From flip-flops to scandals: Grading the Legislature

Ethan: I have some sad news. The legislative session is officially behind us. The weekly Republican flip-flops on the governor’s vetoes will no longer be available for our weekly column.

Phil: You mean I won’t be able to watch the Democrats turn the governor’s TV into an infringement on free speech anymore?

Ethan: Indeed, you will not. That means it is time for us to take a look back and do our annual grading of the Legislature.

Phil: Last year we started with the Republicans since they were in control. Since, disappointingly, your party is now in control, let’s start with the Democrats.

Ethan: Love to! If I had to give a letter grade, I would say B+.

Phil: That is quite a step up from the C you gave them two years ago. Your grade increase is almost as high as their tax increase.

Ethan: Clever, and actually not that far off. The reason they earned a solid B+ is because they were courageous enough to understand that our municipalities could not afford to raise property taxes further and that our lowest-income families could not take any more cuts. The budget they passed raised needed revenue and was responsible, smart and compassionate in its spending.

Phil: Well, if your goal is re-election and enabling local school boards and councils to believe they don’t have to reduce actual spending, then you are correct. Towns now can point to their legislators who agree the only option is to raise taxes if they don’t get more money from Augusta. The day is not far off when our aging population won’t be able to withstand this assault on their financial dignity.

Ethan: Another reason they got the B+ is because for the first time in a generation, they passed a responsible piece of gun safety legislation: background checks.

Phil: While your zeal for gun control knows no limits, even you must agree that both parties voted almost exclusively on the side of the citizen’s right to bear arms.

Ethan: Sad, but true. But that always happens. The difference this year is less about the legislation itself but more about the fact that Democrats actually stood up to the National Rifle Association!

Phil: Don’t get too excited. Within a millisecond, the governor ensured that this misguided bill would not empower more government control over our lives. How come you haven’t mentioned the Democratic-led defeat of requiring welfare recipients to buy healthy foods and weed out abuses in the welfare system?

Ethan: Good point! Their ability to defend against such conservative nanny state attacks on the poor did add to their overall positive standing.

Phil: You are an amazing cacophony of contradictions: more government and less assurance on positive outcomes from the money taken from taxpayers. Wow. With all this good stuff, how come they didn’t get an A?

Ethan: Because of how they handled the hospital payments.

Phil: You are saying that paying our hospitals the money they were due somehow detracted from getting a better grade?

Ethan: Paying the hospitals didn’t detract. Getting nothing in return detracted. They had a brilliant compromise, which paid the hospitals in return for insuring 70,000 people. Unfortunately, when push came to shove, they got shoved. Hospitals were paid. No people got health care.

Phil: Perhaps their brilliance needed to include a plausible response to Republicans who know after three years Maine will have to find millions of new tax revenues, which we simply don’t have.

Ethan: They gave them a plan, but Republicans still refused. And don’t get me wrong, Republicans deserve the bulk of the blame since they voted against the coverage. But Republicans were simply being obstructionist on health care, like they always are. In return, Democrats should have been obstructionist on the hospital payment until Maine people got the coverage they needed.

Phil: I admire your blind passion for promising more government benefits without consideration of later costs. But being disciplined to know that you can’t spend money we don’t have isn’t obstructionism. It is courageous.

Ethan: Are you going to get around to telling us your grade for my colleagues, or are you going to continue making worn-out statements?

Phil: Politically, I too give your party a B+. Your base of government-minded constituents are grateful, and they will be rewarded in the election. Economically I give them a C-. Maine will continue to be a high tax, highly regulated place for entrepreneurs.

Ethan: Blah, blah, blah. And the Republicans?

Phil: Republicans demonstrated it’s now every person for themselves and earned a D. They have given Democrats election-year cover as the new taxes slow our economy. They left themselves as sitting ducks to charges that they are for higher taxes but against free health insurance for the poor.

Ethan: I don’t think they’ll get in political trouble for voting for the budget. People like compromise. A bigger political problem is all those flip-flops on the governor’s vetoes. They voted for all these bills before they voted against them, and the only reason they have given is that they hadn’t fully read the bill the first time. These votes alone make me concur with your grade of a D.

Phil: Gee, why is it you forgot to mention all the Democratic flips?  Anyway, If Republicans thought it was difficult to legislate with a common purpose, it’s going to be worse trying to single-handedly campaign against your own votes and against Democrats.

Ethan: Wow, you are dishing up some tough medicine. You sound like me two years ago.

Phil: Well, your party listened, and now they’re in the majority. Let’s hope mine does the same.