AUGUSTA, Maine — The rallies, protests and public hearings that drew hundreds — if not several thousand — to the State House this past week are proof that Mainers can debate controversial budget proposals with decorum and civility despite the feisty political scenes playing out elsewhere.
The rhetoric coming out of organizations on both sides of the budget battle in recent days, however, occasionally has resorted to fear tactics and stereotypes of their opponents.
Consider these examples:
On Feb. 25, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant sent a message to supporters saying LePage is cut from the same tea party cloth as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Grant then warned Dems to brace for more LePage-led assaults on Maine labor laws.
“He could attack the right to bargain,” Grant wrote. “He could dismantle anti-discrimination laws. He could gut overtime laws. He could destroy workers’ compensation. All we do know for sure is that Governor LePage is unpredictable and uninterested in saying no to extremism.”
Not to be outdone, the Maine Republican Party tried to rile up its base four days later with their own fiery missive suggesting LePage’s critics want to halt Maine’s economic recovery.
“Labor Unions and their cronies in the Maine Democrat Party are using the same disruptive tactics they’re using in Wisconsin, right here in Maine,” Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster wrote. “As we speak, labor union minions are pouring into the State House to try and stop Republicans from getting Maine’s economy back on track.”
Nor are the political parties the only groups dialing up the rhetoric.
The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank with deep ties to the LePage administration, said March 2 that “greedy union bosses and radical progressives” were gearing up for “an epic battle to oppose the common sense reforms we know will create jobs and prosperity in Maine.”
Not surprisingly, the Maine State Employees Association — the union for 15,000 workers — had a slightly different take on things.
“From Maine to Wisconsin, the middle class is under attack by a well-coordinated nationwide campaign to destroy unions and drive public workers into poverty,” read an MSEA appeal to members. “Here in Maine, Governor LePage has proposed a budget that will decimate the retirement benefits of current and retired members.”
Additional rallies and public hearings on the budget are planned for next week, so expect more political theatrics.
Lawmakers welcomed a new member this week.
On Tuesday, voters in House District 11 chose Republican Beth Turner of Burlington to fill the seat left vacant when Rep. Everett, McLeod, R-Lee, died in December after a lengthy illness.
Turner was sworn in and took her seat on the House floor later in the week. Because she is Republican, Turner’s election did not affect the political makeup of the House.
Some women across Maine are determined to make sure LePage doesn’t forget his controversial “little beards” comment.
A new Facebook group declared Friday “Little Beard Day” and encouraged women to post pictures — or, in most cases, photo illustrations — of themselves sporting some facial hair. By Friday evening, dozens had been added to the site.
The cyber event was a response to a joke that LePage made about the worst case scenario of exposure to the chemical bisphenol A is that women may end up growing little beards.
Here’s a sampling of some of the noteworthy or merely interesting events in Augusta next week:
- Budget hearings: The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will hold public hearings all week on LePage’s budget proposals for the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Minimum wage: The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee will hear testimony at 10 a.m. Friday, March 11, on bills that would increase the minimum wage either by a specific amount or by tying it to inflation.
- Salty fish: The issue of a saltwater fishing registry will be back before the Marine Resources Committee at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Two bills would tweak the current registry, while two more would repeal and replace the law.
- Gubernatorial votes: The State and Local Government Committee will hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. Wednesday on a bill, LD 607, proposing a constitutional amendment requiring that a run-off election be held between the two top finishers when the winning gubernatorial candidate did not receive a majority of the vote.
- ATV stops: Lawmakers in the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will delve into the issue of when game wardens can stop ATVs. Public hearings will be held on two bills, LDs 254 and 413, at 1 p.m. Monday.