This column was published in the Portland Press Herald on May 24.
Mainers believe in looking out for each other.
That’s why in November 2016 and 2017, voters stood with working families and overwhelmingly supported a long-overdue raise of our state’s minimum wage and increased access to health care for 70,000 Mainers.
Voters were clear: They want real solutions to the problems facing our state, like our slow recovery from the recession, the startling increase in children living in deep poverty or the spike in those struggling with opioid addiction. They don’t agree with Gov. LePage and his allies when they fight to pass tax cuts for the wealthy on the backs of working people or ignoring the needs of their neighbors who’ve fallen on hard times.
Though not surprising, after a tremendous loss at the ballot box and at the end of his lame-duck administration, Gov. LePage is doing everything he possibly can to undo what Mainers have made law. That even includes holding the unfinished work of the Legislature hostage to take money out of working people’s pockets and health care away from those in need.
Let me be clear: My fellow Democrats and I will not let that happen.
Most of us have come to expect this irresponsible behavior from the governor, but now with the assistance of House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, this election-year gamesmanship has effectively killed more than a hundred pieces of bipartisan legislation.
The last few days of any session are a flurry of activity and final votes, culminating in a package of bipartisan appropriations. Compromise is necessary to get the job done. Just like when Mainers build a household budget, we look at the bills we have to pay and then carefully target our resources to address the needs of our state.
But this year the House Republicans, directed by their de facto caucus leader, Gov. LePage, decided to throw up a roadblock. Instead of voting for a routine extension to finish up our remaining business, they voted to go home.
After this vote, I received a handwritten note from the governor that said, “Let the games begin.”
Every lawmaker who voted multiple times to finish our business recognizes that government isn’t a game. We understand that our work has real consequences for real people.
These are Maine families, seniors and the disabled, whose lives matter. They’re small-business owners trying desperately to stay afloat. This is most certainly not a game.
When the Legislature had a final opportunity to finish our work, I stepped down from the speaker’s rostrum in an effort to convince my colleagues to do the right thing.
I offered a number of compromises that would have addressed our critical needs while taking into account what Republicans said was important to them. Because that’s what leaders do. We take responsibility. And we never give up.
Had we been able to agree, today our jails would have been fully funded, we would have kept our promises to our direct-care workers, uncertainty would have been removed from school budgets and taxpayers would have gotten much-needed clarity. Unfortunately, House Republicans chose to do the governor’s bidding instead and turned down every offer. And for what? I’m still not sure.
Because the governor has the power to call the Legislature back into a special session with the stroke of his pen, soon after this vote Democratic leaders met with Gov. LePage to ask for his help.
In direct contradiction to the only reason House Republicans gave for ending the session, the governor told us, “I’ll implement health care for 70,000 people through Medicaid expansion.”
He also told us that he’d support items like opioid treatment, mental health treatment and funding county jails.
“But,” he said, “my price of entry? The minimum wage.”
That’s right: the very raise Maine voters put into law. The same one that this governor and his allies have repeatedly tried to undermine legislatively, only to be defeated time and again.
The governor also made clear that if we tried to fund direct-care workers without also changing the minimum wage, he would not support it.
Despite all his misleading statements, Gov. LePage is deliberately using our elderly, our intellectually disabled, our mentally ill, our hardworking small businesses and taxpayers as pawns in an attempt to roll back voter-approved livable wages.
Nevertheless, House Democrats remain at the table. We will give House Republicans another opportunity to come back, finish their work and display the leadership Mainers expect by calling for a special session.
Because we believe in looking out for each other. We believe in the future of our state. And we won’t give up.