If Maine had a monument like Mt. Rushmore, former Portland mayor Ethan Strimling would be clinging to the side of whatever unfortunate peak had been sentenced to suffer that fate carving a likeness of Democratic Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross into the rock. Strimling, in a posting on the Maine Beacon website, called Talbot Ross’s first year presiding over the House “one of the most consequential in Maine history for progressive policy change in Maine.”
That’s both redundant and ridiculous.
While liberals have scored some impressive wins in a Legislature dominated by Democrats (paid family leave and expanded abortion rights, although the latter only just barely), Talbot Ross’s role in much of that process can be charitably described as marginal. Or more accurately characterized as a distraction. Her management of the House agenda was so muddled, she actually made Senate President Troy Jackson’s clunky efforts at presiding over that chamber look good by comparison. Admittedly, that’s no small accomplishment.
When Talbot Ross wasn’t busy clogging up the legislative pipeline, she was engaging in ill-considered attacks on the administration of a fellow Democrat, Gov. Janet Mills. In May, the speaker announced that if Mills vetoed a bill granting expanded rights to the Wabanaki tribes in Maine, Talbot Ross would oppose the governor’s supplemental budget bill. This threat was met by legislators with a few puzzled expressions and by the governor with a shrug of indifference. It had exactly no impact on the budget process, and Mills still vetoed the tribal-rights measure, a veto that Talbot Ross failed to win enough votes to override. The lesson most of the state’s politicians took away from this odd confrontation was that Talbot Ross was little more than a cardboard cutout of a speaker who could safely be ignored.
But it turned out ignoring Talbot Ross could also be unwise. When the speaker, who is Black, attended a Juneteenth event in Portland, she became incensed at a presentation by bureaucrats from Mills’ Department of Education. She stood up in the audience and accused them of intentionally failing to integrate African American history into school curriculums, not an unreasonable criticism of a chronically incompetent entity. But Talbot Ross couldn’t quite contain her outrage over this policy failure.
“We should be storming the capitol — really, I’m serious — because what the Department of Education has done is, it’s made excuses for not teaching our children the truth about this country, this soil that we’re on now and the labor that made our economies possible,” she sputtered.
She then repeated her call for attacking the State House. “We should all storm the institution out of anger that this is the attitude that they’ve taken about our history,” Talbot Ross concluded to applause.
Maybe there were some Proud Boys in attendance.
If it wasn’t for the conservative Maine Wire, this Trumpian outburst would have gone all but unnoticed. Most of the mainstream media failed to report on Talbot Ross’s bombast, with the exception of Spectrum News, which buried it deep in its story, and the Bangor Daily News, which waited several days to cover the diatribe and only after a conservative columnist pointed out the BDN’s failure. To date, the Portland Press Herald — and the Portland Phoenix — haven’t mentioned the matter.
Little wonder that Talbot Ross didn’t bother to issue an apology or clarification or additional blather for nearly two weeks, and then only because the Bangor paper asked if she was going to do so. But she was so busy gumming up the works in the Legislature, she left the matter to her spokesperson, Mary-Erin Casale. According to Casale, the House Speaker “genuinely regrets her choice in language” and has reached out to the DOE directly. “It was never her intent to encourage anyone to repeat the events that occurred on the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the statement read. “Her advocacy on this issue stems directly from her lived experience and her fight to create equity in the story we tell of our nation’s history to our students.”
That falls well short of apologizing. It also fails to explain why someone who holds one of the highest positions in state government seems to be establishing a pattern of, at best, unproductive and, at worst, dangerous behavior.
Rather than being immortalized on a Maine mini-Rushmore, Talbot Ross should resign.
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