Citizens see a compelling need to ‘trim’

Here’s a popular citizen idea: trim the size of the Legislature.

If we did, we’d have fewer lawmakers to propose spending bills and less support costs to staff and administer Maine’s yearly sessions.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures Maine is ranked 40 when it comes to total population but it has the 10th biggest legislature in country.

In a letter published Tuesday, Richard H. Lee Jr. of Turner made a good point: “In this world of high-tech communication, why does Maine, with one of the smallest populations, need one of the largest legislatures in the country?”

He called on Gov. Paul LePage, State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and legislative leaders who say they are serious about less government to “begin by working at reducing the size of the Legislature.”

Lee got strong support from SJ reader Mike LeBlanc of Wilton, who pointed out that California has “29 times the population of Maine, but Maine's House of Representatives is nearly twice the size of California's State Assembly. Why do Maine people need so much more ‘government’?”

That’s a good question.

In 2006, one of our readers — Anne Ceplikas of Auburn — submitted a detailed outline of how she pictured a downsized Legislature, trimming the current roster of senators from 35 to 16, and the current roster of representatives from 151 to 21.

Her plan would be to elect one senator and one representative per county, and boost the more heavily-populated counties with one extra representative, with never more than a combined 37 senators and representatives serving in the State House. The effect would be a Legislature one-fifth the size of our current representation.

(Think of the public savings in Clean Elections funds.)

With such a small Legislature, Ceplikas even suggested taxpayers might be able to afford a “nice raise” for these elected officials. Perhaps.

There have been numerous calls over the years to reduce the size of the Legislature, including informal discussions in 2009 and an actual bill two years prior.

The 2007 bill, which would have generated a voter referendum to amend the Maine Constitution, was killed in the House by a 72-55 vote after what lawmakers called a “lengthy” debate.

In presenting the measure, then-Rep. Christopher Babbidge argued that if state officials are asking others to cut costs, it would send a “symbolic message” if the Legislature did likewise.

It wasn’t like the bill, estimated to save $1.6 million annually, would have dramatically reduced the Legislature. It would have trimmed 19 members in the House and just two members in the Senate.

Babbidge is no longer serving in the Legislature, but Rep. Teresea Hayes of Buckfield is. She supported the reduction bill in 2007, noting that her constituents are constantly telling her government needs to cut its size and the bill provided an opportunity for Maine voters to be heard.

“If school officials can do it, so can we,” Hayes said at the time, referring to school consolidation.

Some — but not all — school districts did consolidate, but the Legislature didn’t.

What the Legislature does do, year after year after year after year, is push for all other branches of government — from state agencies on down to the smallest town offices and school districts — to trim budgets, seek out efficiencies, increase performance and reduce size, all in the quest of good stewardship of our tax dollars. Never is that more true than this year as lawmakers struggle to craft a state budget.

While constituents might like the idea of a leaner, less expensive Legislature, the expectation that lawmakers would voluntarily vote themselves out of office is pure fantasy.

But, then, it’s always good to dream.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

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Comments

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Conservatives and government

It's obvious that when conservatives think of a good government, the first thing that comres to their minds is not democracy. It is parsimony. If we reduce or (drool, drool) eliminate our elected officials they will not be able to spend our money. That's the thinking I see here.

So carried to the extreme we have the best government being "L'etat, c'est moi," the apparent motto of the current occupant of Blaine House. What could be more efficient than an absolute monarch. Of course, we the people have no say in how he spends, how much he spends or from whom he gets what he spends.

The purist democracy is that we see in the small towns of Maine, NH and VT - maybe even western Mass - where each voter is a legislator. NH, arguably the most conservative state in the northeast has a huge legislature when it is measured as legislators per capita. The person who taxes you and votes how to spend it is likely a neighbor or someone you see at the Little League game - not someone who is remote as the legislators in a small legislature would be. You get to rag him or her out if he or she screws up.

So does this mean conservatives really do hate democracy as I first suggested?

Actually, true conservatives are quite fond of democracy. So maybe we should just refer to those who would shrink the legislature to save money as less than sophisticated. That's probably kinder than the other word that comes to mind.

SCOTT THISTLE's picture
staff

Citizens' initiative

I'm surprised there has not been a petition drive started on this one already for a statewide referendum on reducing the size of the Maine Legislature. Just saying. I'm guessing they could get the signatures for that pretty quickly.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Scott , 12.02.23 19:11 pm -

Scott , 12.02.23 19:11 pm - ish
Whelp , in a true democracy , ( which you pretty much have ) , any non-felon can gather valid signatures for anything and offer it up as a referendum for the Great State of Maine plebicite to vote upon
Gathering signatures is fairly E Z and straightforward . You've ssen people do it
In ME , ( correct me someone here ) all you need are about ? 75,000 signatures to put something to a statewide vote ( ? the city of Bangor ? )
So, if someone wanted to truly make ME the first Muslim democratic State in these US of A or , alternatively , have all dog catchers be elected officials ( rather than appointed or Police men and women ) it could be done
Someoone has to do it though , rather than just thinking about doing it
Actions speak louder than words ( not aimed at you Scott :) ? h t h /s, Steve

Steve  Dosh's picture

Good editotial ? 12.02.23

Good editotial ? 12.02.23 10:30 am-ish
Nice inclusion of others' o p i n i o n s , too :)
During this len†en , i've got to give up s o m e t h i n g season , we find that a low carb - no carb diet is the best way to eliminate fat . h th ? Dr. Dosh

John Frecker's picture

Shrink the legislature

There are ways to shrink the legislature and still have a pretty good balance of representation. It seems to me that, with the state of communications today, we have more legislature than we need. The areas with more population will have more voting strength, but that's the case with "all things politic". For example, in Congress, the the number of representatives in the House is determined by population, giving states with more people more power. It's balanced by the Senate, with two Senators from each state. Perhaps Maine could reduce House to around 100 representatives (or fewer?) and then have one Senator from each of the 16 counties?

Steve  Dosh's picture

. .Dan , Don't go and

. .Dan , Don't go and confuse them with the facts ! /s, Steve
almost one year ago next month ---> http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/kicking-the-tires-... <----

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

A bit elitist there, aren't

A bit elitist there, aren't we, doc? "Them" you refer to must be the unwashed heathens who happen not to drink from the same Kool-Ade chalice as yourself, eh?

Steve  Dosh's picture

Paul 12.02.23 7 pm hst • l

Paul 12.02.23 7 pm hst •
l o l . A : No
We'll leave the elitists for the Romney and Bush families and the Kool Aid ® for Jim Jones
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonestown
. ...b t w - Gave up the rrRrRRrUmm for Lent /s, Steve *<:)

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You have more will power than

You have more will power than the Pirate, my friend. Giving up rum? Unimaginable to a pirate. At any rate, good luck with your lenten 'fast'.

John Frecker's picture

Maine state constitution

After a quick "Google" search, I found the answer to my question Thank you, Mr. Breton. Yes, the Maine state constitution sets out the number of senators - no less than 31 nor more than 35. (See below) It would take a 2/3rd's vote of each chamber of the legislature to approve an amendment and it then would have to go to a state-wide vote. To say the chances of such an amendment are slim would be a gross under-statement.

Maine state constitution, Article IV, Part 2; Part 2

Section 1. Number of Senators. The Senate shall consist of an odd number of Senators, not less than 31 nor more than 35, elected at the same time and for the same term as Representatives by the qualified electors of the districts into which the State shall be from time to time divided.

John Frecker's picture

No offense intended

I'll have to take your word for it, Mr. Breton; I just don't know if it's "UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!" to have one senator from each county. Nationally, it's apparently not unconstitutional since Congress was established by the national Constitution. Is it then unconstitutional under the Maine state constitution? If so, that would pretty well put an end to that idea, unless the state wants to tackle amending the state constitution.

John Frecker's picture

U.S. constitutution

Here I go again into "uncharted (for me) waters". With all due respect, it seems contradictory to say that it's unconstitutional to have two senators from each state, when that's apparently exactly what the constitution says.

 's picture

Representation

The Editorial Board has it wrong again. The issue isn't communication it's still about representation. You will widen the 'Two Maine' divide and the input of regular Maine citizens who are fishermen, foresters, and other rural folk will be reduced. More power to the cities and the 95 corridor. People representing towns like Buckfield, Industry, Salem, and Wallagrass, for example, should be opposed. Please consider the maps that you published for the so-called health insurance reforms that highlighted the losers. Your dream is my nightmare.

 's picture

by County

I see your point but I think within each county the vote would still go to candidates within the more populated areas. Probably the county seats but not necessarily. If that were even constitutional as you point out. My comments were aimed at the past attempts to reduce the overall size of the legislature. The real work of the legislature takes place at the committee level, in my opinion, and more representation is better than less.

 's picture

We should cut the legislature

We should cut the legislature in half and do so fairly...alphabetically. We'll start with D and work our way up to R.

 's picture

We are a Republic

Wow, that's right. I abhor democracy. Luckily, our country was established as a representative Republic and our founding fathers had no love for democracy either.
James Madison, U.S. President "Democracies, in general, have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."

John Adams, signer and U.S. President- "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

John Quincy Adams, U.S. President "The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived."

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"
Benjamin Franklin

FRANK EARLEY's picture

It definatly sounds right

Again let me acknowledge one thing, I"m non-political. I have no preference either way to Republicans or Democrats, Independents. I do however pay attention to whats going on. I read a lot. I make a lot of observations.
Reducing the size of government is long overdue. Unfortunately convincing a person, or group of people. Capable of voting their own pay increases, enjoying all the totally unnecessary perks that go along with the job, to vote on an article that very well will put a good number of them out of work, will never happen. Unless their forced to. A state wide referendum is needed to reach this goal, unfortunately it would never get through the senate. Its a vicious circle.
Just an observation, so don't bother jumping all over me. like most everything else, I don't give a damn.

 's picture

Oh, boy! A cabal!

Mr. Lee and Ms. Meyer: Does our cabal have a secret handshake? How about a password of the day?

For today I nominate the word "vermin" and I'll watch others, who are well qualified in the subject, debate their various odors, while adjusting their tin-foil hats.

Maine Democrats are well skilled in the dictatorial aspects of state government, having exercised them for 30+ years. There's no other way to explain how Eagle Lake, with less than 1000 people, can elect a fellow who considers himself a representative-for-life and who wielded un-democratic power until relegated to the minority.

The Maine constitution specifies perfectly legal ways to change itself. Even your average rat know that.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Maine could save quite a lot

Maine could save quite a lot of money by reducing the size of the legislature, and at the same time improve on the quality of the people elected to serve. We are still dealing with an antiquated system that hails back to a time when many communities in Maine were relatively isolated from each other and all needed a voice in the legislature in order to be represented fairly. This changed a long time ago. Maine is now pretty much regionalized, and Augusta should adjust accordingly. As Judy Meyer says though, it isn't likely to happen.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Rare, but great display of

Rare, but great display of attention span.

JUDY MEYER's picture
staff

Perhaps we should have noted

Perhaps we should have noted the political persuasions of those supporting the 2007 legislation. Rep. Babbidge, who proposed the 2007 bill to shrink the Legislature, is a Democrat. As is Rep. Hayes, who supported citizen consideration of that proposal.
All is not a conspiracy, Dan.

JOANNE MOORE's picture

I agree.

I smell a rat, too. A big fat hairy dictatorial sewer rat.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You want to talk about

You want to talk about dictatorial, Joanne, let's talk about a dictatorial president who, on the day he became president, inherited gas pump prices that were below $1.90 a gallon. In the almost 4 years of his presidency he has allowed, no, make that caused gas prices to rise to a level of nearly $4 a gallon with some predictions of $5 by early summer, due only to his absolute refusal to allow American oil companies to do what they do best; drill for oil and allow America to achieve energy independence. Is that what oBAMa supporters call getting the job done? Some would call it a sell out to the environmentalist lobby.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Great rebuttal. At least you

Great rebuttal. At least you didn't blame Bush for it. LePage has no more control over gas prices in Maine than you do.

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