Saturday, December 7, 2013
Slow and easy. That's the path that Democrats should take as they settle into their leadership positions in the Maine House and Senate.
Perhaps they are itching for a fight with Gov. Paul LePage. Perhaps they would love to repeal much of the legislation that Republicans enacted last session when they were in control, to shift the vehicle of state government into reverse and hit the gas pedal.
That would be a mistake. A majority of Maine people likes the new direction of Maine's government.
And yes, Republicans made some mistakes last session, mistakes that Democrats can now fix. But those mistakes were not fumbles that Democrats can pick up and run with in the other direction. They would be running the wrong way.
The smart move would be to out-Republican the Republicans and to recognize that Maine people want bipartisanship and collaboration among legislators, and public officials who can lower their tax burden and expand their economy.
Make those your themes and stick to them in 2013. Put on Republican clothing, no matter how ill-fitting and uncomfortable, and you'll emerge at the end of this session with the support and thanks of all Maine people (well, almost all Maine people).
Your challenges will be great. Building a positive relationship with the governor may be the toughest assignment. And if that turns out to be impossible -- because, really, Republicans have the same problem there -- you'll just have to work around him, by pulling Republican legislators to your side.
Actually, if you start on their side, that will be easy. Many Republican legislators understand just how much the governor cost them in this year's election. They will be anxious to display their independence, and you Democrats are in position to help them do that if you don't overreach and overplay your hand.
I would start with something that is popular with both the people and legislators in both parties: the Land for Maine's Future bond issue. That bond won the votes of more than two-thirds of Maine legislators earlier this year and more than 60 percent of Maine voters Nov. 6.
Despite that, LePage says he will not allow that bond to be sold. Some outstanding conservation projects -- including one of personal interest to me because it includes a stunning amount of critical brook trout spawning area and deer yard acreage -- will be jeopardized if LMF doesn't get this money soon.
Take the governor out of play on this one. Return to the day when the state treasurer made these decisions. The governor gets a shot at every bond issue; they require his approval to get onto the ballot. After that, he should not be able to deny the will of the people.
You can put the people first on this one. And when LePage vetoes your bill, Republican legislators will fall all over themselves to override that veto.
I assume you are working on legislation on health, education, taxes and economic development. There are many winners here. While the governor continues to talk trash about our public schools, you can call his bluff by giving Maine teachers what he has been promising but not delivering: respect and resources.
On taxes, you can retool the Republican income tax cut to deliver more benefits to the middle class. Another easy fix. And once again, plenty of Republicans are ready to help you on this one.
Good luck on health care. My limited knowledge tells me that a terrible mistake was made with the health insurance reform bill, but I've got no idea how to fix it. But fix it you must.
Then there are some favorite Democratic issues to avoid: gun control, for example. I know you won't go there. And please, don't be predictable! Some surprises would be nice. How about finding some way to reverse the steady decline in public support for our natural resource agencies that have gone from 4.2 percent to 1.8 percent of the General Fund budget?
For my Republican friends in the Legislature, I can offer a bit of advice, as well.
Play nice. You lost. You know why you lost. Learn from that. Playing to the tea party, trotting out issues that are divisive, sticking with the governor when you knew he was wrong, insisting that voter fraud is a huge problem in Maine, ah, what a waste of a solid legislative majority.
You can help shape the Democrats' agenda and legislation, by being more accommodating than the governor. That should be easy!
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.