STATEHOUSE/REMOTELY – Closely following the provisions in Maine’s Constitution, Legislative Republicans conducted another poll of their membership in response to calls from the Presiding Officers to reconvene a special session of the Legislature. The result was the same, with one difference.
A month has gone by since the last poll. During that time, Speaker Gideon and President Jackson made no attempts to contact Republican leaders to explore whether a bipartisan agreement can be reached to reconvene the legislature safely and with a focus on only urgent, COVID-19 related matters.
Legislative Republicans have repeatedly and publicly called for a return of the Legislature in order to re-establish the balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches of government. They have also asked for an agreement on the scope of work to be completed to address emergency pieces of legislation directly related to COVID19, such as the failures with the Bureau of Unemployment, and also oversee the spending of the CARES Act money.
The continued refusal of Democrat leaders to even discuss limiting the agenda and scope of a legislative session raises questions about their sincerity and their ability to lead at a time when Maine needs bipartisan leadership. Instead, they would rather focus on how republican members register their responses to a poll, refer to an AG opinion about proxy voting which does not apply to this situation, and even go so far as to have their parliamentarian refer to what is clearly called a poll in the Maine Constitution as being equivalent to a roll call vote.
“The Declaration of Civil Emergency in place in our state has just once again been extended,” said House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham. “We have an obligation to act accordingly and in the same way that Maine citizens have been forced to comply with restrictions. We can’t pretend there isn’t an emergency in order to pass spending and bills that are unrelated to the crisis we are in. I am disappointed that Speaker Gideon hasn’t attempted to find common ground with Republicans or tried to work in the bipartisan fashion we were able to operate under in March.”
Legislative Leaders were able to come together this past March in meetings held in the offices of the Speaker and Senate President to prioritize pieces of legislation that rose to the level of emergency. In doing so, we were able to quickly move through the legislative process and adjourn sine a die. This was done for the safety of the public, staff and members.
“President Jackson continues to make blatantly false claims about Republicans, the legislative process and even the current state of Maine’s finances,” said Assistant House Republican Leader Harold ‘Trey’ Stewart. “Maine is going to be short $1.4 billion over the next three years and he thinks we are in good shape. He continues to claim that Republicans refused to participate in polls to reconvene, despite the fact that Republicans have conducted two polls and reported the results directly to the presiding officers.”
House Republican Leadership individually polled the members of their political caucuses by asking the question that was provided by the Presiding Officers. Members provided their response to the question which was notated as a yes or no. The Senate President and Speaker would rather focus on how members were polled instead of working with legislative republicans to reach an agreement to return. It appears they are more concerned with a list of names that they can use to once again attack republicans and use as a fundraising mechanism which calls into serious question their sincerity to actually return to a special session in order to address the concerns of so many Mainers.
Refusing to limit the session in the same way that Maine people have been limited, violates the principle of restricting activities to those that are essential in the name of safety. Now is not the time to spend days or weeks at a minimum of an extra $50,000 a day dealing with bills that can absolutely wait until the next regular meeting of the Legislature in January.
Legislative Republicans continue to be clear about the position they have held for several months now. We need a brief, safe, meeting of the Legislature to address a small number of critical “emergency” issues that should not wait until the next regular meeting of the Legislature in January. We call on the presiding officers to be better than the partisan rhetoric and cheap false implications they have shared so far and instead to fulfill their duty as the Senate President and Speaker of the House by reaching an agreement with the republican members of their chambers so that the Maine people can once again be heard.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION GOVERNING PROCESS:
Pursuant to Article IV, Part Third, Section 1, the Legislature may convene at such other times on the call of the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, with the consent of a majority of the Members of the Legislature of each political party, all Members of the Legislature having been first polled.
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LETTER TO SPEAKER ANNOUNCING THE RESULT OF THE POLL:
August 5, 2020
Speaker Sara Gideon
2 State House Station
Augusta, Me 04333
Dear Speaker Gideon:
Article IV Part 3 Section 1 of the Maine Constitution states that, “The Legislature may convene at such other times on the call of the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, with the consent of a majority of the Members of the Legislature of each political party, all Members of the Legislature having been first polled.” As the Republican Caucus leader it is my responsibility to poll the members of my, “political party,” not the unelected Clerk of the House. Further a poll is not like a roll call vote, as was suggested by the Clerk, if it were then the Constitution would say a vote of the political parties, but as you can plainly read above the Maine Constitution says poll. A poll is a tally of the members of the political caucus to which I am elected leader in response to the question posed by you, “Do you favor returning for a special session in August at the Augusta Civic Center?” I have polled my members and attached the results of that poll here. Each member of my caucus can attest to having been polled.
The last poll conducted by my caucus was July 14th following the same constitutional process. The Constitution protects the minority in this process by ensuring we have a voice. To date there has been no conversation on what a return to session will look like. Management of the House and finding bipartisan solutions requires speaking to the opposing party, requires compromise, and requires listening to the other side. Over the last month none of those leadership qualities have been demonstrated by either Presiding Officer and unless and until an agreement can be reached limiting the scope of our legislative work to the issues immediately facing the state due to the ongoing emergency proclamation then there will be no change in these poll results.
Today just as on July 14th we remain committed to working together to set an agenda that addresses the many issues facing Mainer’s living in a declared state of emergency.
Representative Kathleen R.J. Dillingham
House Republican Leader
Representative Harold Trey Stewart III
Assistant House Republican Leader