Thursday, March 29, 2018

State Senator Justin Chenette: This Feels A Bit Like Highway Robbery

The Maine Senate voted 25-9 for corporate welfare to benefit General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works in the form of $45 million tax giveaway yesterday. Bruce Gagnon was on hand and reported:

Sen. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) told his fellow senators that while serving on the Taxation Committee, that had responsibility for LD 1781, he asked BIW V-P Fitzgerald five times for financial information that would prove the company needed the support.  Fitzgerald repeatedly refused to do so.  Chenette asked, "How can we make informed decisions without the facts?  This feels a little bit like highway robbery."

The campaign run by General Dynamics targeting Maine's elected officials amounted to: pay up, or else we shut down and throw thousands of people out of work.

I've always had a problem with caving to bullies. Maybe it's the Irish in me. Or the logical girl who considered going to law school. It seemed to me even as a child that, if I let someone bully me, I was indicating that they could do it again anytime they felt like it. So standing up for myself was the best choice in the long run even if painful in the short term.

Some of the other stars of yesterday's bullying session were Sen. Ben Chipman, a progressive from Portland who probably passes homeless people every single day on his way to work. Chipman said, "We could use this money to help alleviate poverty in Maine."

Also Sen. Mike Carpenter who pointed out, "There is no suggestion this company needs our help. This company is exploding with money."

Mark Roman, who was on hand to witness the senate's capitulation, described the day as "like watching a slow motion robbery happen."

Here's the roll call. Nine votes against the bill are more than we expected. But weasly words like Sen. Brownie Carson's to constituents -- where he concedes the truth of their arguments but ends with "I will vote my conscience" -- generally signal that a legislator is in the pocket of the guys in expensive suits.


BELLOWS of KennebecDN
BRAKEY of AndroscogginRY
BREEN of CumberlandDY
CARPENTER of AroostookDN
CARSON of CumberlandDY
CHIPMAN of CumberlandDN
CUSHING of PenobscotRY
CYRWAY of KennebecRY
DAVIS of PiscataquisRY
DIAMOND of CumberlandDY
DILL of PenobscotDY
DION of CumberlandDN
DOW of LincolnRY
GRATWICK of PenobscotDN
HAMPER of OxfordRY
HILL of YorkDY
JACKSON of AroostookDY
KATZ of KennebecRY
KEIM of OxfordRY
LANGLEY of HancockRY
LIBBY of AndroscogginDY
MAKER of WashingtonRY
MASON of AndroscogginRY
MILLETT of CumberlandDN
ROSEN of HancockRN
SAVIELLO of FranklinRY
VITELLI of SagadahocDY
VOLK of CumberlandRY

Organizer Gagnon was surprised to find that progressive leader Sen. Troy Jackson voted for the bill. Then he found out that Jackson has an ambitious son who works for Preti Flaherty, the lobbying law firm that racked up hundreds of billable hours in reponse to strong citizen resistance to LD1781. 

Because of citizen resistance and a few brave legislators and journalists, the original ask of $60 million was reduced to $45 million (albeit in a shortened timeframe that would send them back for more in 15 years instead of 20). 

I'll be sending a personal message to each of the senators who found the courage to vote no on the bill. Probably General Dynamics/BIW will attempt to punish them for it, either financially or otherwise. That's how bullies work.

Cynics say I'm wrong. They say the legislative process permits a handful of representatives or senators to put on a good show for angry consituents as the need arises. As long as the bill ultimately passes, who cares if a few no votes are recorded in the process? Those same cynics would argue that participating in citizen lobbying is a huge waste of time and that the people who do it are "useful idiots." Myself, I see these efforts as powerful communication opportunities. Our messaging travels beyond our own group to reach even those who "don't follow politics" and contributes to their education a little bit.

Citizen lobbyists against LD1781 present in the State House for the Senate vote.

Also, you meet the nicest people in these movements.

Notorious bully Governor LePage must now sign the bill for it to become law. His (or really, his staff's) misunderstanding of how a pocket veto works led to the passage of 65 bills he disliked back in 2015. So, I'm praying for another foul up by his nepotistic staff in the coming days.

In other words, I'm praying for a miracle on behalf of the hungry children of Maine.

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