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Mills' State Of The State: Legislative Leaders See Cooperation On Some Issues, Contention On Others

Natalie Bell
Bangor Daily News
Gov. Janet Mills delivers her first State of the State address to the Maine Legislature, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.

Gov. Janet Mills delivered her first State of the State address Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz talked with Democratic state Senate President Troy Jackson, of Allagash, and House Minority Leader, Republican Kathleen Dillingham, of Oxford, to find out what they thought about the speech, and the policy goals and initiatives Mills laid out.GRATZ: Good morning.

DILLINGHAM: Thank you for having me.

JACKSON: Good morning,

GRATZ: Sen. Jackson, Gov. Mills speech was full of requests: more money for higher education, investment in broadband technology, a fix for highway funding, holding electric utilities accountable, passing a state Equal Rights Amendment. Can the Legislature accomplish all of that in this short session?

JACKSON: Well, while it is, you know, very ambitious goals, I think, you know, we are legislators, that's what we're elected to do is roll up our sleeves and get things done. You know, I don't see any reason why we can't come together and work on these things and pass the majority - if not all - of them. I mean, like I said, I'm totally committed, you know, to putting the time in, and just doing what the people of the state of Maine elected us to do.

Rep. Dillingham, among the governor's proposals, are there any that your caucus will have a problem with?

DILLINGHAM: Of course. You know, some of the spending pieces - we're going to want to see some more details on that. Referencing a bond for CTE [Certified Technical Education] - I don't think there was any issue there about agreement that the funding needs to be there, perhaps maybe talking about- I think that bond requests may have been around $40 million - talking about maybe that's something that we look at. You know, being part of a supplemental rather - if we're going to have one - rather than looking to bond ERA, I think, as you may know, from our previous debate on that. But it's something that the majority of my caucus is not going to support. Happy to hear her talk about our infrastructure and making sure we get our roads fixed. But I agree with the Senate president - we certainly can sit down, get to work in our committees and amongst leaders and have those conversations and see where we can find some common ground.

Sen. Jackson, are there any pressing needs you wish the governor had mentioned in last night's speech that she did not?

JACKSON: Well, no, I think she hit on all the, you know, very core issues that we all should be able to come coalesce around - I mean, health care, broadband. You know, that shouldn't be a luxury for anyone in this day and age. We should just know they'll have quality internet across the state. And we don't have that - treaties, emergency responders - I mean, these are all things I think that we all know we should be able to agree on, we all believe in. You know, individually, we may all haves issues that we want to work on that are, you know, may be district specific or something that, you know, people elected us for. But, you know, these are - what she hit on last night I think were core things that, you know, we should be able to get done and work together with.

CTE, I should point out, is I think certified training program, right?

JACKSON: It's [Certified] Technical Education, right.

Rep. Dillingham, you mentioned to us last night that you were disappointed by some things that happened in the last legislative session. Can you detail those and tell us whether the governor addressed any of them last night?

DILLINGHAM: I think we were talking about her reference to that, you know, we're Maine, we're not Washington, and Washington politics don't belong underneath, you know, our dome. And I've always been a very large proponent, big proponent, about civility and the way that we treat each other, and that people expect more from us when we are elected to represent them in Augusta in the way that we act and conduct ourselves. And that goes along with what we say about each other. So some of my disappointment came from - and it's not specific to either party - but the way that maybe we don't always follow decorum, and maybe in some some interviews, you know, the name calling. It's just not necessary. It's not conducive to sitting down, as I mentioned, you know, sitting down working with each other. I think we need to raise the bar. People expect more than us, and as they should.

Yeah, and certainly, I think you would think the tone of the governor's speech last night was certainly OK, correct?

DILLINGHAM: Oh, no, absolutely. And specifically, when we were talking about that it was more that the governor was referencing that we should be able to work together. And I don't have that issue with her. I think that she's always been very open to myself and members of my caucus. I think I was referring more to the legislative bodies and we maybe need to raise our expectations in the way that we deal and work with each other.

Republican state Sen. Dana Dow, told us last night, in response to the State of the State, that Maine would benefit from tax credits directed toward business. Sen. Jackson, might Democrats be open to that?
JACKSON: Well, sure. I mean, we've already demonstrated that. I mean, governor referenced it last night and the Penobscot McCrum bill, which I sponsored, and which created the potato processing facility in northern Maine. You know, we did Idexx a couple of years ago, and I have another bill this session for Twin Rivers Paper in Madawaska. So certainly, very, very willing to work on those issues that help foster good businesses that provide good jobs and, you know, help Mainers get the fair breaks that they deserve.

Rep. Dillingham - I've got about 30 seconds left - one thing that did kind of trip up legislators last year was the bond issues. What will the Republican caucus support in this session?
DILLINGHAM: We, again, we need the details, want to see what's going to be proposed, if they're going to change from our last session. So that's nothing that my caucus has taken another position on as of yet. We're waiting to see what's going to come forward.

GRATZ: Very well. Thank you both very much for the time. We've been speaking with state Senate President Troy Jackson, a Democrat, and Republican House Leader Kathleen Dillingham. Again, thanks to both of you.

DILLINGHAM: Thank you. Have a great day.

You too.

JACKSON: Appreciate it.

Originally published Jan. 22, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. ET.