By George Smith
Bangor Daily News column
Today legislators had to decide which was most important: the will of the people, or the willfulness of the Governor. Twenty five Senators voted with the people, overriding the Governor’s veto of Senator Roger Katz’s bill to allow bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future program to be sold without the Governor’s approval. That was more than enough for the required 2/3 vote to override the Governor’s veto of Roger’s bill.
Sadly, 52 Republicans chose LePage over the Land for Maine’s Future, supporting the Governor’s broken promise rather than the LMF bonds. While 91 Representatives voted to over-ride the veto, those 52 no votes left us about a half dozen votes short of the necessary 2/3, killing the bill and the program. Many LMF supporters, legislators, lobbyists, and private citizens were shocked and dismayed.
David Trahan, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance, told me he was “Deeply saddened. Now, the Land for Maine’s Future has become nothing more than a political exercise – and this vote allows the Governor to continue to use LMF for political gain.” Along with staff and lobbyists for environmental groups, Trahan has been outspoken in his support for LMF and his opposition to the Governor’s effort to deep six the program.
Dave Trahan is right. The Governor wins. The rest of us lose.
As a Republican whose hero, President Teddy Roosevelt, was the greatest conservationist our nation ever elected to the Oval Office, it was a sad day for me. Those 52 Republicans abandoned our heritage, voting to place a lengthy list of outstanding conservation projects in jeopardy.
I will write about some of those projects later, as they fall by the wayside. Some may be able to raise additional funds to make up for the loss of LMF money. But some will most assuredly be lost.
Please check out the House roll call vote here. A yes vote was to override the Governor’s veto of Roger’s bill. If any of the legislators who voted no represent you, contact them and ask for an explanation. Then please share that explanation with me.
Those 52 Republicans, led by House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, argued wrongly that this was a Constitutional issue and the legislature was intruding on the Governor’s Constitutional authority. That’s just plain wrong. The better argument is that this is about doing what the people want. We voted for these bonds and expected them to be sold.
It’s also about keeping promises. I probably don’t have to remind you that the Governor promised to sell these bonds two years ago, and this year decided to hold them hostage to his demand that forest cutting be increased on our public lands and the money diverted to other programs.
Rep. Patrick Corey, a House Republican who voted to override the Governor’s veto, explained the issue very clearly – focusing on the importance of respecting the will of the people. Some Republican House members felt threatened by their leadership and the Governor’s staff, as related by House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe in his own powerful speech today. Twice, Jeff cited and quoted from editorial columns written by Dave Trahan.
Tom Abello of The Nature Conservancy commiserated with me after the vote, expressing his deep disappointment and noting that, “This bill was about good governance and following the will of the people. It was a vote to take politics out of the bonding process.” And he noted the many inaccurate speeches trying to turn this vote into a Constitutional issue.
Right now, all I can think about is the Cold Stream Forest Project in Somerset County. LMF made a commitment to this project in July of last year, but needs the funds and the Governor’s approval to complete the project which protects 8,153 acres, including over 3000 acres of critical deer wintering habitat, and 30 miles of streams on a major tributary of the Kennebec River, conserving more wild brook trout pond habitat than in all the rest of Northern New England.
And here’s something else you need to know. These LMF projects are matched by far more money from other sources. For example, the LMF funding for Cold Stream would have been used as a match for a much larger USDA Forest Legacy Program grant (Cold Stream ranked #3 in the nation for Forest Legacy grants in 2014). The project is actually a partnership between Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Trout Unlimited, Trust for Public Land, and Forest Legacy Program.
When the LMF Board – all appointed by Governor LePage – voted to accept 25 project proposals in July of 2014, using bond money already approved by Maine voters, they expected to spend about $9 million while receiving $25 million in matching contributions. A great deal, any way you measure it.
Well, not according to those 52 House Republicans. Shame on them!