Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Ethan: What is wrong with the Republican Party these days?

Phil: Nothing that I can see. Looks to me that they are doing what they can to stem the tide of more regulations, guidelines and spending sprees your team can’t wait to unleash.

Ethan: In the face of 1,000 people dying a day; 40 million unemployed, including almost 80,000 Mainers; over 5.5 million infected with coronavirus, including 4,000 of our neighbors; untold numbers of Maine businesses shuttered; and thousands of possible evictions on the near horizon, your party leadership, namely U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Maine Senate Minority leader Dana Dow, sent everyone home or refused to come to work.

Phil: Sometimes taking a step back and looking at things from a different perspective is more effective. Perhaps the problem is not that the government didn’t do enough, rather the government has done too much.

Ethan: I think the evidence is clear that doing less was not the answer in regard to COVID-19, but, regardless, we are here. And while Democratic leaders in Washington passed a relief bill and Democrats in Augusta have voted to return for a special session (twice!), Republican leaders have done neither. Shouldn’t your party at least pretend to do their jobs?

Phil: Pretending is the operative word. After two weeks of negotiations, McConnell saw that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were unwilling to compromise and he sent folks home. At the state house, Dow has made clear that Republicans will come back to address COVID-related issues, but they are not going to waste taxpayer money to address the hundreds of laws your party wants to pass that have nothing to do with the health and safety of our residents.

Ethan: C’mon, Phil, you know that’s just a ruse. Republicans scheduled fundraisers throughout August and simply refused to cancel them. Fundraising from lobbyists is illegal when the Legislature is in session. Sens. Matt Pouliot, Jeff Timberlake and Dow scheduled fundraisers on Aug 10, 11 and 18. The House Republican Caucus played golf for campaign donations with former Gov. Paul LePage on Aug. 13, and Republican House leader Trey Stewart has one scheduled for Aug. 26.

Phil: Like Democrats aren’t whining, I mean pining, for money too.

Ethan: One member of your delegation, Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, went so far as to email his committee that he couldn’t attend an essential briefing on whale rules, the recent shark attack, and a possible million dollar cut to one of the most important industries in Maine, our fisheries, because he had to golf-for-gazillions with Lepage that day! Republicans are choosing their re-elections over protecting Maine people.

Phil: I assume Democrats saw these events on the calendar and decided to call for a vote to try to make Republicans look bad by having to choose between session and raising the money needed to get their message out. But it didn’t work. Republicans first started calling for the Legislature to come back into session in May and had Democrats been reasonable in the scope and time of the session, Republicans would have simply moved the dates. Nothing to see here.

Ethan: Phil, when the Legislature adjourned because of the pandemic, all sides agreed they would carry over all bills to a special session for final deliberation.

Phil: And circumstances changed. My side simply isn’t interested in an open-ended session giving your side time to increase an $800 million deficit, or debate “turkey hunting, spaceports, or electric school buses,” as Dow said.

Ethan: And yet school boards and city councils across the state are still meeting regularly, wrestling with budgets, enhancing public safety, and yes, even passing important legislation that has nothing to do with the pandemic.

Phil: And Republicans in the Legislature have been attending committee meetings and providing oversight where needed, such as the inability of the administration to get simple unemployment benefits to Maine workers.

Ethan: It’s a good point you bring up. If Republicans never intended to allow the Legislature to vote on all the bills submitted this session, then why did they vote all those bills out of committee? Makes it seem like they just wanted to cash a few extra stipend checks.

Phil: Cashing stipend checks and fundraisers with lobbyists? The next thing you are going to tell me is that McConnell sent senators home so he could campaign because he’s actually worried that Amy McGrath is going to beat him?

Ethan: You said it, not me.

Phil Harriman served as a town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling served as mayor and state senator from Portland.