Inside Augusta

The Legislature must reconvene to rein in the governor’s emergency powers

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On Saturday evening, the Republican leaders in the House and Senate, with the backing of their caucus, sent a letter to the presiding officers of the Maine House and Senate urging them to bring the legislature back for a special session. Only these officers, Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Sara Gideon (or the governor) can call the legislature into a special session. For the good of the state and future generations, they must.

Before adjourning in March, the legislature granted Governor Mills limited emergency powers with the passage of LD 2167. These included executive authority over election and town meeting dates, as well as other legitimate functions of government. Governor Janet Mills granted herself much more executive power and authority by invoking Title 37B and declaring a state of emergency for 30 days. After 30 days she extended that order again, and has the power to extend it indefinitely.

During the early days of this emergency declaration, we mistakenly trusted her to use her additional power wisely and with the purpose of protecting our public health and our economy. We trusted her to engage with legislators from both sides of the aisle as well as stakeholders in Maine’s different business sectors. We all wanted to work together to do what’s best for Maine as we regroup as a state.

Unfortunately, this is not what has happened. While the curve is continuing to flatten, our economic pulse is fading and our economy is on life support.

It is past time that the Maine Legislature convene for a special session to rein in Governor Mills and her state of emergency powers. Mainers have done their job to flatten the curve. Now it is our government’s job to reconvene to protect our rights as free people. We need to do this as three separate and co-equal branches of government. This system of checks and balances was written into our foundational documents as a state and nation. The father of the Constitution, James Madison, was spot on in 1787 when he declared,

“I believe that there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

People are hurting not just from COVID-19, but from the economic uncertainty this pandemic brings with it. The Mills Administration’s policies, with no vote from the legislature, are killing businesses and forcing people into poverty. People have a right to work, to put food on the table and pay their bills.

Our state economy and Constitution are under siege by Mills’ current emergency policies. This is not how our government was designed to work. The only way to change the current paradigm is to reconvene the legislature and strip the governor of her emergency powers.

Our constitutions are a set of restrictions placed upon government, not restrictions placed upon the people. Our leaders in all three branches of government need to remember this with all policy decisions they make. This is especially true with regard to decisions being made during times of crisis when fear and ambition can be direct threats encroaching upon our liberty.

We need to get back to declaring that our natural, inherent and inalienable constitutional rights be respected and honored by our elected leaders. Our inherent rights do not change regardless of the dictates and edicts of a temporary unitary executive. The government’s legitimacy only comes from the consent of the governed. We are a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  We must never forget this most important guiding principle.

In the United States and great state of Maine, we are free citizens and not subjects of the government or any governor. Maine people are smart enough to be trusted with their own self-determination. We need to thread the needle of balancing public health with our economic future and the protection of our civil liberties.

For Maine to be stronger on the other side of this pandemic, we must get back to our foundational principles and give back to the people its voice in decision making, particularly those decisions that will affect the state for generations to come. It is time for the legislature to go back into session.

About John Andrews

Representative John Andrews represents House District 73, which includes the towns of Paris, Buckfield and Hebron.

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