Five Maine House members shun voting to override Gov. LePage’s veto of the solar bill they previously supported.
By Greg Kesich
Portland Press Herald column
In a couple of weeks the John F. Kennedy Library will announce this year’s Profiles in Courage award, honoring a public official for standing up to political pressure.
They won’t release the winner’s name until May 29, but we can be pretty sure who’s not getting it: (spoiler alert) Mike Timmons.
That’s because the Republican House member from Cumberland and four colleagues ended the Legislative session last week by “taking a walk” (more like hiding in an office) to avoid voting to override a veto of a bill that they had previously backed.
Without them, the bill – LD1649, a modernization of the state’s solar power market – failed to get the two-thirds support it needed to become law over the governor’s objection, wasting an opportunity to create jobs and provide a predictable framework for millions of dollars in private investments.
So much of what goes on in the Legislature is invisible to the public. It’s all about process and rules and “yes” can mean either “yes” or “no,”depending on how the question is asked. Legislators make thousands of votes and most of the time there is no way of knowing what influenced them.
But votes like this shine a bright light on how things work. When lawmakers vote to pass a bill and then vote to uphold the governor when he vetos it, it’s pretty clear what’s going on – they are more afraid of dissappointing him than they are about letting down the people back home. And when they purposely hide out rather than vote at all, it means that they don’t want the people back home to know about it
Timmons’ walking partners were Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford, Mary Anne Kinney of Knox, John Pichiotti of Fairfield and Brian Hobart of Bowdoinham. A sixth member, Timothy Theriault of China, joined the walkers after reportedly giving the bill’s supporters the impression that he would reverse his previous “no” vote.
None of the members who hid in the House Republican office during the crucial second override vote was particularly courageous, but Timmons deserves special recognition because he has been here before: A year ago he voted to sustain a veto of a bill that would have forced the release of land conservation bonds that included key financing for two projects in his district. These projects were overwhelmingly supported by his constituents, and the bill had been backed by Timmons himself – until it came back vetoed. Then he changed his vote.
Last July he went home for a blistering session at the Cumberland Town Council, where he squirmed before a panel of councilors, who let him know about how they felt about him turning his back on them.
“You knew it was going to kill our (land) trust, it was going to kill the money for Knight’s Pond, it was going to kill (funding) for Wormell’s (farm),” Town Councilor Michael Edes told Timmons. “The people from the town of Cumberland want these projects. To think that my representative, and the person representing Cumberland, deep-sixed this thing, submarined it … we needed your vote.”
You would think that any legislator who had an experience like that would want to avoid a repeat, but Timmons must find the governor very persuasive.
The solar bill was the product of a six-month collaborative process, in which utilities, solar installers, environmental groups and the state’s public advocate devised a system that would quickly expand solar power in Maine in a way that would not be a burden to nonsolar rate payers. It was exactly the kind of government most people say they want – various interests working together to find common ground.
Then Gov. LePage put on his full-court press.Now what happens?
The LePage-appointed Public Utilities Commission will take over a review of solar power policy, which could take the rest of the year, chilling most solar investment in 2016.
If, as some suspect, the PUC drastically cuts the rate that utilities pay solar customers for the power they supply to the grid, it would threaten to kill off what’s left of the state’s solar industry.
Then we can expect an all-or-nothing referendum in the next year or two that would sweeten the deal for people who want solar panels on their roofs. It won’t be a compromise like the 2016 solar bill, but why would anyone want to compromise in this political environment?
To do that kind of governing, you need something that’s been missing in Augusta, and the six House members who “took a walk” show what it is – the courage to stand up to LePage.