the one to thank.

Honorable mention: Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and Speaker Eves. While both of these leaders almost lost their caucuses in the midst of heated budget negotiations (Thibodeau over the constitutional amendment to limit tax increases and Eves for agreeing to too much of a tax cut for the wealthy), both stayed in the ring and balanced their caucuses’ values with keeping our government open.

Quote of the Session

Best: Stephen King: “Governor LePage is full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.” After the governor said in a weekly address that King did not pay income taxes in Maine, King released the fact that he paid $1.4 million in Maine state income taxes in 2013.

Worst: Paul LePage: “George Danby should be shot.” The governor made this remark at Boys State to the son of George Danby (unknowingly). Besides Boys State being a gathering where we are teaching future leaders how to be civic leaders, this remark was in extremely poor taste in the wake of the Charleston shootings.

Agitator of the Session

Winner: Gov. Paul LePage. From a record number of vetoes, to Christmas trees, to squealing pig toys, how could this award go to anyone else? Not even a close runner-up.

Bonehead Play of the Session

Winner: Sen. Mike Willette, R-Presque Isle. When Willette was lambasted for posting ethnically offensive comments on Facebook, he rightly apologized. When it turned out that he left the offensive comments on his page after his apology (while trying to unfriend people who might take offense), he earned this award hands-down.

Runner-up: Portland Mayor Mike Brennan. When the Department of Health and Human Services cited Portland for billing the state for people who were staying in the shelter with personal resources above the state income guidelines, the acting city manager quickly drafted changes to correct the situation. Whether you agree with DHHS, Brennan should have listened to his city manager instead of wasting precious resources to fight a losing battle that made the situation worse.

Most Powerful Word

Winner: “And.” When the board of the Public Utilities Commission voted to eliminate $38 million in funding for Efficiency Maine because the last Legislature omitted the word “and” from a new law, it became the most debated term since President Bill Clinton declared, “It depends on what your definition of is, is.”

Runner-up: “Asylee,” defined as a non-citizen of a country who has been granted asylum in that country. If you don’t get the reason it’s runner-up, email Ethan. He’ll explain.

Courageous Act of the Session

Winner: Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton. Whether Democrat or Republican, it is always hard to stand up to the top elected official in your party. It is even harder to call for an investigation of that leader. Saviello did just that when he submitted a request last week to investigate Gov. LePage for the possible abuse of power against Speaker Eves.

Runner-up: Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland. Whether you agree or disagree with her position on providing state funding for asylum seekers (Ethan agrees, Phil does not), it took a lot of courage for her to be the only vote in the Senate to oppose the budget.

Honorable Mention: Gov. Paul LePage. After four years of avoiding appearances on The WGAN Morning News with Ken and Mike, the Gov finally agreed to enter the studio and withstand their brass-knuckled interview.

*While we both agree with every award above, that does not mean we necessarily agree with the content of the awardee. Strimling doesn’t agree with a word Brakey says, and Phil curses Rotundo’s power daily. But we agree they are both deserving of the awards received.

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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