Will Thibodeau and Gideon lead a collaborative legislature?

Cue someone singing Kumbaya in the background because I’m about to write my second positively-themed political post in a row. And if the words come out of my fingers the way they are in my head, it should be my second fairly short post in a row, too.

For readers who love my wordy rants, don’t worry — they’ll be back. Like I’m still not done with ranting about net metering and those who support its current funding mechanism.

However, today is all about the optimism of new beginnings because I listened to a radio program with Republican Sen. Mike Thibodeau and Democratic Rep. Sara Gideon, leaders of their respective chambers in the 128th Legislature.  The program is called Maine Calling and is a production of Maine Public Radio.  (Click here for audio file)

Sen. Mike Thibodeau, R - Winterport.  BDN photo by Troy Bennett

Sen. Mike Thibodeau, R – Winterport. BDN photo by Troy Bennett

Thibodeau sounded like a seasoned leader, worth his weight in experience and ready to execute effectively. He spoke so passionately about his concerns about the citizen initiative process, I was ready to shout an “Amen, Brother!” at my kitchen radio. Thibodeau hopes the legislature will be able to make changes to the process that will allow for more representation of northern and rural voters’ interests and less out of state influence.

Rep. Sara Gideon, D - Freeport.  BDN photo by Mickey Bidell

Rep. Sara Gideon, D – Freeport. BDN photo by Mickey Bidell

Gideon sounded prepared to be thoughtful in her approach to her new leadership role. She spoke of trying to listen with an open mind when it came to things like making changes to the language behind referenda that passed in 2016. Whether or not to reinstate the tip credit after the increased minimum wage goes into effect was a hot topic throughout the program.

Thibodeau favors a reinstatement; Gideon is having conversations with stakeholders before reaching a final conclusion, but said she initially favored eliminating the tip credit system as drafted in the initiative.

Thibodeau favors a year moratorium for recreational marijuana sales to give the legislature time to grasp the complexities of establishing such a market — again eliciting an “Amen, Brother!” from this listener. Gideon seemed open to the idea that the process may take longer than the nine months allowed by the language behind Question 1.

Proponents of the referendum question oppose any delays in implementation, which is troublesome. That legislators want to thoughtfully implement a recreational marijuana market that serves the best interests of Mainers is a good thing. It’s not like the question was approved by a landslide or by even a majority of Maine communities. 

Further, I struggle with the idea of a campaign largely funded by out of state groups telling our legislators what to do. Thibodeau didn’t sound like a guy ready to be told what to do, either.

I encourage readers to listen to the audio file and the array of questions fielded by Thibodeau and Gideon. Whether the two leaders were discussing the nuances of the referenda or their mutual commitment to comprehensively addressing the addiction epidemic, potential for teamwork was evident. Gideon acknowledged the epidemic was a battle we are losing at the moment — and like Thibodeau — pledged a renewed, concerted effort.

I’m sure there will be plenty of areas of disagreement to work through as the session gets underway — and how Gideon and Thibodeau’s caucuses will conduct themselves remains to be seen. If the caucuses can follow the example set by their leaders on Maine Calling, though, the 128th could be a very productive legislature.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.