The advent of the New Year brings good news and bad news from the Statehouse swamp. Frankly, most of the news is bad, so let’s get that out of the way right up front so we can conclude on a positive note.
The unvarnished truth is that the swamp in Augusta is deeper and wider than at any time in the past half century.
During the first week of the New Year, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills was inaugurated for a second four-year term. Her re-election last November with more votes than any Governor in Maine history confirmed that Maine is a solidly 55 percent -45 percent blue state.
Voters in the midterms also handed Democrats solid majorities in both Houses of the Legislature. Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross and Senate President Troy Jackson are so extreme and so far to the Left they make Mills look moderate despite her half century in politics as an unreconstructed 1960s radical feminist.
The same day Mills took the oath for a second term, she won a major legislative victory with enactment of her bogus “Winter Energy Relief Payment Program.” LD 3 plunders $158 million in federal Medicaid matching funds to send one-time welfare payments of $450 to everyone in Maine with a heartbeat and a household income under $200,000.
The most depressing aspect of this spending orgy is the Republican fingerprints all over Mills’ trumped-up “public health emergency.” As a rule, the go-along-to-get-along GOP legislative leadership in the swamp prides itself on making really bad Democrat bills a little less bad.
But in this case, they made a bad bill even worse with their demand for bigger spending and more welfare checks. They threw away their considerable leverage rather than taking the fight to Mills.
Here’s how they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
As an alleged “emergency,” the bill required two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate for enactment. The arithmetic works like this:
With 82 Democrats, 67 Republicans, and 2 Independents (who almost always vote with the Dems) in the House, Mills needed 15 House GOP defectors to get to the magic number of 101 votes.
With 22 Democrats and 13 Republicans in the Senate, Mills needed to peel off just 2 Republicans to get to the magic number 24 for two thirds of the Senate.
With those kinds of numbers, Republican legislators were in a commanding position to overhaul, or even veto, Mills’ proposed expenditure of $473 million, when just $50 million of that was earmarked for energy assistance to low-income Mainers.
Republicans could have confidently said “No way” to the raid on Medicaid funding intended for Maine’s chronically under-funded nursing homes, as well as the notorious Medicaid waitlists that date back to the Baldacci administration. That money might have been a one-off related to federal pandemic funding, but it would have put a considerable dent in the wait lists and been a boon to nursing homes. Blowing that money on welfare for the well-to-do is unconscionable.
Another big piece of the bill that’s unrelated to energy assistance is $21 million for “emergency housing.” That’s in addition to the $22 million worth of emergency funding for housing passed earlier this year, with strong support from Republicans.
Bear in mind that there’s no citizenship requirement to qualify for free housing, all the better to provide free rent for the thousands of “asylum seekers” Mills has welcomed to Maine since she took office. 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.
Many of them will be staying in brand-new apartment buildings in Portland, South Portland, and Brunswick. Under construction by Avesta Housing, these 175 units of housing for non-citizens will be rent-free for the first two years, courtesy of Maine taxpayers.
Don’t expect any accountability or transparency for the free housing money. Most of it will be filtered through the sticky-fingered Nanny State Non-Profit Industrial Complex, the alphabet soup of swamp-dwelling leeches who administer these welfare programs. Among them is Penquis CAP, whose CEO pulls down $210,000 annually for her work redistributing Mainers’ wealth.
Meanwhile, upwards of 25,000 Mainers languish on affordable housing waitlists. They often wait for years for housing assistance. For the foreseeable future, they just need to get used to being shoved to the back of the line every time another busload of illegals arrives in Portland or Bangor.
Given these realities, Republicans were in a strong position to offer Janet and Troy and Rachel this take-it-or-leave-it deal:
“We will give you the votes you need to enact LD 3 as an emergency if you scale it back to a simple $50 million appropriation from the budget surplus to provide winter heating assistance to low-income Mainers. Not a dime for housing non-citizens, not a dime drawn from Medicaid funding, and not a dime for your stupid $450 checks for everyone with a heartbeat.
We will not allow you to divert $158 million of Medicaid funding intended for nursing homes and waitlists to give one-time welfare checks of $900 to couples with household incomes of $200K.
Take it or leave it.”
Instead of engaging the Democrats on the culture-war battlefield and depicting Mills as heartless and inhumane, Rep. Laurel Libby (R-Auburn) and Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin) made an accountant’s argument. They introduced an amendment to scrap the $450 welfare checks and the Medicaid raid in favor of a three-month sales-tax holiday. Majority Democrats shot it down in both chambers.
Libby and Brakey couched their advocacy for the tax-cut amendment in terms of economics and energy policy, without any reference to Mills’ Medicaid raid and her callous disregard for nursing-home residents and Mainers with traumatic brain injuries. Libby steered clear of any mention of free rent for non-citizen border-crashers, while Brakey, to his credit, cited Portland’s status as a “sanctuary city” as a magnet drawing illegal aliens to Maine.
In any case, there’s no way you’re going to rally the GOP troops to hold the line by trumpeting a sales-tax holiday. If you sound like a Chamber of Commerce lobbyist or a libertarian academic, don’t expect to inspire anyone to go into battle against a popular Governor and her nasty, vindictive, dishonest allies in the very Fake News media.
If you’re not prepared to portray Janet Mills as a petty tyrant kicking Maine’s most vulnerable citizens to the curb, then you’re not ready for prime time at the Colosseum on the Kennebec.
To nobody’s surprise, the bill sailed through the House on a 114 to 29 vote, and then passed unanimously “under the hammer” in the Senate.
The Senate chamber’s talleyboard on final enactment showed that the bill passed 24 to 10 with Republican Senators Trey Stewart, Rick Bennett, and Marianne Moore joining all the Democrats. But because none of the Senators requested a recorded vote, they can’t claim credit for voting against final enactment. The official record shows that it passed unanimously.
Republicans in Augusta just don’t seem to understand that the only leverage they have is on emergency measures that require two-thirds majorities. For the regular business of the Legislature, Democrats will treat their GOP colleagues as potted plants for the next two years.
Before I give you the promised good news, I should note that it appears the House Republican office didn’t learn anything from this exercise. They tapped Rep. Dick Campbell of Orrington – now entering his ninth, non-consecutive term in the House – for the caucus’s weekly radio address.
Titled, “Heating relief is good, but we need long-term solutions,” Campbell’s defense of the GOP’s shameful acquiescence on LD 3 recited all the lame talking points we’ve become accustomed to. He even boasted that Republicans “pushed for returning money to as many people as possible,” but made no mention of the Medicaid raid or the free housing for illegals.
I had a brief back-and-forth email exchange with Dick, calling him out for his misleading commentary. It didn’t end well.
Rather than addressing my objections, Dick resorted to this ad hominem volley:
“Lockman and Libby are bomb throwers and that’s their style and clam [sic] to fame. Over the years these types come and go. Given enough rope they hang themselves. Real [sic] it out!”
With senior statesmen like Campbell at the helm, Republicans appear to be on the path to permanent minority status in Maine.
But here’s the good news.
The freshman class of GOP House members broke sharply from their leadership on the final vote. Most of the 29 “Nay” votes on final enactment on January 4th were first-term lawmakers. A month earlier, on swearing-in day, there were only 16 House members voting against Mills’ Medicaid-fueled spending spree.
As far as I know, Maine First Project was the only organization pushing lawmakers to reject LD 3. Our team is pleased that the “Nay” votes in the House nearly doubled between December 7th and January 4th.
Between now and final adjournment of the 131st Maine Legislature next year, we intend to build a bigger and stronger bulwark against the statists and the Foreigners-First ideologues who dominate state government, academia, the K-12 swamp, and the lamestream media.
Think of those 29 House members who stood up for the forgotten Mainers last week as Gideon’s army in Maine.