Update From Augusta
One of the most interesting discussions of the week was a floor debate on amending the Maine Constitution to reduce the size of the Maine House of Representatives.
As you may imagine, the debate was heated and extensive as views were freely exchanged. It’s never easy for a room full of politicians to agree, but especially if they are talking about possible changes to their own status. Reducing the number of representatives looks like a big game of musical chairs to some of my colleagues.
After listening to the debate, I decided to support this initiative. Unfortunately, the measure failed and voters will not get the opportunity to consider such a constitutional amendment. However, that was the argument that convinced me. One speaker in favor of the measure pointed out that it had been over 100 years since the people of Maine had the opportunity to vote on the size of the House of Representatives.
A lot has changed in the last 100 years, and it certainly seemed reasonable to me to get the voters of Maine directly involved in the discussion about the institutions -- like the Maine House of Representatives -- that make or execute our laws. I could be convinced either way -- to shrink the House, or leave it the same size.
The most important consideration is the people’s voice. Hearing from voters every 100 years does not seem excessive to me, so I would have welcomed the opportunity to have this public debate and involve more citizens. Perhaps some time in the future.
During that floor debate, one of my colleagues from southern Maine made a very thoughtful observation about the increasingly larger role that lobbyists are playing in shaping our laws. As a freshman legislator, she expressed strong and legitimate concerns about the influence these paid lobbyists have on the shape of legislation.
Her concerns are important and go to the heart of the quality of our government. Since we instituted term limits the dynamics at the State House have changed. Every electoral system has advantages and disadvantages. The trade-off with term limits is complex.
The positive benefits of fresh ideas and more even distribution of power outside of a system based on seniority are tremendous. On the other side however, there is diminished “institutional knowledge” as members tenure is reduced -- and that makes the knowledge of lobbyists more influential in the decision-making process.
Every legislator wants to make informed choices in representing the people that they serve. We hold extensive public hearings, receive numerous telephone calls, countless e-mails, and an endless stream of face-to-face conversations and discussions.
Lobbyists are a resource in those discussions and deliberations. The best situation is when opposing views are both ably represented by advocates. This is a short-cut to understanding the arguments, having access to third-party information, and finally -- deciding on a vote. On highly technical issues this information can be very important to a quality outcome.
Unfortunately, there is also a darker side to the lobbying industry in Augusta -- and it is an industry. This week, I had an unpleasant encounter with a lobbyist who, instead of having direct communications, was spreading a good bit of misinformation.
Our exchange was civil and courteous, and ultimately the facts won out over the disinformation, but the situation highlighted the impacts that lobbyists have on the process.
That brings me back around to hearing the voice of the citizens. It is essential to our democracy. When appropriate, I think people should be able to weigh in at the polls -- expressing their opinions directly. Just as important, I value the contacts I get from constituents.
Just as an example, a contact from this time last year by a maple syrup producer in the far end of District 92 resulted in legislation signed by Governor LePage last week that will strengthen the Maine maple industry.
Your ideas, your opinions and your concerns shape my work in Augusta. I am always happy to hear from you about issues, concerns, or ways that I can be of assistance. You can reach me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 776-8051.
Rumford citizens -- be sure your voice is heard at the polls a few weeks from now on June 14th.