The Pot Calling the Kettle Black
"At some point you have to shit or get off the pot" is how Representative Karen Vachon put it to me Saturday in defense of her votes last week to end Maine's 128th legislative session before critical work was completed. Vachon, a Republican from Scarborough, balked at granting an extension even though adjournment would effectively kill all unfinished business -- including her widely supported bipartisan "Hub and Spoke" opioid bill.
I think she's full of it.
An extension of the legislative session was the simple and cost-efficient way to prevent all the important unfinished business caught up in the meat grinder in Augusta from expiring on the statutory adjournment day, including LD 1430, "An Act To Develop a Statewide Resource and Referral Center and Develop Hub-and-spoke Models To Improve Access, Treatment and Recovery for Those with Substance Use Disorder."
"My vote was never to kill my bill," Vachon told me, referring to LD 1430, which she and others have been toiling over for years. It would create a treatment program based on a successful model being used in Vermont to stem the tide of the deadly wave of opioid addiction ravishing families in Maine. "Hub and Spoke" refers to treatment that includes health and wellness in addition to medication-assisted treatments such as methadone and Suboxoxone.
Vachon says her vote against extending the session was based on principle: A deadline's a deadline. She gave as a parallel, a hypothetical high school kid not being able to get an extension to graduate. She was offended that Democrats "wasted time" having a "pizza party" when they could have been working, as if eating pizza in a hot caucus room in Augusta in late April arguing about politics and trying to reach consensus is not the work of elected state officials.
There was earnestness in her voice plus a hint of self-righteousness. Others "played politics." Not Vachon. She has a perfect attendance record. Her motto is "rise and shine."
Except Vachon knew if the legislative session adjourned "sine die" on April 18th that LD 1430 would die, too. She says she didn't want to kill LD 1430 by not extending the session but she also voted against carrying it and others over, as well. It doesn't add up -- unless the math is about political power.
The House Republican votes against extending the session was a show of force when a two-thirds vote was necessary for passage because the GOP is in the minority. House Republicans leveraged their numbers to exert power, not stand on principle. And by implication, they voted to kill the opioid bill and all the other unfinished and important legislation. Now, to move forward and avoid a crisis, Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats and House Democrats will be forced by a duty to govern to call a special session, just as House Republicans wanted and expected in order to leverage their minority status again since a majority of their caucus must approve the terms of any special session.
There was nothing virtuous about adjourning on April 18, 2018 empty handed. It was obstructionist politics to gain advantage in an election year. How many people will die from a drug overdose while the political drama unfolds is yet to be seen.
Despite their protestations about process, Vachon and House Republicans are playing politics, poorly, and putting important public policy at risk to gain political advantage at the expense of Maine citizens.
Since 2011 and many times before that the second year of the two-year legislative session has been extended in Maine under both Democratic and Republican leadership. Extending the legislative session to finish business costs taxpayers less money than calling the legislature back to Augusta for a special session after adjournment.
Vachon may be a "rising star" in Republican politics. She may have the winning formula of being "conservative" enough, female, not crazy, and in business selling insurance. My mother sold insurance raising five kids. It's tough and important work. Vachon gets points, too, in my view, for choosing to live near a beach. But people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
Karen Vachon's track record of success as an elected official should include final enactment and implementation of LD 1430. It will once she and her righteous colleagues accept that "playing politics" is the game to win in Augusta, not forfeit.