AUGUSTA – With no State House elections pending this November, one might have expected the now-finished 2005 legislative session to have offered less partisan bickering.

But the way the two sides drew lines on health care, spending and taxes, it felt like campaigns were right around the corner. One issue that didn’t ignite any partisan moxie: a law making Moxie the state’s official soft drink.

But plenty of other issues drew lots of fire. From January to June, the road to adjournment was anything but calm. Some highlights:

Dirigo dueling: Republicans came out early, criticizing Gov. John Baldacci’s Dirigo Health. Ruling Democrats preserved Dirigo, but Maine’s health care programs could take a hit if Republicans win in 2006.

Sunday hunting, budget battles: Not long after Baldacci unveiled his $5.7 billion two-year budget, his proposal to legalize Sunday hunting was blasted by landowners, who descended on the State House to tell legislators just how ticked they were. Soon Sunday hunting was history.

Meanwhile Democrats and Republicans tangled on taxes, spending and budget cuts. In March, Democrats passed a budget without Republicans and with $450 million in borrowing, angering the GOP.

An effort by opponents of borrowing to repeal the budget through a referendum worked. In the last hours of the session, legislators re-voted the budget, passing one with no borrowing, more cuts and a higher cigarette tax.

High drama on gay rights: In March gay rights took center stage. After emotional speeches, the House and Senate voted to protect gays against discrimination. Baldacci signed the bill into law in what was almost a party atmosphere.

The celebration was short-lived. Hundreds of evangelical Christians flocked to the State House for a rainy April rally. They spoke of the evils of same-sex marriage and vowed to repeal the law in referendum. On June 28, they turned in petition signatures, setting the referendum in motion.

Lewiston vs. paper mills: In May the Lewiston delegation and paper mills faced off on how clean the Androscoggin River should be, and by when. A bill passed that will mean paper mills will have to cut phosphorous and solids dumped into the river. Lewiston legislators said that’s not good enough, and contend the law violates the Clean Water Act.

In January, the shorter session begins. Political posturing could get louder, since it will be a campaign year.


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