Happy New Year!

OK, I know the new year is two days away, but I’ve had it with 2020. From the nasty presidential and U.S. Senate races to the pandemic’s isolation at home, 2020 was a year we’ll want to forget.

I hope you’ve got a good wish list for 2021. Mine starts with the end of the pandemic, but I’m afraid that’s going to take all year. I really miss visits from my friends, the opportunity to enter stores in my wheelchair while my wife Linda shops, and attending church in person to share time with friends (our church services are Zoomed now).

As a guy whose been focused on the Legislature nearly my whole life, I’ve got some hopes for them too. A recent editorial in this newspaper praised the Legislature for making it possible for people to watch and testify at legislative hearings by phone or by Zoom.

This is a good idea, and should continue even after the Legislature is able to host those committee meetings in person. I remember sitting at a legislative hearing next to a guy who had driven all the way to Augusta from Aroostook County to testify. Today, he can do that from home.

However, it is not good that all House, Senate, and committee meetings are Zoomed. Legislators need time together to get to know each other and become friends. I’m afraid the process is going to make it a lot more difficult to work together for the people of Maine.

Sessions limited to Zoom also makes things much more difficult for lobbyists. You may think that’s a good thing, but it isn’t. Lobbyists contribute a lot to the legislative process, including information about the bills.

When I was lobbying, I would always eat lunch in the State House cafeteria. I’d sit at a table with a few legislators, and after eating I would move from table to table, visiting with other legislators. We were all friends, and we didn’t always talk about legislation, but often talked about our lives.

One good thing that’s happened is state employees, working from home, have driven 1.1 million fewer miles every week between April and November, keeping 233,103 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air every week, a good thing for climate change. And when you figure how much all the rest of us are traveling, we’ve had a very positive impact on our climate. I hope that even after the pandemic is over, lots of people will still be able to work from home.

I do like the agreement between Fairfield, Oakland, Waterville and Winslow, driven by the pandemic, establishing priority roads to plow and maintain. They’ve committed to helping each other. It would be great if other towns would reach out to neighboring towns to do this.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how awful many of our roads are. Linda and I like to go on drives through neighboring towns, but we’ve had to give up some of our favorite drives because the roads are so bad.

I’ve written before about the state’s plan to rip out the bridge over Hopkins Stream near our house. That will add miles to traveling through and from Mount Vernon for lots of people. It will also destroy the favorite place to walk for many people and dogs, and it will make plowing more difficult.

Well, while some good things have happened due to the pandemic, we’ve got to end it in 2021 and get back to normal.

I hope you have a very happy New Year!

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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