Inside Augusta

‘Reprehensible partisan behavior’ paralyzed the Maine House

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Have you ever wondered what government officials do all day? I am going to do my best to answer that question because I am from government and I am really here to help.

I am just finishing my third term serving as a member of the House of Representatives. During my time, I have served under three different House Speakers. The first was Bob Nutting, the second Mark Eves and the third Sara Gideon.

The Speaker of the House controls the House Calendar and all of the scheduling for the House. The first two speakers I served under had a few things in common. They were both fair, and although they were from different political parties, they never showed their political differences while running the business of the House and treated all members equally. They also were respectful of the time of the citizen legislature and worked to the best of their ability toward expedience in all endeavors. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, they followed the House rules and procedures and directed the committee chairs to uphold those rules, as well as proper decorum on the house floor and in the committee rooms.

Speaker Gideon, from my experience in the 128th Legislature, possesses none of the qualities shown by Speakers Nutting and Eves.

Myself and the 150 other citizen legislators showed up on time and ready to work from the first week in January until the week beginning April 15, 2018. Statutory adjournment for the second session was April 18th. We all knew this, as it was clearly stated on every single House Calendar that we worked from.

What transpired during this second session was, in my view, reprehensible partisan behavior. Every week I arranged my schedule to be in Augusta on time and ready to work. Every single day of session began late, sometimes well over an hour late. All the while, there were people from the public waiting in the gallery, many to be recognized for good deeds and milestones, and others to hear their friends or loved ones sing the National Anthem or recite the daily prayer.

Each day, we would see bills that had been worked by committees come on to the House Calendar, and day after day, bill after bill would be tabled. Occasionally, there is a valid reason to table a bill. However, this session, most of the bills being tabled were Republican bills. The Speaker was holding them for, lack of a better term, political blackmail, to ensure one of her party’s agenda items could be passed.

Many days we would not only start an hour or so late, but after working for less than an hour, the Speaker would send us home with a calendar full of legislation that should have been voted on. Other days we would be told to prepare for double and triple sessions. I would book my hotel room to be prepared but again we would be sent home early, and I would be left with an unneeded hotel room.

In addition to failing to vote on the work before us, other bills, including some that had unanimous support, were held hostage in committees or on the appropriations table, such as the funding bill for direct care workers and tax conformity. Instead of holding votes on each bill, Speaker Gideon chose to fold these important issues into an omnibus package that included Medicaid expansion. House and Senate Republicans wanted to keep the issues separate to vote on the merits of each bill. The Speaker would not allow this to happen and tried waiting out the clock.

In the waning hours of session, Speaker Gideon, in her words, “played a game of chicken” with House Republicans, once again tabling or indefinitely postponing dozens of Republican bills. When it was evident we had limited time to finish our work, she scheduled a pizza party in the Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee room so they could not complete their work. She then labeled Republicans “terrorists” and “obstructionists” because we would not extend session so she could play more political games.

The end result was a product of failed leadership. As legislators, we came to Augusta at the start of session to do our job, and we showed up on time every day to get the job done. But instead of being allowed to complete our work, the Speaker delayed all progress in the House chamber to play political games on the taxpayer’s dime.

 

About Beth O'Connor

Representative O'Connor represents House District 5 including the towns of Berwick and North Berwick (part). She can be reached at (207) 289-9047.

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