Statehouse Democrats wage war on Maine’s small businesses

By Rep. Larry Lockman (R) Amherst

My op-ed column, “Democrats Push Extremist Agenda at the Statehouse,” in the Bangor Daily News on May 4 generated a ton of traffic in mostly negative comments on the BDN website and (so far) at least two sharply critical letters to the editor of the BDN. The column also prompted Ellsworth American political columnist Jill Goldthwait to question why I would make such a fuss about two proposed bills that were killed unanimously in committee. She wrote that I was “not wrong” to characterize the proposed legislation as part of the Democrats’ relentless assault on Maine small businesses. In fact, she referred to the bills as “dopey.” But she wonders why I’m making such a big deal about it since all the Democrats on the committee agreed with me in voting unanimously “ought not to pass.”

As I described it, the Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development (LCRED) Committee on which I serve is ground zero for the Democrats’ war on small business. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear public testimony on Democrat-sponsored legislation that goes far beyond what even the most liberal, anti-business state legislatures are doing to smother and handcuff job creators. These are the two bills in question: LD 1101, An Act to Adopt a Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights, is six pages and 3,000 words of onerous scheduling and wage mandates, modeled on two ordinances recently adopted in San Francisco. LD 1217, An Act to Require at Least 2 Weeks’ Advance Notice of the Work Schedule for Hourly Employees at Certain Businesses, is another five pages and 2,500 words of statutory language unlike anything on the books in any other state.

Passage of these bills would place Maine out of step with every other state in the country, increase the cost of doing business here, create friction in the workplace, and send a clear message to Maine’s small business owners that they would be foolish to hire new employees. A grocery store owner in Ellsworth who employs 22 people, including the couple who own the store, submitted written testimony to the committee: “This has truly blindsided me and we are totally against both these bills….They are ridiculous and troubling. I am trying to wrap my tired mind around the purpose of such restrictions and regulations. I tell you it makes you want to just close up shop. How distressing.”

Both bills were sponsored by Democrats, and all the co-sponsors are Democrats (and one “independent” who caucuses with the Democrats). And get this — the bills exempt nonprofits and government entities from the avalanche of new scheduling and wage mandates. Only businesses trying to earn a profit get whacked. Maine’s vast and lucrative nonprofit sector gets a pass.

Predictably, several of Maine’s most vocal, left-wing, progressive tax-exempt nonprofit groups showed up at the public hearing urging us to pass these bills. Maine Equal Justice Partners, Maine Women’s Lobby, Maine Center for Economic Policy, and of course the Maine AFL-CIO, all weighed in to tell us what a wonderful world it would be if the Legislature enacts these bills.

As Goldthwait noted in her column, following the committee’s unanimous “ought not to pass” vote, “The bills are deceased.”

I think it would be more accurate to say that the Democrats put the bills into a medically induced coma. Scaled-down proposals will be back in some form in the next Legislature. Count on it. Democrats on the committee loved these bills, but they understand that anything this radical needs more time to marinate.

This incremental strategy of taking one small bite at a time has served the Left well in Maine. Democrats have enjoyed one-party control of state government for the better part of 40 years, and during that time they have been patient and persistent in pushing their left-wing progressive agenda. This isn’t your grandfather’s Democratic Party anymore. It’s not the party of Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Ed Muskie. Today it’s the party of Bernie Sanders, Harry Reid and Justin Alfond.

They measure progress by the number of people who depend on government to meet their basic needs.

At the micro level, I see the progressive mindset on display almost every day in the Labor Committee. House Chairman Democrat Rep. Erin Herbig of Belfast and senior Democrat Sen. John Patrick of Rumford do the bidding of the aforementioned left-wing advocacy groups who represent the core constituencies of Maine’s Democrat Party. Herbig and Patrick command a slim 7-6 majority on the committee, and they whip their members to toe the party line. This session, to cite just one example of their hyper-partisanship, they have been ruthless in shutting down debate and deliberation on Republican-sponsored legislation that would shine a light on the use of public funds by government employees’ unions, a key constituency for Democrats.

In closing, yes, it’s crunch time at the Statehouse. We are hurtling toward a statutory adjournment date of June 17. That means there’s still time for majority Democrats on the LCRED Committee to come to their senses. But I won’t be holding my breath.

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