Maine Republicans are intent on doing stupid.
Being in the minority in the Legislature, it might appear there’s not much else for them to do. But you’d think doing stupid wouldn’t be quite so high on the GOP’s priority list.
If you examine all the issues Republicans have claimed to care about in recent months, there are dozens that aren’t stupid. These are areas where the pachyderm party could reasonably expect to make some progress.
For instance, there are lots of business regulations that could be tweaked or repealed to improve the economy. Several might even attract some Democratic support.
There’s a real possibility of compromise on issues surrounding school choice and plenty of middle ground on assuring parents’ rights in local education decisions.
Doing something substantial to improve child-welfare programs at the Department of Health and Human Services enjoys bipartisan support.
And who could possibly be against providing financial relief to Mainers suffering from the high cost of heating their homes?
Uh, well, Republicans. They blocked an emergency aid package because they first wanted a public hearing before a legislative committee. Even though committees in the newly elected Legislature didn’t yet exist.
Some kind of heating-relief bill will pass eventually, at which time everyone who hasn’t frozen to death will be grateful to the GOP for fine-tuning the legislation in ways that’ll make no difference to the average, hypothermic citizen. They’ll express their thanks to nitpicking Republicans through chattering teeth: “B-b-better l-l-late than n-n-never, I g-g-guess.”
None of this is to say the GOP has restricted its efforts to looking ridiculous to enhancing the spread of frostbite. It’s also been busy doing nothing of consequence to save the lobster industry.
Republican House leader Billy Bob Faulkingham and Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart have introduced a bill that would punish any business that refuses to sell Maine lobsters because environmental groups say that fishery is a threat to right whales. Those companies would be denied property tax breaks under the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement program and the Business Equipment Tax Exemption program, which look like the same thing, but apparently aren’t. The bill would also prohibit state government from contracting with such companies.
Best Buy doesn’t sell Maine lobsters. Would it lose its tax break? What about car dealers? No lobster tanks there. So, no deal to sell new cruisers to the state cops. Hardware stores? Barber shops? Tattoo parlors?
No worries, say the Republicans. The bill is designed to affect only one business: Whole Foods Market in Portland, which recently announced it had ceased offering the crustaceans for sale.
But Whole Foods might not be the legislation’s only victim. “This is a war,” according to an overwrought statement from Faulkingham. “It is not just about lobster fishing — it is a war on workers, family values, conservation, science and common sense.” To address that broad agenda, the measure also calls for penalties on businesses that refuse to carry any legal Maine-made product.
If the proprietors of local farm stands prefer Idaho potatoes, there goes the property tax break they probably weren’t getting, anyway. If the owner of a package store believes most Maine-produced whiskey tastes like runoff from a sewage-treatment plant, that business will never get to stock the bar for the Blaine House Christmas party. And if conservative operators of gift shops refuse to carry crafts made by nearby LGBTQ-artisans collectives, they’ll just have to ask the U.S. Supreme Court for relief.
This is the type of legislation that needs a public hearing, so it can be summarily executed.
Republicans seem to have forgotten that they used to believe in letting the marketplace handle such disagreements. If customers think Whole Foods is damaging the lobster industry (the store in Portland was the only one in the chain that sold Maine lobsters, so whatever impact it had was minimal), they’re at liberty to shop elsewhere. Or picket the place. Or go vegan. They don’t need no stinkin’ law to kick that company’s butt.
Speaking of butt kickings, The Maine GOP just received one in the November election. If it doesn’t want to repeat that experience in 2024, it might consider cranking down the stupid.
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