The biennial clown show on the banks of the Kennebec opened last week at the Statehouse with scores of newcomers joining the all-too-familiar cast of characters.
Wednesday, December 7th was a long day of pomp and circumstance, melodrama, hand-wringing, pearl-clutching, demogoguery, finger-pointing, virtue-signaling, and grandstanding. The three-ring circus was topped off with a grand finale late in the evening, as a chorus of veteran clowns belted out graphic descriptions of Mainers freezing to death in their homes and on the streets when the weather turns cold in January.
The exhausted clowns all went home after the grueling 12-hour opening act. But don’t despair, they will be back to resume the show no later than the first week in January – unless ringmaster Janet summons them back for an encore before the end of the year.
OK, now that I’ve set the stage, here’s my take on what took place at the Colosseum on the Kennebec on swearing-in day for members of the 131st Maine Legislature: the GOP clown team’s not-ready-for-prime-time performance may well be a preview of coming attractions during the two-year legislative session.
Here we go!
Fresh off her decisive re-election victory, Gov. Janet Mills presented the Legislature with a request for a formal declaration of emergency, invoking the ongoing federal COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The Governor’s bill is LD 1, “An Act to Provide Funding for Winter Emergency Energy Relief and to Finalize the COVID Pandemic Relief Payment Program.” It’s sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson and co-sponsored by Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross.
The bill proposes to spend $447 million, ostensibly to help Mainers cope with the high cost of energy.
Under the state Constitution, emergency legislation requires two-thirds super-majority votes in both the Senate and the House for immediate enactment. The Democrats won solid majorities in both chambers in the midterms, but not two thirds.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the House approved the bill by a 125 to 16 margin. But it fell short of two thirds in the Senate, with all the Republicans present voting against the measure on the grounds that they wanted public hearings before approving such a large expenditure.
For now, the proposal is not dead, but in limbo. It will be the first order of business when legislators return to Augusta in January – unless Gov. Mills calls them back in a special session before the end of the year.
After reading the 14-page bill several times, I can understand why Mills and the Democrat majorities want to rush it to the Governor’s desk without a public hearing. It’s that bad and it’s that dishonest.
So it’s hard to understand why so many Republicans in the House voted for such a mammoth spending bill without public hearings. All they needed to do was read the bill to discover what a monumental fraud it is.
To her credit, Rep. Laurel Libby (R-Auburn) was the lone legislator to make the point that less than 10 percent of the spending in LD 1 is for heating assistance for low-income Mainers. The bill allocates $40 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), but that federally-funded state program is already funded through next June. No doubt the $40 million emergency cushion will help.
LD 1 allocates another $10 million for heating assistance to households ineligible for LIHEAP.
The $50 million allocation for low-income heating assistance pales in comparison to the $398 million allocation for sending $450 welfare checks to 880,000 Mainers with household incomes up to $200,000. Recipients are free to spend the one-time gift from Augusta on whatever they please, from liquor to weed to Winstons.
The first draft of the Governor’s emergency spending plan that was provided to legislators early last week limited the one-time welfare checks to individuals with incomes up to $75,000, and joint-filers up to $150,000. It was Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor), the newly-elected GOP leader in the House, who convinced Mills to boost the limits to $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for households.
Having won that concession from Gov. Mills, Rep. Faulkingham lobbied his caucus to enact the bill without public hearings.
Is it any wonder Republican politicians are still caricatured as stooges for Big Business, and handmaidens for the Chamber of Commerce country-club caucus?
The other piece of the bill that’s unrelated to energy assistance is the $21 million for “emergency housing.” That’s in addition to the $22 million worth of emergency funding passed earlier this year. A big chunk of this will provide free rent for the thousands of “asylum seekers” Mills and her minions have welcomed to Maine since she took office, at a time when Maine has been experiencing a severe housing shortage . Three quarters or more of these non-citizens will lose their asylum claims, but nobody expects the illegals to self-deport when that happens. They’re here to stay, consuming free health care and free education.
Meanwhile, upwards of 25,000 lifelong Mainers languish on affordable housing waitlists. They often wait for years for housing assistance.
And speaking of waitlists, some 3,800 disabled Mainers remain on the notorious Medicaid waitlists that date back to the last Democrat governor, John Baldacci. Given that scandalous reality, how does Janet Mills dare to take $157 million in federal Medicaid funds to pay for her LD 1 give-away?
It’s right there in the not-so-fine print of the legislation. Didn’t anybody on the GOP side of the aisle notice this staring them in the face?
What a disservice to the freshmen GOP legislators who are new to the messy business of sausage-making in the Augusta swamp! They were hoodwinked by their leadership.
How many Mainers languishing on the Medicaid waitlists with traumatic brain injuries could receive the medical care they need if Janet Mills would just keep her grubby hands off that $157 million worth of Medicaid matching funds from the feds?
How many of the rural nursing homes that have been forced to close their doors over the past 5 years could be reopened and staffed if they had access to the funds that Mills wants to piss away on one-time welfare payments to woke, well-off college professors in Portland?
What will Maine look like after two years of this kind of ignorant, heartless, incompetent, cowardly governance by the uni-party at the Statehouse?
I don’t know.
It may be unrecognizable.
Lawrence Lockman of Bradley served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives, 2012-2022. He is co-founder & president of the conservative non-profit Maine First Project. He may be reached at email@example.com.