For all it was allowed to do during its special session on Monday, the Legislature might as well have stayed home. We’re witnessing a period of outright obstructionism that strongly resembles Republicans’ national performance during the Obama administration; it won’t end until Maine elects a new governor next year.

Lawmakers did amend a local “food sovereignty” law that conflicted with federal regulations, but that was about it. Long debates about ranked-choice voting and legalized marijuana, both enacted by referendum a year ago, came to nothing.

The obstructor-in-chief is House Minority Leader Ken Fredette. After nine months and countless hours of work by a special committee that included four House Republicans, Fredette pronounced the marijuana process “rushed” and vowed to sustain the certain veto from Gov. Paul LePage.

Fredette’s moratorium bid failed, but it didn’t matter, because he and LePage can drag out the process indefinitely. “There is obviously more work to be done when we return in January,” Fredette said — but he won’t be doing the work.

Fredette also absented himself during budget negotiations, then shut down state government until LePage got what he wanted. He indulges the governor’s every whim — both enabler and errand boy.

Ranked-choice voting presented a different conundrum, though since the Maine Judicial Supreme Court advised that it violated constitutional provisions for state general elections, it was obvious a new approach was needed.

Instead, supporters tried a work-around to implement ranked choice in primary elections and congressional general elections. This made little sense; the impetus for ranked choice was the election for governor. Preserving it for congressional races — where there’s never been a strong third candidate — would be both cumbersome and confusing.

If confined to primaries, where there are frequently multiple candidates, ranked-choice supporters would have a better argument, though perhaps still not winning over Republicans.

For though the ranked-choice mantras are “civility” and “winning with a majority,” this has always been about the progressive side’s fatal tendency to divide votes between the Democratic nominee and a former Democrat who bypasses the primary to run as an independent.

This happened subtly with Angus King in his 1994 bid for governor, more nakedly with Barbara Merrill in 2006 and Eliot Cutler in 2010 and 2014. Cutler and King are, not coincidentally, ranked-choice supporters.

Republicans suffer few such divisions, and thus will never support relying on second- and third-place votes to determine a winner. We need an alternative to ranked choice — the subject for a future column.

The 2017 legislative sessions were the least productive in memory; none of the four enacted referendums survived in its original form. Passing referendum questions can’t substitute for the Legislature, and we should focus on electing better legislators and, particularly, a better governor.

The Maine Peoples Alliance (MPA) hasn’t gotten the message. It’s announced yet another referendum drive modeled on last year’s Question 2 — the income tax increase that would have supported school budgets.

Question 2 was opposed by Republicans and, with the astonishing acquiescence of Democrats, repealed. MPA now wants to tax the rich through a different scheme — a 1.9 percent payroll tax surcharge on income more than $127,000 a year, matched by employers, plus a 3.8 percent surcharge on unearned income — higher than the 3 percent general surcharge of the ill-fated Question 2.

This $100 million fund would improve home health care for the disabled and elderly — a worthy goal, but not the only spending priority in a budget badly depleted by tax cuts under both John Baldacci and Paul LePage.

MPA hasn’t thought this through. If enacted in November 2018, it would present a no-win situation. Republicans in control would repeal it, as with Question 2. If Democrats have a majority, they’ll confront an ill-devised promissory note.

Tax policy is complicated. We need to raise more money for state programs, but rather than income surcharges, we should return to the simple, steadily progressive structure we had in 1969.

New revenue should support a broad range of programs, not just home health care or K-12 education. The most glaring lapse has been support for public universities and community colleges.

In a knowledge-based economy, there’s no more vital priority, given Maine’s lagging economy and aging population, than higher education. Yet funding has shrunk. Corrections spending — doing nothing for the economy — has risen more than twice as fast as university support, and the state’s share of college expenses has fallen from 70 percent to just 45 percent.

Legislating by referendum has failed. We must get back to legislating at the State House, and electing the lawmakers, and the governor, who will get the job done.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 33 years. His biography, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” is now available. Comment is welcomed at [email protected]

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