I read a story many years ago about a businessman who employed a unique plan to help discern the best possible candidate during the interview process. He planted an overturned office trash can in front of the elevator door before the prospects arrived. One by one, the potential hires would enter the office space from the elevator. All but one stepped around the mess and headed right toward the main office. One person did the right thing when no one was looking. Attention to detail, seizing the initiative, and proper problem solving were key factors considered.
I thought about this last Thursday as I watched Maine House proceedings in real time. I listened to the invocation; the prayer (a plea for wisdom, discernment, and integrity) influenced me. It evoked a sense of honor and duty. The feeling didn’t last long.
Roughly two hours later, I observed the proceedings for HO 23, a move by Rep. Ellie Espling, R-Gloucester, to send a case involving potential conflict of interest to the House Ethics Committee for review. I watched in disbelief as the House Democrats voted along party lines to circle the wagons around one of their members: Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono. I thought to myself: What is going on here?
In order to fully understand the matter, it is necessary to review events from the most recent election cycle. Last summer, Tipping took a job working as a consultant for a Political Action Committee (PAC) called Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools.
The PAC is backed financially by teachers unions like the Maine Education Association (MEA) and the National Education Association, and fought on behalf of Question 2 last November. Question 2 passed, imposing a three percent surtax on income earned over $200,000 to fund k-12 public education in Maine. He did so after getting a green light from Jonathan Wayne of the Maine Ethics Commission.
According to the Democrats, that should be it – end of story (nothing to see here, folks, move along). Except Tipping, a legislator on the Education Committee, ran for a House seat in 2016, dipping his head in the feeding trough known as the Maine Clean Elections Fund (or as the Governor has coined it, welfare for politicians).
Tipping circumvented House Ethics rules by getting special permission from Wayne. He approved Tipping’s role “as long as the committee didn’t offer it to him to influence his legislative duties.”
Are you kidding me? Why else would the MEA send funds to the PAC hiring Tipping for his “consultant” work?
Tipping’s position as a member of the Education Committee apparently was worth thousands to the MEA. He “provided services” all summer and fall of 2016 and raked in at least $9,000.
Pretty decent haul if you ask me. Can you say “quid pro quo?”
House Democrats assert that “everyone” does this, because Maine’s Legislature is comprised of professionals who are citizen legislators. They are professionals in other areas and join the Maine Legislature to share their expertise. That was the Democrats’ defense last Thursday. They want the public to believe that Tipping’s conduct is routine.
According to Maine law, there are standards legislators ought to abide by. There is a blatant appearance of impropriety on several counts in Tipping’s case. First, he’s a legislator on the Education Committee yet his hands are in two distinct pockets (Maine taxpayers and the teachers union). Second, Tipping is now Chairman of the Taxation Committee in the 128th Legislature – the same committee charged with enforcing new tax rules associated with Question 2’s passage, effectively making Tipping a lobbyist for the unions.
Last Thursday, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, and Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, and Espling, all argued for the matter to be sent to House Ethics for investigation.
Instead of taking the matter seriously, House Democrats, hiding behind Madam Speaker’s gavel and the bullhorn of the Majority Leader, Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, voted in lockstep to flush the issue fast.
I would like to remind my fellow Mainers that we are the boss. We pay for those positions down in Augusta. If the business is shady, it is our problem. If the Maine Ethics Commission, House Ethics Committee, and House Democrats are all satisfied with blatant corruption being swept under the rug, it becomes our duty to rectify ethics violations at the ballot box.