There’s a collegiate song that begins something like this:
“Oh, the freshman down at Yale get no tail …”
And while the lyrics are a bit racy, they seem to fit the current political climate here in Maine.
Recently, after Governor Paul LePage sounded off on a state legislator who had the temerity to confront him because of the state budget the Governor had proposed. The legislature had passed an alternative budget. The Governor then made national headlines with his intemperate remarks and summarily vetoed it.
The stage was now set for a classic confrontation and the legislature voted overwhelmingly to override his veto.
In that process, both seasoned professionals and first-term legislators were called upon to cast their vote and, undoubtedly, each faced enormous pressures. There was pressure from the Governor’s office, pressure from party loyalists and pressure from constituents. Most voted quietly and predictably.
But one new member of the House of Representatives, in particular, is worthy of attention because his vote against the override isn’t easily understood unless you happened to hear what he said in this floor speech.
When comments in opposition to the veto override in the House of Representatives were called for, several staunch Republicans gave impassioned speeches about supporting their Governor.
Then, unexpectedly, Brian Jones, a first-term Democrat from Freedom, ME, rose to the floor of the People’s House and calmly explained that the bipartisan compromise budget which the legislature had sent to the Governor was “dog lunch,” and that the people he represented deserved better.
He was voting, “No.”
Heads spun in disbelief. “Hold on,” someone muttered, “He’s a Dem. Isn’t he supposed to be speaking in favor of the override?”
When the voting was complete, there were plenty of Reps whose votes were seemingly inconsistent with their party affiliation, but to the trained eye, few were as surprising as Representative Jones’.
Jones had steadfastly advocated for the budget his Democratic Party had put forth in response to the Governor’s proposed budget. It had included tying it to a proposal that would have assured the payment of a huge debt owed by the State to Maine hospitals. In order to gain the support for their budget changes, the Democrats agreed to compromise their plan and to sever the hospital repayment plan from the budget. The plan backfired. The Governor vetoed the budget.
Brian Jones surprised everybody that day when (as a Democrat) he rose to announce his position for voting NO amid Republican counterparts urging support for LePage.
Representative Jones’ vote didn’t get much media attention and it won’t be remembered for long; but what he did was a courageous act that distinguishes him among the first-termers in our legislature: he stood up amid the jaded upper-classmen and articulated a principled position that nobody saw coming.
Whether his party thought of it as a stunt or naïve enthusiasm is irrelevant.
Brian Jones passed his finals this year with flying colors.
“For a freshman in Augusta to be sure that he’ll pass mustah,
He must focus on ideals and not his tail.”