A shot at progressive reform

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  December 31, 2012

Maine Women's Lobby director Eliza Townsend says restoring money cut by the previous session in the health-promotion Fund for a Healthy Maine will be a priority for her group. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine wants to have a bill passed to prevent police from getting an individual's cell phone location from a service provider without a warrant. The ACLU also will support Democratic Representative Diane Russell's bill to decriminalize marijuana possession.

Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Environment Maine will push for additional energy-efficiency programs and, possibly, for a re-examination of the new mining-regulation law that Republicans (and some Democrats) pushed through last session. Environmentalists fear it could allow a great deal of water pollution.

The progressive possibilities for the new Legislature are "exciting," Chipman says. Still, there's a bias in Augusta — on all sides — favoring the corporate world. Often, it's unconscious.

Ed Cervone, the Maine Development Foundation CEO, was asked why, in his organization's day of discussions held for legislators to develop jobs for working people, no workers were represented on the program — or on his foundation's board.

He seemed embarrassed to admit that approaching working people "is not our forte."

DO THE DEMOCRATS HAVE A LOCAL LINCOLN?

Who will lead the Democrats to success on budget, tax, and other issues? "That's the million-dollar question," says Quint.

As possibilities he mentions Berry and Justin Alfond, the new Senate president — one of the Legislature's most liberal members — as well as House Speaker Eves.

Eves is something of an unknown, having not previously been in leadership and with only fours years' legislative experience. But he was a strong advocate "for programs that serve the poor," says David Farmer, who in the last session headed up a progressive lobbying coalition called Maine Can Do Better. And he recently hired the ACLU's lobbyist, Alysia Melnick, as his legal and policy counsel.

If a muscular legislative leader appears, he or she might give the Democrats a strong candidate for governor in 2014 against LePage — if he runs for re-election — and save the party from another ignominious trouncing of a candidate for statewide office.

In 2010, the Dems' gubernatorial nominee Elizabeth Mitchell got only 19 percent of the vote when Democrats fled to independent Eliot Cutler, who received 36 percent to LePage's 38 percent. In November's election, Democrats similarly flew to Angus King, who won a United States Senate seat with 51 percent of the vote, keeping Democrat Cynthia Dill to only 13 percent. Republican Charlie Summers received 30 percent.

The deep-pocketed Cutler is expected to run again. John Baldacci has made noises that he might run for his old job, but he ended his last term unpopular in the polls. It appears unlikely the most viable Democratic candidates, US Representatives Chellie Pingree and Michael Michaud, will give up their safe seats to challenge Cutler.

Saviello — here's a savvy Republican handicapping the Democrats — sees Alfond, Goodall, and Emily Cain, the former House minority leader and now a state senator, as up-and-comers, but still "four to eight years away from being super-viable candidates" for higher office.

For them and other ambitious Democratic lawmakers, much will depend on how well they advance the progressive agenda in the just-launched 126th Legislature. Nothing would warm them more to the hearts of Democratic voters — who, after all, will decide the party primaries.

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