AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – Maine lawmakers are set to go back to work in just a few months during one of the most divisive, highly-charged political climates.
After a dramatic state budget battle and finger pointing in the midst of the first shutdown in Maine in decades last session, legislators left a lot of unfinished business to carry over to the next session.
There are a total of 319 bills, according to the Legislative Information Office. Those bills include some hot issues, including big energy and fighting the drug crisis.
So how can work get done?
BACK TO THE BASICS
Unlikely experts on getting along, 4-year-old Emma Merchant and 3-year-old Charlotte Doak discussed cookies with NEWS CENTER.
Q: What’s your favorite kind of cookie?
E: Hello Kitty
The pair did not agree on the best kind of cookie, but still got along despite their differences as they played with puzzles at the Bangor Public Library. Merchant even said she sometimes fights with her friend. Still the pair agree on one thing: they like cookies.
If only it were so simple for politicians.
THE HALLS OF THE STATE HOUSE
"The headlines coming at them are all about dysfunction,” Speaker of the House Sara Gideon said.
Gideon, who has often been under fire from Governor LePage, admitted things have become more personal in Augusta. Still she aims to work for compromise.
She said the shutdown was a difficult time.
“The only time that it becomes truly frustrating is when people aren't willing to engage and dig in and do the work,” Gideon said.
Across the aisle and down the hall, Senate President Mike Thibodeau boasted about the state's award for "most civil governance." He said division among lawmakers is normal.
"The nature of the place does create some division,” Thibodeau said.
In fact, he downplayed any tension in the chamber.
"We continue to try to work in a collaborative manner,” he said. “It doesn't always come across that way I'm sure."
DANGER AND PERCEPTION
Professor of Government Dan Shea at Colby College said recent research shows it has gone beyond fundamental disagreements to actual fear of the other party's policies
"Each side thinks the other side is dangerous, and that's something new in American politics,” Shea said.
“We've got to get back to the point where we appreciate the other side are good people, good neighbors that disagree with us,” he said.
COOKIES & POLITICS
From cookies to politics, Emma and Charlotte proved civility is possible despite personal differences. Lawmakers said they are working towards civility, and some downplayed the tension in Augusta. Experts’ analysis has found tension Is due to a new element of extreme perceived danger worsening partisanship.
Still, Emma and Charlotte are a reminder that ‘getting along’ is possible.
NEWS CENTER reached out to talk to Governor LePage about his take on the upcoming session, but did not hear back. The legislature is set to get back to work on November 1.