In his Feb. 7 BDN OpEd, state Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, claimed Democrats in the Legislature are behaving irrationally and irresponsibly. His weak argument rested on a distorted trifecta of Democrats’ position on tax conformity, endorsements of Bernie Sanders and the attempted impeachment of Gov. Paul LePage. Lockman juxtaposes this with the image of LePage as the maverick who came to Augusta to reform government.
But it is with the governor that irrationality is truly present, and it is the far-right House Republicans who perpetuate irresponsibility for upholding the governor’s “my way or the highway” leadership.
Even though LePage pledged in 2010 to work with legislative leadership from both parties and stated his disdain for party-line votes because they are not the will of the people, he went on to veto every Democratic-sponsored piece of legislation in the tail-end of last year’s session.
He also sent the Legislature more than $60 million worth of line-item budget vetoes solely to jam up the legislative process and “waste a little of [lawmakers’] time.”
Furthermore, the governor refused to authorize over $11 million in voter-approved Lands for Maine’s Future bonds. This was because the Legislature would not agree to his proposal on timber harvesting and a heating efficiency program.
This type of governing does nothing but gridlock the system and ignore the will of the Maine people, and extremist Republicans such as Lockman are endorsing it. It is no wonder, then, that Democrats tried to impeach the governor. They, like countless others across the state, fear the repercussions his continued rigid rule will have on Maine.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats are leading with common sense and advocating for policies that will protect working families in Maine. That is exactly why they are taking a thorough look at the tax conformity bill before them. While Lockman will have Mainers believe Democrats are refusing to comply with “business-friendly changes,” the reality is that they are trying to protect $23 million in Maine taxpayer money.
As was pointed out by Appropriations House Chair Peggy Rotundo, the current tax conformity bill includes $23 million toward benefits for large, out-of-state corporations through the Maine Capital Investment Credit. This is a piece of tax conformity that no other New England state has adopted, and Democrats are right to criticize it. After all, that $23 million could be going to fund education, which coincidentally faces a $23 million funding gap that will result in property tax hikes if unfilled.
Democrats are not dragging their feet, as Lockman accuses them of doing. They are thinking critically about how taxpayer money should be invested and fighting for the interests of Mainers instead of wealthy corporations. The real irresponsibility would be to blindly accept the bill as is.
The final piece of Lockman’s trifecta is that House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe and other Democrats endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. Since when is one’s endorsement for president grounds for being called irrational and irresponsible? I could disparage Lockman with that same logic, because I disagree with virtually all policy proposals from his presidential pick, Ted Cruz.
But doing so is an affront to our democratic society, where everyone is free to make a choice and cast a vote. That choice should not be used in a negative light. Yet Lockman tries, tying McCabe and Democrats to a candidate who “hates competitive free enterprise.” That is nothing but a gross mischaracterization of Sanders, whose key issue is actually a reality that Republicans ignore time and time again: the top one-tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent in America.
Democrats in the Maine Legislature are working for Maine families each and every day. They prove it when they fight for better funding for schools over tax breaks for wealthy corporations. They prove it when they work with their Republican colleagues to craft a plan to fight the drug crisis in Maine. And yes, they prove it when they stand up to LePage, whose failed leadership is only hindering progress and taking power away from Maine people.
The fringes to the right, like LePage and Lockman, are doing the exact opposite. They would rather see divided government than bipartisan headway. Thankfully, as Lockman pointed out, this year is an election year. At the polls in November, Mainers ought to keep front of mind which legislators will truly work for them and which will advance poor governance, gridlock and tiresome arguments — a worse trifecta by far.
Matt McLaughlin is a University of Maine graduate. He lives in Bangor and works in higher education.