The Portland Phoenix

Politics & Other Mistakes: O Lieutenant! My Lieutenant!

O Lieutenant! My Lieutenant!

Here are some things Maine doesn’t have:


Poisonous snakes.

Paul LePage.

Also, this state doesn’t have a lieutenant governor. Florida has all that stuff, but Florida is sinking into the muck, literally and figuratively.

Nevertheless, Democratic state Sen. Craig Hickman of Winthrop thinks Maine should be more like Florida, not by luring Disney World to Aroostook County, but by amending the state Constitution to create a lieutenant governor. Hickman has yet to explain why such a change would be a good idea, but that’s no reason not to explain why it’s a stupid one.

In the 45 states that have lootie guvs, the responsibilities of that office vary widely. Some preside over a chamber of the Legislature. Some head up boards and commissions. Some sit around in a fancy office and play games on their phones, waiting for the governor to die.

Maine already has somebody to do those things. If the guv croaks unexpectedly, the president of the state Senate assumes the office. Having a lieutenant governor take over that duty might boost the average IQ of the chief executive’s successor by 30 points, but would also add considerable expense.

A governor-in-waiting would command a sizable salary and require state police protection. Taxpayers would have to buy him or her a car and hire a driver to get this important official to ribbon cuttings. Gotta have a secretary, a speech writer and a spokesperson to explain why a junior guv is worth all that cash.

This clunker isn’t Hickman’s only ill-considered suggestion for reforming Maine’s government. He also wants a constitutional commission to consider creating a unicameral legislature. Nebraska is the only state with one of those, as well as endless cornfields, evil insurance companies and college football crazies.

A unicameral legislature only has one chamber. No house. No senate. No chance to pit the two bodies against each other. Very efficient. That may explain why the landlocked Cornhusker State has a law against hunting whales. It’s illegal for bars in Nebraska to serve beer unless they also have a kettle of soup available. And the Nebraska Legislature just passed a strict limit on abortions and restrictions on transgender rights. Efficiency is no protection against stupidity.

Hickman’s affinity for amending the Constitution isn’t limited to these modest measures. After successfully backing the Right to Food amendment approved last year (which is just beginning to clog the courts with dumb-ass cases trying to figure out what it means), he’s sponsoring a similarly vague amendment to provide a right to bodily autonomy.

Would that guarantee unlimited access to abortion? Possibly, but Hickman told a legislative committee it’s much more than that. “It is my belief completely,” he said, “that bodily autonomy isn’t just about reproductive freedom.” It would also do away with requirements that kids get vaccinated against smallpox and polio before attending school. It might prevent somebody having a mental-health crisis from being involuntarily committed. Plus, you could drink as many beers as you wanted, even if no soup was cooking.

Suddenly, that lieutenant governor idea doesn’t seem quite as wacky.

Other Hickman proposals for messing with our fundamental laws include expanding the definition of individual rights in assorted fuzzy ways, increasing the terms of state senators from two years to four, popular election of constitutional officers such as the attorney general and secretary of state, and allowing the public to initiate constitutional amendments by petition (because Hickman doesn’t want to hog all the fun).

Not every one of these amendments is necessarily a bad idea (although most of them are), but this barrage of suggested changes means there’s a strong likelihood the little of value will be buried beneath an avalanche of sexy but stupid constitutional changes.

In all, legislators are considering 30 proposed amendments this session, not one of which will help heat your home next winter, make housing more affordable or aid employers in finding workers. Screwing around with the Constitution is entertaining, but it doesn’t have much to do with problems in the real world.

This sort of nonsense is almost enough to make you ignore the gators and snakes, and follow former governor LePage to Florida.

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