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I represented Topsham in the Maine Legislature during Gov. Paul LePage’s first two years in office. With the first Republican majority in 40 years, we brought a much-needed change to the status quo in Augusta.
But I’ve noticed that even as the Legislature fell back under Democratic control these past two years, Gov. LePage has been able to enact some of his greatest reforms by reaching across the aisle and by better managing state government. It’s a testament to his ability to get things done and runs contrary to the negative things his unrelenting detractors like to say about him.
In those first two years, 2011-2012, LePage and Republicans were able to cut Maine’s long-term pension shortfall nearly in half, cap welfare benefits at five years, enact the largest tax relief package in Maine’s history, streamline our cumbersome small business regulations, and more.
During this time, I served as the House chairwoman of the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee, and my major takeaway from the countless public hearings involving business leaders, economists, and everyday workers was that Maine needed serious reforms after 40 years of ever-growing government spending, taxing, regulation and dependency.
Thanks in part to these reforms, Maine now ranks third in the nation for the growth in our employment ratio since the Great Recession. Our economy still has a long way to go, but for the first time in recent memory, we’re seeing positive change and a light at the end of the tunnel.
In 2013-2014, even when the Legislature was taken over by a majority that opposed these reforms, LePage was still able to get things done and continue moving Maine in a positive direction, often with the buy-in of the very people who opposed him.
Take, for example, the hospital debt, which was created in large part because of past Medicaid expansions like the one proposed this year. LePage promised to pay off this debt while campaigning for governor in 2010 and he delivered. LePage introduced a bold plan to pay off the hospital debt by retaking control of the state liquor business that Gov. John Baldacci sold at a fire-sale price in 2004 in order to close a one-year budget shortfall.
Democratic lawmakers opposed LePage’s hospital debt payoff plan initially, but with the governor’s tireless, months-long advocacy, they ultimately supported the measure and joined Republicans in retiring the debt for good. A less tenacious governor would never have seen it through.
Working with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, LePage signed into law a bill making sex trafficking a crime while giving its victims much-needed support. He protected domestic violence victims by passing a law to require that they be notified when their abuser is released from jail. LePage’s commitment to better funding for Maine’s court system reduced the hearing time for gross sexual assault cases from 18 to four months.
LePage eliminated motor vehicle and hunting fees for veterans, increased funding to veterans’ organizations providing services at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Togus, convinced majority lawmakers to allow military recruiters to wear their uniforms in public schools, instituted reciprocity between military training and state licensing requirements, and much, much more. He accomplished all of these things with strong, bipartisan support because he reached out and made them a priority.
Beyond the legislature, LePage has been able to enact important welfare reforms within his administration’s Department of Health and Human Services that put Maine in line with other states, requiring able-bodied young adults to work, volunteer, or go to school while receiving benefits and preserving resources for Mainers, not illegal immigrants.
This November, we have a choice between LePage, who has proved that he can get things done to move Maine’s economy forward and fundamentally reform state government, or more of the same old politicians who just don’t get it. This year, I’m voting for the guy who can shake things up in Augusta and deliver on his promises.
Kerri Prescott Bickford is a small business owner who represented Topsham in the Maine Legislature from 2006 to 2012.