As the new batch of Maine’s citizen legislators strains their triceps finding ways to make life better, the political theater in Augusta is again open. The annual greased pole climb in the Legislature of running ideas up the flag pole high enough to “get some ink” is a source of both entertainment and anxiety – entertainment because of the frailty of thought and insight; anxiety because some of these ideas might actually become law.
This year the attempts at “making a mark” in the Legislature are particularly intense because of having new management. For the first time since wood pellets were invented, the GOP, so long just an observer that its legislative skills atrophied, suddenly and unexpectedly found itself at the levers of power. Like an elderly farmer accustomed to plow horses who finds himself seated on a racing sulky behind a Biddeford racino trotter, these new drivers are a bit overmatched. Nevertheless, they intend to master the beast. Consequently, not only are Maineiacs seeing some of the weird and wonderful postulations typical of every Legislature, this year they also will see some entirely new offerings – often things that go bump in the night.
The few deeply thoughtful proposals typical of every Legislature are illustrated by the inspiration of one of Gorham’s own solons, who wants to forbid snow on car roofs. Beyond those bi-annual flashes of lawmaking legerdemain there are a couple of liberal (shudder) hangovers typical of earlier progressive Legislatures, e.g., decriminalizing that elixir of youth, cannabis. Also, one brave soul wants to give municipalities power to restrict firearms (this sponsor has to be term-limited and thus not in the cross hairs of the of the NRA). However, despite good intentions, these “socialist” proposals are expected to wither once exposed to the steely eyes of the new legislative leadership.
Aside from these minor blips, the new course of government is clear. The direction taken is toward an unfettered business nirvana. There is desire to prevent wimpy or wasteful public activities such as free medical care or birth control advice, and there is yearning to control personal choices such as marriage partners or divorce. There is intention to eliminate the burden and peril of environmental laws and regulations – vernal pools, clean water and wind power are to join Elizabeth Taylor and Ronald Reagan as cherished memories.
Another popular cause for our new Legislature is crime-free elections. When research revealed no less than two instances of voting fraud, these gimlet-eyed puritans are moving to clean up such a shameful situation by keeping the young, poor and other undesirables from voting. There are more than 20 bills to restrict or make difficult the act of voting by such techniques as requiring proof of citizenship, picture IDs, or no registering on Election Day. Had this registry denial existed earlier, it would have prevented those 60,000 people in 2008 or 30,000 in 2010 who registered on Election Day from interfering with democracy. Goodness knows how many of these infelicitous types will be forbidden to desecrate the polls in future elections.
Patriotism is also rampant among these new centurions of lawmaking. There are proposals to require the opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, to exempt firearms manufactured in Maine from federal regulation, to allow veterans to take Veterans Day off with full pay, and to authorize free hunting, fishing and trapping licenses to veterans who are 80 years old. There is also concern for sex – which, considering the historical trends of the GOP, is quite likely – with a dozen bills aimed at offenders.
Notably, there is also desire to promote Maine by such proposals as a special license plate for the National Rifle Association or expanded crossbow privileges to persons 70 years old. But the Legislature’s efforts pale in comparison with the efforts of Maine’s beloved Gov. LePage. His thoughtful and witty remarks have been superbly effective in catching the national ear of such observers as Garry Wills, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, late-night TV and similar media gatherings. One of his brainstorms concerning the appreciation of art was classed by the New York Times as a “major news event” and he has placed Maine in several of the national weekly magazines.
If an Alice in Wonderland prize were to be given for the most interesting new state government, Maine would be right up there with South Carolina – except that Argentina seems an unlikely vacation spot for Maine’s Great Leader.
Devil’s dictionary quote
LAW: The basis of a system that provides all the justice that money can buy.
Rodney Quinn, a former Maine secretary of state, lives in Gorham. He can be reached at email@example.com.