Augusta, Maine – Republicans in Maine’s House of Representatives tried to grab the high ground when they voted against extending the legislative session by three days, killing a number of measures important to many residents of the state.
Their argument: Democrats had wasted time earlier in the session when matters could have been worked on.
The vote to extend the session came in the form of an amended joint order requiring the support of at least two thirds of the members voting. (Click here for link to recorded vote.)
And that enabled the minority party to accomplish what they were really after – thwarting the implementation of the voter approved expansion of Medicaid coverage in Maine.
Disingenuous Attack on Speaker Gideon by Governor and Minority Leader Fredette?
To be clear, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) and Republican Governor Paul LePage never hid their opposition to the Medicaid expansion.
But as they put up obstacles to reaching any compromise they also worked to re-direct criticism away from their plan to prevent the Medicaid expansion by attacking Speaker Sara Gideon, claiming she had failed to lead.
However, chastening the Democrats by claiming they dragged their feet during the session to force a compromise on Medicaid expansion – all while the Republicans were themselves throwing sand in the gears of governing – seemed more like “the skunk calling the rose stinky.*”
In the end, all but three House Republicans voted not to extend the legislative session, killing the Medicaid expansion, as well as an important bill providing help to victims of opioid addiction.
Details of How the Extension Would Have Worked.
Speaker Sara Gideon’s original version of the joint order called for four days to be added to the legislative calendar – two days for committee and floor action on bills and appropriation items needing to be worked up, and two days to deal with expected vetoes from Governor LePage on some of the measures.
According to debate on the floor, budget related line-item vetoes would have to be taken up on one “veto dedicated day” and any other non-line-item vetoes would require a separate day.
Minority Leader Fredette lectured the Democrats, insisting they had wasted time, and encouraged his minority caucus to oppose any extension.
Representative Matthew Pouliot (R-Augusta), offered an amendment to the joint order to limit the extended session to one-day, suggesting his compromise offered enough time to get the work done.
While open to an amendment to lessen the number of days in order to reach a compromise to address what members acknowledged was important unfinished business, Speaker Gideon pointed out that they would still need the two additional days to deal with the threatened vetoes from the governor.
Pouliot’s amendment failed, by a vote of only 32 in favor and 115 against (click here for link to vote).
Then Representative Robert Duchesne (D-Hudson) offered an amendment for a three-day extension.
The Speaker and all but two Democrats voted for Duchesne’s compromise amendment.
It passed by a majority vote of 81 in favor and 68 opposed, with three Republicans voting in favor of the Duchesne compromise (click here for vote on the Duchesne amendment).
Although the amendment needed a simple majority to pass, the joint order, amended to three days – one on legislative committee action and floor debate, and two for dealing with expected veto messages from the Governor – needed a two-thirds majority vote of at least 99 votes in favor to pass.
It failed on a vote of 82 in favor and 66 opposed – all but three of the Republicans voting no to the compromise measure.
That vote essentially ended the legislative session, with the following matters left undone:
Additional Assistance for Opioid Victims
School Funding Measure
The Candle reached out to the Fredette over a week ago seeking a statement regarding the House Republicans’ position should the order for an extension be offered.
He called back and told The Candle to speak with his press person, Rob Poindexter.
But that had already happened. Poindexter outlined the House Republican’s position, and when pressed for a more detailed explanation, he said he would try to set up a conference call interview with his boss.
Poindexter also suggested the Medicaid expansion funding was a deal-breaker – the Democrats wanted it to be part of the compromise, while the Republicans were against it (unless cuts were made elsewhere in the budget to offset the Medicaid increases).
When asked why the Republicans not budging on Medicaid expansion wasn’t just as much a hurdle to a compromise as was the Democrats’ position of not wanting to link Medicaid to a minimum wage debate, Poindexter suggested the conference call with Fredette would provide more answers.
Classic Diversionary Tactic.
But Fredette avoided the conference call.
The Candle sent Poindexter an email re-stating our request for an explanation, in part:
Could you provide me a statement from the House Republican leadership, or from Leader Fredette (or arrange a time I could call him) for the following questions:
1.) Why they chose to dig in and prevent the extension.
2.) What was the pitch made by the Minority Leader Ken Fredette to his fellow House Republican Caucus members to take a stand that left the above mentioned maters along with what one Maine newspaper reported to be “dozens of bipartisan measures left unresolved.”
3.) Will the House Republican leaders and caucus continue to fight efforts to address measures left unresolved when the legislature returns for the so-called ‘veto session’ as it’s being reported that through some parlimentary procedures, the House and Senate Democrats and I beleive the leaders of the Senate Republicans will try to address same? …
In another response to our request to speak with Fredette, Poindexter responded, “Rep. Fredette is balancing the state house and his two law practices. We have a citizens legislature here in Maine so time can be pretty limited. I’ll see what I can do.”
Fredette never called back.
No further explanation was sent to The Candle by the Republicans.
And in the debate on the floor Wednesday, the Republicans were as partisan as they claimed the Democrats were.
But by the end of the day, the Democrats had at least offered a reasonable, workable compromise.
Gideon went halfway, but Fredette’s team played the Governor’s hand – thwarting Medicaid expansion, defying the voters of Maine, and killing other bills they claimed they supported.
Gideon released the following statement at the end of the session:
“Today, the House Republicans chose to go home, relinquishing responsibility and creating uncertainty around the issues that matter most to our people and our economy.
“Bottom line, we just needed to take action. But today, because of unclear motives and an unknown agenda, House Republicans voted against their own values. After eight years of partisanship before progress, I was still so gravely disappointed to watch House Republicans walk away from their responsibilities. I had hoped for more.”
The Candle left a phone message for the Republicans’ press staff Wednesday, seeking an explanation as to how the Republican leaders wanted their caucus members to vote on the order – we never got a return call.
It was followed up with an email to the Republicans’ press office after the session ended for a comment – there was no response by the time we published this story. (Our email had an admitted snarky comment about not expecting an answer given our experience – however we will post any update should we get one).
*The Candle did not coin this phrase, and wants to acknowledge the individual who did – someone identified as Thoth, who wrote it and claimed authorship on the website WordReference.com (click here for link).