Update From Augusta
Why were we elected, anyway?
by Rep. Matt Peterson, District 92
Some of the recent events and controversies in Augusta have people on both sides of the aisles scratching their heads and asking the fundamental question: Why were we elected? It’s a good question to be reminded about, but my answer is always the same in these conversations. I was elected to represent the people of the River Valley to the best of my abilities and I will continue to do that as long as I have the privilege to serve.
The days are getting longer and the tempers seem to be getting shorter -- a clear sign that it must be April in Augusta. Those who are urging more respect and civility seem to be winning the day – and I applaud their efforts. We need to keep alive that spirit and the willingness to compromise over the next few weeks as we enter difficult budget negotiations against the backdrop of our state’s fiscal problems. Working together, we can find solutions. We did in the last session, and I believe we can in this session as well.
While there are certainly people in both parties who are “hyper-partisan,” I find that most members of the Legislature are there to serve the people back home and do the very best they can. I will continue to work as hard as I can to collaborate with my colleagues whenever possible. We have a long way to go on budget matters to find solutions that can win broad support. The present proposals are far off the mark -- and that seems to go for both sides of the aisle. My Republican colleagues are as concerned about some initiatives as the Democrats.
In November, Maine voters sent a clear message -- they were ready for a change. Republican candidates sent a clear message, too -- we will bring change to Augusta. Republicans won the majorities because voters believed they could do a better job, it’s as simple as that. People believed that
Republicans who got elected would manage things more effectively. On the campaign trail, I often heard people say in talking about candidates, "Let a businessperson do it," as though business has the answers when it comes to good management.
Better management and new ideas is exactly what I want to see, too. I am convinced we can do a better job and manage our resources more carefully to provide high quality services with less waste and less duplication. It is one of the reasons I was such an enthusiastic supporter of Governor LePage’s nominee for Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, Mary Mayhew. I believe that Commissioner Mayhew brings new management skills and insight to the position. She is focused and energized and is capable of excelling in the job. I want to help her do just that -- manage the giant state human services bureaucracy more thoughtfully and more cost-effectively on behalf of taxpayers. In a future column, I hope to talk about some specifics and work I am undertaking in my dialogue with Commissioner Mayhew.
Beyond that, I keep waiting for those “new ideas,” and unfortunately I haven’t seen too many yet. As I said above, I know we can do a better job with our expenditures in health and human services. To that end, I have proposed some direction in a systems change bill that will be debated later in the session -- but I am still waiting to see those better approaches from the administration. Unfortunately, this budget is balancing the state's finances on the backs of working families, poor people, old people, people with disabilities, and public service men and women; teachers, firefighters, and police. Those are not particularly new ideas; they have been around for a very long time. The other way this budget balances is on the backs of Maine’s municipalities and the local property taxpayers. There’s nothing new or innovative there either.
Where are the new management initiatives? Where is the reorganization or consolidation to create efficiency? Where are the new ideas? How will we create new jobs? How will we better educate our children? How will we care for our aging parents? That’s what I want to work on and vote to support.
The legislative session is a work in progress and the budget is at its core. It’s always hard to see the end of the process from this vantage point, but I am sure it will finally arrive.
In the meantime, the next few weeks we will be having more lively debates. Changes in state policy around promoting and regulating wind power projects have been proposed in a number of bills. In the River Valley, we know first-hand how passionate those discussions can become. I expect the same for the hearings in Augusta.
Other details and proposals for welfare reform, regulatory relief and a host of other issues will be hotly debated. In the end, I am confident we can chart a course that will serve the very best interests of Maine people. At least we have the Whoopee Pie / Blueberry Pie vote behind us -- so we’ve proven we can compromise. Let’s hope those lessons carry over to other key policy choices.
I always welcome your thoughts, ideas, complaints, and questions. You can reach me by e-mail at email@example.com, or call me at 776-8051. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.