Capitol Notebook: LePage, GOP play politics of division

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Describing his view of the state budget, Republican legislator Jeffrey Timberlake talks about children waiting to get on a school bus where there aren’t enough seats.

Timberlake, a farmer from Turner and a key Republican member of the  Appropriations Committee, was quoted in a story last week by Sun Journal Statehouse reporter Scott Thistle. Timberlake pitted the interests of Maine’s newly arrived immigrants against those of long-term Mainers.

“There are Maine people who want to get on the bus, who want to go to school,” Timberlake said. “And we are not letting them get on the bus. Instead, we are putting asylum-seekers and so forth ahead of those wanting to get on the bus who are Mainers – our elderly, our disabled. That’s where we come from.”

For Timberlake and other Republicans, the immigrants who come to Maine often seeking refuge from terror and war, are not truly Mainers.

Last week, the budget negotiations foundered on the intransigence of Republican legislators who don’t want to provide public assistance to immigrant asylum seekers, who arrive here on legal visas and then must go through a federal process to be granted asylum.

For a certain period of time during this application period asylum seekers are prohibited from working. Some have no choice but to turn to the state and local government for help.

Gov. Paul LePage falsely describes this population as “illegal immigrants,” but the people he described came here on legal visas, and are here legally while they seek asylum.

“The only people who still support welfare for illegal immigrants are liberal lawmakers in Augusta who are ignoring the Maine people and refusing to include common-sense welfare reforms in the state’s budget,” LePage said in a press release last week.

It matters what the facts are, and what you name things, and for Maine’s governor to make false and damaging statements about Maine residents is alarming, but not surprising at this point. And the amount of state-funded assistance to legal non-citizens is a tiny fraction of the prop0sed $6.6 billion budget.

Acceptance of diversity has not always been Maine’s strong suit. In the 1920s, the Protestant descendants of English settlers (read immigrants) resisted the newly arrived French-Canadian and Irish immigrants. And the first wave of Somali refugees were harshly received by some in the city of Lewiston. And in a state with a stagnant population, Republicans still say there is not enough room on the bus.

LePage is happy to describe himself as a Frenchman, proud of a heritage shared by many in Maine. But he has lost the memory of the discrimination that was aimed at the early French-Canadian arrivals.

New rules for ballot recounts

The secretary of state’s office will be updating its rules for election recounts following the bungled process after last year’s state Senate District 25 election. Falmouth Democrat Cathy Breen was correctly declared the winner after a recount snafu briefly seated Republican Cathy Manchester in the Legislature, where she cast some votes.

The review of the rules was initiated after a bill to clarify the recount process was introduced by Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth. Her bill was voted ought not to pass, with the understanding that the secretary of state’s office would update its recount rules.

During the Breen-Manchester recount, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap declined to review Long Island ballots after a discrepancy was discovered. Dunlap felt he could not order such a review without going to a second full recount that would have required approval from both candidates’ attorneys.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said the new recount rules would clarify that a recount could be carried over to another day if issues arise, without a new recount.

“In 20 years of doing recounts, probably 150 recounts or so, this is the first time we have made an error,” Flynn said.

The new rules will go though a public rule-making process and be in place prior to the 2016 election.

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Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.