On December 1st, the Speaker of the House for the 125th Maine Legislature will be elected by the 78 Republicans, 72 Democrats and 1 Independent who won their election on November 2nd. Because the Republicans now have a majority of the seats, for the first time in 36 years their candidate will be voted in and become the third most powerful person in Maine state government.
Some Democrats are faced with the dilemma of whether to participate in the traditional pageantry of casting "one unanimous vote" for the presumptive winner, or not.
The Republican Speaker-elect's baggage is now widely known. Stories abound in the news that as the owner of True's Pharmacy, Robert Nutting was found to have overcharged the State of Maine $1.6 million for rubber gloves, incontinence pads and liners between 1997 and 2001. He spent "over six figures" on fancy lawyers, counter-sued the state, and then declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy after paying back only $433.188, leaving Maine taxpayers holding the bag for $1.2 million.
Speaker-elect Nutting maintains that overcharging the state repeatedly using a formula that marked up some products 143% instead of 40% an "honest mistake." He blames complicated rules and the stranglehold of government bureaucracy for his troubles.
Don't take it personally, Mr. Speaker, if some of us can't push our green button next week and vote to usher you in. You see, this isn't really about you, but rather what you stand for, and what we are elected to do.
We might be willing to take you at your word that you were a victim of "the system," but you represent that very small population of people who can beat the system. You made a very large mistake as the owner of a business that made millions of dollars overcharging for supplies sold to poor people. You have not repaid your debt to society, are not taking personal responsibility for your actions, and are nevertheless being elected to be the Speaker of the House. This is at a time when most people don't have similar opportunities for redemption and coronation.
A time more people are poor -- the national poverty rate is above 14%
A time when more people are hungry -- one in seven people in Maine, as a matter of fact, which now also has the distinction of being number 2 in the nation for extreme food insecurity.
A time when American businesses earned profit at the annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the 3rd quarter of this year, the most on record.
At a time when nationally the unemployment rate is 9%, and millions of people are underemployed and working two or three jobs to keep afloat, we are being asked to hand you a job that holds tremendous power, a salary that is 50% higher than the rest of us elected members of the House of Representatives, provides health insurance and other benefits, pays a generous per diem and includes numerous other perks, all paid for by the people who elected us.
We know your constituents have sent you back three times since your little "incident," but keep in mind the good people of Harlem, New York, have voted to send Charles Rangel back to Congress since 1971. Most people, including Democrats, still support the November 2010 finding of the Ethics Committee that Mr. Rangel is guilty of 11 counts of violating House ethics rules, and further support the sanction of public censure and his removal as Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Some things aren't just about partisan politics, but what's right and what's wrong.
For many the quality of life has slipped so dramatically that what were once aspirations for a better life for future generations are now coping strategies to stay housed, fed and employed. This is wrong. Recreation is a luxury we can't afford. This is not your fault, but you being elected to lead the peoples' house after making a mistake that cost ordinary people over a million dollars, and spending more money on lawyers defending yourself and filing for bankruptcy than some families make in a lifetime, wreaks of a system that is rigged to lift only some. The American Dream no longer is open to the public but to only a very small group that you belong to, and most others don't.
People are angry at government and believe politicians are incestuous and self-serving. For some of us Democrats, casting a vote for you as a gesture of good-will, or to avoid unpleasantness, or in hopes you might put us on a certain committee, or staff our office, or keep our favorite secretary on the payroll makes us complicit in this game. And this feels wrong.
We are hoping you won't be too hard on us if we push that red button, Mr. Speaker. We aren't voting against you, but rather voting for the people who are hungry, out of work, beaten down by greedy corporations, and taxed to pay your salary.