Probing Politics: In the Maine Legislature, you are how you eat

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

“Not bad for a Democrat.”

That was the comment from a long-time Falmouth Republican upon viewing seven votes cast by his state representative, Mary Nelson of Falmouth. The seven bills were about containing the cost of the Maine Legislature as well as making Maine a place where businesses can create and retain jobs.

Rep. Nelson and Rep. Joan Cohen, D-Portland, are among a few Democrats in the state Legislature who bring with them a different set of experiences than the current majority of their party. Mary Nelson has worked in her family business and Joan Cohen has been a lobbyist for the Maine Chamber of Commerce. They likely see issues from the perspective of what it takes to encourage private investment, which is the engine of the economy. After all, a healthy private sector pays the bills of government and charitable organizations.

Also, given the chance to reduce the size of the House of Representatives by 20 seats, both representatives supported the measure that would have saved $1.6 million in the biennial budget. The proposal had overwhelming support the first time it came to a vote but, once legislators saw their self-interest at risk, it failed for lack of the required two-thirds majority.

Today’s Maine Legislature is top-heavy with people, both Democrats and Republicans, who have not worked in the private sector for the majority of their careers. Nearly half the Legislature has been on the payroll of either the government or non-profit organizations that are funded by government. Their personal income and benefits have come from tax dollars or charitable contributions. In other words, Maine is being governed by people from and of government.

How food gets put on your table influences how you see the world. If your work experience is in government, then you might consider government more capable of solving problems than individuals or private enterprise.

For example, this year a bill was introduced in the Legislature (LD 290) that would have allowed Maine residents to shop for their health insurance in any of the other New England states. They could have looked for the coverage they wanted at a price they could afford in the open market. If you go to and get an online quote for individual coverage in the state of New Hampshire, you’ll find it costs less than half than comparable coverage in Maine – if they are willing to insure you.

In New Hampshire, about 10 companies compete for business. In Maine, there is virtually no competition for individual coverage because in Maine public policy discourages competition, but guarantees coverage – if you can afford it. The bill to give consumers a choice was defeated even though Maine has the second highest cost for health care in the country, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Another bill (LD 1028) would have allowed towns to ban the constitutional rights of local businesses. Lobbyists and trade associations fired up employers to beat back the proposal, spending tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to save their companies. Rep. Alan Casavant of Biddeford, a social studies teacher, had introduced the bill at the request of several friends and constituents. The bill was voted out of the State and Local Government Committee as “ought not to pass.” The bill was ultimately defeated by a vote of 124-23. Casavant voted against his own bill, as it was too extreme. Nelson and Cohen also voted against it.

Unfortunately, Reps. Sean Flaherty of Scarborough (a high school swim coach), Bryan Kaenrath (student) and Terry Morrison (restaurant manager) of South Portland; Herb Adams (teacher) and Peter Stuckey (social service worker) of Portland, and Melissa Innes (special education teacher) of Yarmouth were among the 23 who decided to make a statement about business in Maine. They intentionally voted to jeopardize all the jobs in any town that adopted such an ordinance. Imagine a company stripped of its rights trying to get liability insurance – it just wouldn’t happen. Those companies would have to move or expose their homes and personal savings to potential liability suits.

Nelson and Cohen have voting records that suggest they are among the centrists in the state capitol, the place from which Maine generally is best served. The business community and the moderate Democrats in Maine need to find them some company when it comes to repairing and building the private sector. Otherwise, those who cannot understand or choose to ignore the consequences of their actions will be eating our lunch (at taxpayer expense) and there will be too few people left to refill the refrigerator.

Now that’s something to chew on.

Sidebar Elements

payne-tony-op.jpgTony Payne is executive director of the Alliance for Maine’s Future and a Falmouth resident and town councilor. His column is published biweekly, and he can be reached at