Web exclusive, December 19, 2013
State legislators address cooperation across party lines
“There’s a need for compromise”
by Anne Berleant
The atmosphere of the 126th legislative session was “that of a perennial campaign,” said state Representative Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville). Legislators “missed a chance to govern.”
Chapman was one of seven local legislators who spoke at a public forum to some 20 citizens at Ellsworth City Hall on December 3. The topic was civility and cooperation across party lines in Augusta, posed to them by OneHancock, a bipartisan committee formed to promote those goals and to educate voters on political issues. Former state senator Dennis Damon served as facilitator for the forum.
Chapman cited a “knee-jerk response” bill introduced as a reaction to Governor LePage’s policy to grade schools. “It was a bill that had no usefulness from a policy perspective,” he said. When he voted against it, he was “yelled at in a very uncivil way” in his party’s caucus.
The legislators present—who included Senator Ed Youngblood (R-Brewer) and Senator Brian Langley (R-Ellsworth)—all agreed that partisan politics interfered with governing and that the best legislative accomplishments came out of bipartisan committees led by experienced legislators.
“I look for people such as Representative Chapman, who are straight shooters and will give you a straight answer,” said Langley, citing the Bridge Year program, created by Langley and Chapman, who serve on the Committee of Education and Cultural Affairs. The pilot program that began this year and was endorsed by LePage allows high school students to earn college credits.
However, Langley cited the “divided” legislature, where Democrats control the House and Senate under a Republican governor, as affecting the overall tone of the 126th legislative session.
“There’s a lack of ability to understand what shared power really means,” he said. “There’s a need for compromise.”
Chapman pointed to the current redistricting process as having “helped create a wider partisan divide.”
Redistricting creates “safe” districts for the political parties, where a majority of voters are aligned to one party, but leads to “gerrymandering at the congressional level,” and disenfranchises independent voters.
“Maine has more independent voters than party voters,” he said.
Youngblood spoke to the sheer number of bills, all coming out of committees close to deadline.
This creates a legislative atmosphere of “absolute massive disorganization,” he said.
“We went to Augusta for the months of January and February  and did absolutely nothing,” while waiting for bills to return from the Revisor’s Office, which drafts, edits, and publishes statutes and maintains the statutory database.
Youngblood suggested a management course be mandatory for legislators. The question of limiting the number of bills submitted per representative, put forth by Damon, was not embraced by the panelists.
What can help the spirit of cooperation and bipartisan politics?
“Not throwing grenades over the wall,” said Langley.
“Finding a solution that works better for more people,” said Chapman.
Youngblood spoke again to the practical: have committees sponsor bills, not a specific legislator. “That way, no party can take credit.”
The public forum was the first of a series tentatively planned by OneHancock, a committee formed this year out of the now-defunct OneMaine formed in 2011 by Eliot Cutler. OneHancock’s mission includes building awareness “of the importance of protecting and strengthening” the democratic processes.
“It’s quite a task that the Hancock committee has assigned itself,” said chairman John Bradford.
For more information on OneHancock, email Bradford firstname.lastname@example.org.