Is compromise more than a game in Augusta?

Let’s play a guessing game. We’ll call it “Augusta.”

Party A has been advocating for a certain policy. Party B has been fighting against it. However, Party B determines it is publicly losing the argument and decides to offer a compromise it can live with based on Party A’s proposals.

Time to guess: what reality does this hypothetical reflect?

It is a bit of a trick question. The answer could be about the Republicans’ compromise offer on the minimum wage proposal. Or it might be the Democrats’ choice to finally agree with several welfare reform ideas put forward by Republicans. Both answers fit.

But neither response answers the natural follow-up question: how should the legislature proceed on these two matters? Sadly, it appears the answer to that question depends on with which group you affiliate.

Some on the left are abusing Democrats for even considering the Republicans’ position on welfare reform, all while stridently opposing the proposed middle ground on the minimum wage. Consistent, sure, but I think you’d find many of them assail Gov. Paul LePage and others for an unwillingness to compromise.

Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

Meanwhile, those on the right have generally been receptive to the overtures of the “opposition.” There have been a few sharp jabs pointing out the “sudden” revelation of Justin Alfond and Mark Eves, but Republicans have not denied their proposals. For example, with TANF reform, the GOP conceded to the Democrats on a few issues, like a strict percentage limit on cash withdrawals.

On the minimum wage, there are several Republicans — such as Beth O’Connor and Heather Sirocki — who believe it is bad policy regardless; that isn’t a surprise. Yet they swallowed their objections and voted to move a minimum wage proposal forward for consideration by the legislature. Isn’t that the essence of compromise?

Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Other Republicans, like Amy Volk, unabashedly support a minimum wage increase in a measured fashion. Some Democrats have thrown their own jabs, couching their reaction in incredulity at what they interpret as a marked change in position. Fair enough; that’s the rough-and-tumble of politics. But, ultimately, politics is about advancing policy.

So what happened to this overture? House Democrats, except one, refused to even consider the Republicans’ minimum wage proposal.

This is what is happening in Augusta. We continuously hear cries for “bipartisanship” or “compromise.” One of the biggest gripes about LePage is what people perceive as a “my way or the highway” attitude. Yet when there is an opportunity to all-but-guarantee an increase in the minimum wage, many Democrats won’t even let a committee look at an alternative proposal.

People will claim Paul LePage has forced them to take this approach; even if true, it is irrelevant here. We don’t have a showdown between the executive and legislative branches. This fight is internal to the legislature, where Republicans and Democrats have passed several budgets over the governor’s veto. Why was compromise good then and bad now?

The simple truth is discretion can often be the better part of valor. When it comes to welfare reform, Republicans would be wise to reach some measure of agreement and lock in an 80 percent solution with the Democrats today. During the campaign season, they can take their case for further reform directly to the voters.

And when it comes to the minimum wage, its advocates would be wise to consider adopting the compromise offered by many Republicans. One of the two proposals on the ballot — whether $10 or $12 — would certainly pass, and if it required a second round of voting, it would almost certainly be adopted then.

This doesn’t prevent Democrats or other advocates from advocating for the higher number. And if the $10 amount, along with the preservation of the tipped employee wage, wins, those on the left can keep pushing. Passing a law today does not stop another one from being passed tomorrow.

Sometimes you need to lock in the gains you have made and fight another day. There appears to be some measure of consensus arising around welfare reform and the minimum wage. With any luck, Augusta will show that calls for “compromise” are more than just part of the game.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.