We marked a new era this past session of the legislature. The statehouse was filled with something it hasn’t had in over eight years; civility, respect, and mutual cooperation.
I haven’t had the best situations to compare it to. The only Governor I’ve ever known while serving in the legislature has been Gov. Paul LePage.
Sadly, this is a bad example of what is required in a position of leadership. It was the epitome of fear-based politics that erodes the very fabric of the institution itself. I vividly remember Republican legislators being yelled at and bullied behind the scenes to vote with the Governor over common sense, values, and facts.
One even was brought to tears over the treatment and that was on the same side of the proverbial aisle. It threw a wrench into any hopes of bipartisanship agreements and instead replaced with daily unnecessary drama.
What a difference an election makes. This session was entirely a complete 180 thanks in part to the leadership of Gov. Mills, Senate President Troy Jackson, and Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.
After pulling my first all-nighter since college, we worked nearly 24 hours straight until 6:45 a.m. on the final day of session to finish the people’s business. As I recovered from sleep deprivation, I’ve been reflecting over the positive outcomes over the last six months.
Even though Democrats had control in all three areas: Blaine House, Senate, and the House, bipartisanship and communication was encouraged every step. I think the easy route would have been to simply ignore Republicans and chart our own course. Instead, the genuine attempt was made to bring people together. Even when we ultimately disagreed based on our values, it was never personal.
Treating people who you disagree with the way you want to be treated, as fellow human beings not as a D or R, lays a foundation of being able to work through more difficult issues later. Negotiations were in good faith which wasn’t always the case. Sure, there were tense and disappointing moments, but when the tone is respectful, when legislators can vote their conscience without retribution, compromise that yields positive outcomes are a direct result.
I’m not saying folks compromised for the sake of compromising. I’m not a big fan of that, but when there is a stalemate and when bipartisanship is required for progress, then it’s a critical necessity.
The budget is a good example. Unlike Congress, we are constitutionally obligated to balance our budget and is required to obtain two-thirds support in both chambers of the legislature in order to pass it.
Our state constitution was written that way to ensure fiscal restraint and bipartisan accountability in government. No budget can pass without the support from the minority party. 104-38 in the House and 25-9 in the Senate were the votes to pass the budget.
Moreover, there were over 1,154 individual votes on budget lines during the budget negotiation process on the Appropriations Committee and 99 percent of those votes were unanimous votes between Democrats and Republicans.
So many of the bills I introduced for instance were not just supported by Republicans and Independents, but supported unanimously.
In all my seven-plus years in the legislature, I’ve never seen so many unanimous votes.
When you can get every single Democrat, every single Independent, and every single Republican to vote for your bill, it’s clearly a good idea and folks recognize the importance of fixing whatever issue you are seeking to resolve.
I was able to bring all sides together on topics such as the revolving door of lobbyists becoming legislators, PACs being used as slush funds for politicians, tackling the scourge of robocall harassment, making access to water a public necessity, and updating our anti-bullying laws in schools just to name a few.
Over the next few months, I’ll be highlighting the policy accomplishments this past session and go in-depth with what I fought for and championed. While I’m sure out of 2,100-plus pieces of legislation that was debated and voted on there is bound to be a handful we disagree with, as a whole, Maine people and our community should feel good knowing we went to bat for you.
The direction of our state has been bettered because of the joint work of everyone at the state house.
Justin Chenette is serving his second term in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He is the chair of the Government Oversight Committee, co-chair of the Democracy Reform Caucus, and a member of the Environment & Natural Resources Committee. He is also a Citizen Trade Policy Commissioner. Outside the Legislature, Justin is a Realtor with the Bean Group, Marketing Coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is Vice President of Saco Main Street. Follow updates at www.justinchenette.com.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco