Local legislators express high hopes for new termBat interrupts first day
Augusta — Members of the Knox County Legislative Delegation were sworn in at the statehouse Dec. 5 to mark the start of 126th session of the Legislature.
Altogether 10 members, seven House members and three senators, have been elected to represent Knox County in Augusta.
The opening day was controversial after Gov. Paul LePage openly criticized the presence of a “Democratic tracker” following him and recording his movements with a video camera. He reportedly called the filming “vulgar, vicious and vile,” saying that it showed a lack of respect for the governor’s office.
Despite the governor’s criticism, Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, called the occasion a “day of celebration” for new and returning legislators.
“It’s a time of talking about how we can all work together to address the critical challenges we face,” she said in an email.
Welsh said she was “disappointed” with the governor’s remarks at the swearing-in ceremony.
“I stand committed to trying my best to work together with the staff and my fellow legislators in both parties to find solutions,” she said.
Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson, D-Rockland, a new legislator representing House District 47, said she felt that she was exactly where she was supposed to be.
“When that bell starts ringing, signaling us to the House chamber, quick, people get ready! I dash off to seat 30, where I am surrounded by some of Maine’s strongest and funniest women," she said in an email.
She said that on their first day together, the legislators signaled for a window to be opened to let out a bat that had been “flapping precipitously” while Senate President Kevin Raye made a speech.
On a more serious note, Dickerson said the legislators felt they shared the same experience, as if they had booked passage together with a single destination in mind, “sharing a vision of a better Maine, a Maine that is focused on bringing prosperity and a better way of life to all, and opportunity for the future for all.”
Dickerson said she would like to see bills explored to improve elections. She expects to respond to requests from constituents, including city and county officials, and look at foreclosure laws governed by the state.
“We stand ready to work with Gov. LePage on these important issues that impact every Mainer,” she said.
State Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Little Deer Isle, said he was “proud and excited” to be sworn in and pledged his support for bills related to small farms and food-producers and for continuing his work on the Marine Resources Committee on behalf of marine harvesters.
“All I will say about the governor’s comments is that the swearing-in ceremony was not the time or place,” he said.
Rep. Charles “Chuck” Kruger, D-Thomaston, said he was “pleased and honored — and feeling very positive” about being part of the 126th Maine Legislature.
“The swearing-in reminds us of the awesome history of the institution and the responsibility of the office,” he said.
Kruger said he hopes to work on several issues this term, including sensible legislation on climate change and business development and improved transparency in campaign finance, as well as a statewide video system for public affairs.
Kruger said the governor's recent complaints about video cameras at public events would have more credibility if his party wasn't every bit as involved in such activity.
“He might be in the wrong job if he comes undone by this very common practice at public gatherings,” Kruger said.
State Sen. Edward J. Mazurek, D-Rockland, is serving his first term in the Senate after having completed four terms in the Maine House.
“I was proud to be sworn in as our senator from District 22,” Mazurek said. “It was a special day with all the people and activity that goes with the first day.”
“I am looking forward to this session, and I am hopeful the two sides can work to get some important things done for the people of the state of Maine,” he said.
“As for the governor’s remarks, it is not so surprising that he would use this day to complain about his treatment,” Mazurek added. “I was always taught you have to earn respect.”
State Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship, an unenrolled member, said he is in the process of studying a variety of issues and bills and said by email he is supporting a bill to support the Maine lobster industry. He said the industry contributes nearly $1 billion to Maine's economy and the state needs to increase efforts to promote the Maine brand and target the export market.
"We need continued support for Maine's dairy industry, assuring our farmers that they have our support. Anything we can do to strengthen LD 1905, which guarantees targeted milk prices, I will support," Evangelos said in an email.
He also said he is studying the states of Washington and Vermont's livable wage initiatives and plans to submit legislation that deals with raising the minimum wage. The $7.50 minimum wage has not changed since 2009, while most prices for food and necessities have skyrocketed.
Evangelos also plans to submit testimony to a commission charged with studying the conduct of Maine's elections.
"We clearly can't keep heading down this road we're traveling, where big money and unethical behavior dominate the conduct of our elections," he said.
"We also need a feasibility study concerning the establishment of a University of Maine medical school, partly as a shift away from the way we pay for health care," he added.
Evangelos said he was disappointed that the governor chose the first day to make inappropriate remarks about the so-called Democratic tracker.
"After all, children and families were present to watch the ceremony and he shouldn't have used that venue to vent. In reference to the practice of both parties using trackers, I wish they'd both stop it. The election is over and it's far too early to begin the election of 2014," he said.
Legislators who did not respond to emails for comment were: Sen. Christopher K. Johnson, D-Somerville; Sen. Brian D. Langley, R-Ellsworth; Rep. Jethro D. Pease, R-Morrill; Rep. Deborah J. Sanderson, R-Chelsea.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached by phone at 207-594-4401, ext. 117. or by email at email@example.com.