LEGISLATIVE PROFILE: State and municipal experience evident
by Kate Dufour, Legislative Advocate, MMA
(from Maine Townsman, December 2000)
Legislative term limits enacted, by the voters in 1993, have been characterized by some legislators and the press as sucking invaluable experience out of the Legislature and thereby shifting the power to the Governor's office and the lobbyists, at least the latter of whom are not subject to eight-year turnover. But if the newly-elected 120th Legislature is any example, the effects of term limits may be softening with regard to legislative experience. As this article will show, legislative experience has rebounded somewhat with this latest election, and a good dose of municipal experience has been elected into office as well.
On December 6, the 186 voting members of the 120th Maine Legislature were sworn into office. The Democratic majority was maintained in the 151-member House filling 89 seats, 10 more than in the 119th. The membership of the House elected Mike Saxl (Portland) as Speaker. Patrick Colwell (Gardiner) was elected majority leader by the Democratic representatives and Bill Norbert (Portland) as assistant majority leader. Across the aisle, the House Republicans elected Joe Bruno (Raymond) as the minority leader and Bill Schneider (Durham) as the assistant minority leader.
In the Senate the outcome of the election was not as clean cut with the Democrats and Republicans both winning seventeen Senate seats, leaving Independent and former MMA President Jill Goldthwait (Hancock County) holding the tie breaking seat. In a compromise crafted by both parties and the Independent Goldthwait, leadership will be shared between the Senate Democrats, Republicans and the Independent. Under the agreement, Democrat Mike Michaud (Penobscot County) will be the Senate President in 2001 and the President pro temp in 2002. Republican Rick Bennet (Oxford County) will be the Senate President in 2002 and serve as President pro temp in 2001.
Senators Beverly Daggett (D-Kennebec County) and Mary Small (R-Sagadahoc County) were elected the floor leaders of their respective parties and Senators Sharon Treat (D-Kennebec County) and Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis County) were elected as assistant leaders. Senator Goldthwait will be the Senate chair of the Appropriations Committee.
The unique manner in which the Senate leadership was selected was also extended to the mechanism for determining which party President will appoint the Senate chairs to the eighteen Joint Standing Committees of the Legislature.
With the flip of a coin, the Democratic party selected the first committee to chair, the Republican party chose the second committee to chair, and so on until all the committees were chosen, just as two teams are chosen in sand lot baseball.
The Democrats appointed chairs to the Banking and Insurance, Health and Human Service, Judiciary, Labor, Legal and Veterans Affairs, Natural Resources, State and Local Government and Taxation committees.
The Republicans appointed chairs to the Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation, Business and Economic Development, Criminal Justice, Education, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Marine Resources, Transportation and Utilities committees.
A senator from the alternate party to the chair will fill the second senate seat on each committee. But there are three senators on each joint standing committee, so to add to the intrigue, the process for determining which party will hold the final senate appointment on each committee will also be determined by the flip of a coin. After the toss of a coin, each party will take turns making final appointments to each committee.
In 1993 over two-thirds of Maine voters supported a citizen-initiated petition limiting state legislators to serve no more than four consecutive years in the State Senate or House. Since its inception, theorists have argued that term limits have shifted power from elected state officials to special interest groups. Many believe that this power exchange occurred because the termed-out legislators took with them their years of legislative experience and historic perspective on many issues.
In 1989 the average Maine legislator's experience (measured in terms of accumulated years of legislative experience) was 5.2 years. Since then, the average Maine legislator experience has ranged from a high of 4.8 years in the pre-term limit 116th Legislature (1993-1994) to a low of three years in the post-term limit 118th Legislature (1997-1998).
In the 117th, 118th and 119th Legislatures, 31, 10 and 23 legislators, respectively, were "termed out of office". Term limits are not for a lifetime, however. Of the 31 legislators termed out of 117th House of Representatives in 1995, four were elected to serve in the Senate in 1997. Of the 23 legislators termed-out of the 119th House of Representatives, two were elected to serve in the 120th Senate. As seen in the following table, the flux of incumbents reelected to the State Legislature has been relatively consistent both since and prior to the enactment of term limits.
While the argument could be made that term limits have an impact on legislative experience, it's possible that it was more of a short-term impact than a long-term loss of institutional knowledge. As shown in the table above, the average legislator's experience in the 120th Legislature does not vary dramatically from the experience of the pre-term limit legislators in 1993. This is not to say that term limits hasn't impacted the duration of legislative leaders compared to the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, but with respect to average length of legislative service, the data are showing a trend back toward historical levels.
One vital component of understanding the impact that legislation has on municipalities is the degree that legislators have participated on municipal boards and councils in their communities. Of the 186-voting members of the 120th Legislature, 19 are currently serving on a municipal board or council, or as a municipal official. Of the 19, 13 serve as selectman or councilors, four serve on the board of appeals in their municipalities, one is a town planner and another a harbormaster. Beyond these 19 active municipal officials in the legislature, many other members of the House and the Senate have past municipal experience, although they may not be currently elected or appointed to municipal boards and councils.