Why did Justin Alfond vote against the environment?

Phil: So, your protégé, Senate President Justin Alfond, appears to have gotten himself in a little hot water. For some reason he decided to vote against the environmental community on a bill to ban the chemical phthalates.

Ethan: You should be pleased. He merely voted the way your party wanted.

Phil: Don’t lump me in with the anti-environment crowd. I sponsored the Toxic Chemicals Reduction Act back in the 1990s, which passed in a Democratically controlled House and Senate.

Ethan: As I always say, you appear to be the last reasonable Republican on the planet. But what’s your beef with Alfond? I’m the one who should be upset with his vote.

Phil: Well, from my perspective, it just seems out of character that someone with his power would vote against the wishes of his constituents and against stronger environmental laws. Even the Maine Women’s Lobby said the bill would “help them protect their kids from harmful chemicals,” and Alfond voted against it.

Ethan: Yes, it does seem strange, however, he told the environmental community up front that he would be voting against the bill and he did explain his vote pretty thoroughly in a letter to his caucus.

Phil: I read that letter. It definitely piqued my interest that something “political” was going on. In my time in the Maine Senate, I never received a letter from the Senate president explaining a Legislative Council vote. It appears like he knew he had stepped into a swamp full of crocodiles.

Ethan: Certainly the letter was out of the ordinary, but my sense is that he simply wanted to be clear that he didn’t think the bill was the right vehicle.

Phil: Otherwise known as, “Have no fear, my political smarts will soon become self-evident. I can’t talk about it right now, but I have a more effective maneuver that will appease the environmental community.”

Ethan: I’m not convinced that Justin thinks he is smarter than anyone, but he does think the bill goes around the process already codified in the Kid Safe Products Act. He wanted to respect that process, and I can respect that. I may not have voted his way, but it is a defensible argument.

Phil: You are being way too forgiving; the rationale in his letter that the Kid Safe Products Act was his reason for not allowing the Legislature to protect the public from unsafe chemicals was pretty weak.

Ethan: You said he’s my protégé, remember? I can’t throw him under the bus!

Phil: Good point.

Ethan: Additionally, Alfond knew the issue would be a “lightning rod,” and he didn’t want to bog the session down with too many hot button issues.

Phil: He doesn’t want hot button issues? Give me a break. He voted to allow the politically explosive MaineCare expansion into the upcoming session even after the governor made clear he will not allow that bill to become law.

Ethan: Fair enough, but it is true that this is supposed to be an emergency session.

Phil: You have got to be kidding me, Ethan. One of Alfond’s bills that was allowed in the upcoming “emergency” session was to help get easier permitting for wine-tasting events. Was that more of an “emergency” than dangerous chemicals?

Ethan: So, why do you think he voted the way he did?

Phil: I can only speculate since he doesn’t include me in the list of people he consults, but perhaps there is some political give-and-take underway?

Ethan: Deal-making? In the Legislature? C’mon…

Phil: I know. Crazy of me to think a Democrat would pretend to be above deal-making and then make deals.

Ethan: The only deal I have heard discussed, an unfounded rumor reported in the Portland Press Herald, is that people think he traded his vote with Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, in exchange for a vote to expand MaineCare. But that doesn’t make sense, since Saviello already voted for the expansion.

Phil: You’re a wily veteran of these maneuvers. I would be looking around very carefully to see who co-sponsors a bill or casts a vote that is out of character this next session.

Ethan: Heck, if a Republican came to me and said he would flip his vote on expanding health care to 70,000 people in exchange for my vote to stop a bill that was never going to pass, I would certainly be tempted.

Phil: The other option perhaps is political action committee contributions from the chemical industry.

Ethan: Are you saying that since the industry already owns your party, it may be looking for new people to buy?

Phil: Chemical companies no more own the Republican Party than tobacco, paper, gun and other companies own the Democratic Party.

Ethan: Don’t remind me. That said, I find it pretty hard to believe that Justin would endure this controversy for a few thousand bucks from Dow Chemical or DuPont.

Phil: Then what’s your take on why he made this bizarre move?

Ethan: Only he can definitively explain his vote, but what I know is that he has a very strong environmental record, not to mention a young son and another on the way. It is hard for me to imagine he jeopardized that record and the health of his kids in return for some wheeling and dealing. I think he just believes, right or wrong, that we are better off using the process written into law.

Phil: Oh, young Skywalker, you still have so much to learn.