It’s important to have goals in life. Mine are:
My success in fulfilling these lofty ambitions is somewhat mitigated by the fact that I’m an irresponsible slug. Presumably, the Maine Legislature doesn’t fall in the same category. Surely, our representatives and senators are people of strong character, constantly striving to meet the high standards the public expects of its leaders.
Except maybe president.
Unlike some chief executives, legislators aren’t a bunch of egotistical incompetents flailing randomly at imaginary evils in an effort to avoid dealing with complex problems. Those chosen to represent us in Augusta recognize the need for realistic assessments, strategic negotiations and pragmatic solutions. When they set goals, they come as close to achieving them as is humanly possible.
Except when they don’t.
For example, there’s the recently semi-concluded first session of the 128th Legislature, which managed these shining accomplishments:
The state shutdown caused by its failure to pass a budget was fairly short.
And it made it legal to keep hedgehogs as pets without a permit.
Not bad … if you’re comparing them to the latest Will Ferrell movie. But somewhat less impressive if your standard is the goals set by legislative leaders before this session began.
“We’re not going to get caught up in the drama,” House Republican leader Ken Fredette told the Bangor Daily News last December. “We’re just going to do our job.”
Fredette’s caucus seemed to believe its job was entirely composed of repealing the 3-percent surcharge on high-income taxpayers approved by voters in referendum last November and being as obstructionist as possible. At that, the GOP House members went two for two. But as with a certain sleep-until-noon, booze-until-oblivion columnist, achieving such modest objectives is hardly worthy of any celebration more elaborate than cracking open a Natty Light.
Assistant House Democratic leader Jared Golden had a somewhat more ambitious agenda. “I think we’ve heard pretty clearly from the voters on the minimum wage and funding for education,” Golden is quoted as saying in the Bangor paper. “We are definitely not overturning any of them.”
The Legislature repealed the tax on big earners that was supposed to channel over $300 million to schools. And it amended the minimum-wage hike to strip out tipped workers.
Golden’s goals were to not do things. Which he managed not to do because he did do them, thereby not accomplishing something by accomplishing something.
It’s not as if legislative leaders ignored the many serious problems facing the state. Late last year, newly elected Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, a Democrat, offered the Portland Press Herald a comprehensive list of them. Among Gideon’s goals, “more work to fight back against this devastating opioid epidemic.” As the Maine Sunday Telegram recently noted, “After pledging to make the opioid crisis a priority, lawmakers again failed, even in passing simple laws that many other states have had in place for some time.”
Also on Gideon’s list: “improved health care, child care and elder care” (nope, nope and nope), “more energy independence” (uh uh), “more work to create the basic structure of modern broadband” (still not connected) and crafting policies that encourage new workers to move here (does a shutdown count?).
Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau was hoping to do something about lowering the student debt burden (shorter students?). His proposal may have been forged into a comprehensive plan of action, but no one seems to remember that happening.
And let’s not forget ranked choice voting, a partially unconstitutional measure approved by voters last November. Amend it? Repeal It? Make it legal? No, this august body decided to take the least rational course by doing nothing.
This was a Legislature that lacked foresight – any idiot could have predicted a shutdown was likely (and a lot of them did) – courage – few legislators were brave enough to defy core constituencies until the shutdown actually happened – and most of all, leadership – real leaders would have devised an acceptable budget long before the situation reached the crisis stage.
Whenever I start to feel bad about my pathetic lack of ambition, I have only to look to the State House for assurance there’s somebody much worse.