Ethan: So, I noticed this week that you called me out in a solo blog where I wouldn’t have a chance to respond. What is up with that?
Phil: You know I wouldn’t do that! Besides I know you have TV, radio and this nationally recognized blog to skewer me back if you felt the need. Anyway, you were in Cleveland visiting your grandmother. Family is way more important than anything you or I might have to say.
Ethan: That is true. I figured you thought you could write it when I wouldn’t notice.
Phil: You not notice? Please. I don’t know anyone who pays attention to politics more than you. To that end, we all noticed that you published a few insightful blogs on recent polling, even from your perch in the Midwest.
Ethan: Lots of downtime with a 97-year-old grandmother. She often needs rest, as you can imagine.
Phil: I can indeed. So, what did you think of my post? For those who might have missed it, I wrote to point out the need for more statesmanship in Maine. Honestly, I found Senate President Justin Alfond’s attacks on the decision and motivations of the Department of Health and Human Services to move its Portland headquarters to a less expensive location inappropriate. A simple conversation on how to bring differing opinions together, instead of immediately holding a press conference slamming the governor for a “war on the poor,” would have been much more dignified and useful.
Ethan: Understood. But then you attacked me for simply pointing out that LePage shouldn’t be complaining about the federal healthcare.gov website not meeting the needs of Maine people. Had the governor been a true statesman, he would have taken matters into his own hands and simply created a state exchange, as many encouraged him to do.
Phil: All the Obamacare team needed to do was pass along the information to Maine, and this wouldn’t have been an issue. You saw it as LePage’s fault, rather than another example that Obamacare wasn’t ready for primetime. I was trying to illustrate that politics is getting in the way of ”we are in this together” leadership.
Ethan: I couldn’t agree more, which was my point. LePage was trying to deflect blame to others, instead of solving the problem himself.
Phil: How could LePage solve it without the information needed from the healthcare.gov website?
Ethan: If he had created an exchange for Maine, by Maine and with Maine people, he wouldn’t have needed the federal website to send him information. But to a bigger point, I would have felt a lot better about your post if you hadn’t simply attacked Democrats. You and I are usually less partisan than that, and I was surprised you didn’t at least mention one Republican who is not behaving up to our standards.
Phil: Although my blog’s focus was on Democratic opinion leaders attacking DHHS day after day last week, your criticism is fair. Lord knows, there are folks on both sides of the aisle these days not talking to each other.
Ethan: Indeed. Case in point is the latest brouhaha with the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. The committee wants to talk to Commissioner Mary Mayhew to get some simple questions answered, and the governor won’t let her and her staff testify. I understand that he is still angry that Sen. Dawn Hill refused to allow him to speak to Appropriations, but isn’t it time to get over that faux pas?
Phil: That might have been the tipping point, but when I served on Health and Human Services, we didn’t ever subject Commissioner Kevin Concannon to the treatment Mayhew has received. It’s time for the diplomats on these committees to show the way. Don’t you agree?
Ethan: Well, I don’t know about your time in the Legislature, but I can assure you when I chaired committees, we were as tough on commissioners as was needed to get answers. It was our duty to ask hard questions, and it was the duty of commissioners to answer. As chair of Criminal Justice, I once had the corrections commissioner sit in my committee room for three days explaining every line item in his budget. Every single line.
Phil: Tough questions are fine. But berating is different. When finding ways to play gotcha supersedes understanding, solutions are blinded by politics.
Ethan: Of course, yet it’s also pretty difficult to find solutions if the people implementing decisions aren’t sitting at the table to have a conversation.
Phil: Which brings us to the path forward. How do we find a peace accord in time for the Legislature to pass a supplemental budget and get all its second session work accomplished?
Ethan: If we want peace, each side has to look in the mirror. On the Democratic side, leaders should apologize for not allowing the governor to speak to Appropriations and assure him that anytime he wants to testify, the microphone will be turned on.
Phil: And on the governor’s side, he needs to stop insulting legislators as he did to Sen. Troy Jackson when he made his Vaseline comment and again this week when he said he would send an English teacher to help Health and Human Services Committee members read. Whether these were meant as jokes, they were way out of line, and he should give full-throated apologies.
Ethan: And then, both sides need to commit to understanding they are equal branches of government that have to share information and solve problems together. We should welcome policy disagreements, and the debate should be heated. Name-calling and sloganeering, not so much.
Phil: Then, once session is over, there will be at least six months for campaigning, name calling, and press conferences proclaiming the other the devil incarnate.
Ethan: Can’t wait!