Using procedures that date back to the state’s very first legislature, Maine lawmakers took the oath of office and got down to business at the State House Wednesday.
Democrats, Republicans and independents all used the session to talk about working together, but some fundamental political differences could make that goal very difficult.
Democrats, who are firmly in control of both the House and Senate, elected Freeport Rep. Sara Gideon as Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives and Allagash Senator Troy Jackson as President of the Maine Senate. Jackson urged colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together to solve the state’s problems.
“My challenges to all of us here today is to not let what makes this senate chamber so strong become its greatest weakness,” says Jackson. “The diversity of our backgrounds and identities is exactly what is called for these days.”
Speaker Gideon echoed calls for civil discourse to settle problems. She says there are plenty of issues on which both parties can reach agreement.
“Modern infrastructure, lower healthcare costs, educating our kids, taking care of seniors, growing opportunities for families and businesses to start here and thrive here,” says Gideon.
Republican leaders say that reaching compromise on issues can be done, but that the details will matter.
Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, a Republican from Oxford, is the House Minority Leader.
“We just may have differences on how to get there,” says Dillingham. “But we can have those conversations and speak to issues without the personal attacks.”
Republican Sen. Dana Dow of Newcastle, the Senate Minority Leader, says that civility is fine, but that does not mean Republicans will give up on core principles. Dow says there is little, if any, GOP support for new or higher taxes, even for such important issues as healthcare, education and improving the state’s infrastructure.
“There is plenty of money out there,” says Dow. “We don’t need to increase taxes to bring in even more. There is enough money to go around. You got to whittle down the Christmas wish list to reality.”
State revenues have been re-projected upward by over $300 million, and Dow says the state will need to set its priorities in the months ahead to stay within existing resources.
Lawmakers will go into session January 2, and in February it will receive Gov. Janet Mill’s proposals for spending.