A new bipartisanship in Augusta? Not really.

Now that Democrats are in charge in Augusta, everything is hunky-dory. Right?

After all, that is the gist of a recent headline appearing in the Bangor Daily News. The gist of that reporting, by Maine Public, suggests former Gov. Paul LePage was a grump, and Gov. Janet Mills’ administration offers a sunny new approach to bipartisan governing.

It is a feel-good retrospective on public business. Yet it doesn’t exactly hold up to scrutiny.

The State House in Augusta, as seen from Capital Park. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

To compare, we should look back eight years to the 125th Maine Legislature. For the first time in four decades, Maine voters had chosen Republicans to lead the state House, state Senate, and Blaine House simultaneously. Contrast with 2019 and the 129th Maine Legislature, where Democrats were placed in the places of power.

Now, Mills, House Speaker Sara Gideon, Senate President Troy Jackson, and their ideological allies are certainly less pugnacious than Republicans in their vocabulary. They offer paeans to bipartisanship in their public pronouncements. But actions speak louder than words.

As the 125th Maine Legislature prepared for their “emergency” second session in late 2011, the Legislative Council — consisting of the leadership of both parties — considered legislative proposals from Democrats and Republicans alike. In order to get a bill heard, Democrats needed at least one vote from GOP leadership.

According to the House Republican Office, 38% of the bills admitted to the “emergency” session back then were sponsored by Democrats. So, now that Republicans are in the minority, how has the Democratic leadership of the 129th Maine Legislature treated them?

Again according to the House GOP, fewer than 9% of bills admitted to 2020’s “emergency” session are sponsored by Republicans.

Indeed, some bills which would seemingly be non-controversial were rejected due to Republican involvement. For example, our Secretary of State Matt Dunlap made a mistake when advising would-be ballot circulators last year. When a referendum question or people’s veto is put to an election, it occurs during a statewide election.

So, when Maine citizens took exception to actions of the 129th Maine Legislature, they began a people’s veto process. Dunlap told them that the vote would occur — if they got a sufficient number of signatures — in June of 2020.

But he goofed. With Maine’s move towards a presidential primary system, a straightforward interpretation of the law meant a people’s veto vote would occur in March, not June. It wasn’t nefarious; it was an understandable, human mistake. So Republicans offered a bill to make Dunlap’s statement retroactively accurate.

And Democrats rejected it. But don’t worry; their one party control of Augusta has lead to a happy new normal.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Gideon has jumped into the race against Sen. Susan Collins. To paint herself with a tax-reducing hue, she has sent out advertisements heralding a forthcoming homeowner’s dividend of just over $100 for many Mainers. The wrinkle? The honeypot utilized to make the payment was first established by Republicans in the 125th Legislature, with a goal of reducing income tax rates.

But you won’t see any credit given to the GOP anywhere in Gideon’s glossy literature supporting her efforts to unseat Collins. Democrats’ control of Augusta has led to a happy new normal.

And one of the major proposals from LePage in his final years surrounded compensation for Maine’s chief executive. He thought the governor of the state should be paid more. He submitted a bill to do so, and the Legislature — led by Democrats — rejected it. Now that a commission impaneled during the Mills’ administration has made a similar recommendation, it will probably pass.

But don’t worry. There is a new, nonpartisan normal in Augusta since Democrats are firmly in control.

None of this should be seen as a gripe by Republicans. Maine voters elected Democrats and placed them in charge. If the GOP wants to have a greater say in our state’s public affairs, they need to do a better job at the ballot box and earn the trust of voters.

Yet actions speak louder than words. And if you look closely, while there may be a new, bipartisan vocabulary in Augusta, the 129th Maine Legislature — led by Democrats — is much more partisan than the GOP-led 125th.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.