Senate Republicans challenge Dems’ plan to continue remote meetings

‘Show up for work,’ Senate Republican leader tells Dems in pointed floor speech  

Sen. Jeff Timberlake

AUGUSTA – In pointed floor remarks during today’s convening of the Second Regular Session of the 130th Legislature, Senate Republicans and even a Democrat went on the record to express their disappointment with Democrat leadership efforts to continue with limited sessions and electronic-based remote committee meetings.

The remarks surrounding a joint order that continues meetings and committee work sessions through electronic means that began during the First Session essentially challenged Democrats to show the same fortitude that workers across the state have done by showing up for work every day.

“I was hoping to convey that by doing zoom meetings, we build no friendships. We build no camaraderie. It’s very poor governance. What makes us any better than the public?” Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake (R-Androscoggin) said after the session ended. “In order to create good governance, we need to be together and I think the senators and the representatives should be in the building. Otherwise, all you create is keyboard warriors.”

Senator Scott Cyrway (R-Kennebec) also voiced his opposition, telling the Chamber he thinks the quality of bills coming out of committee in the last session are not even close to what it was when committee members worked together in the same room.

“I strongly feel that we’re really missing the boat as far as representing the people in Maine as a whole, so that’s the reason I oppose what’s coming down here,” Cyrway said on the floor. “We go out in the community and they’re all working at their jobs; but we expect not to do the same thing, and that’s not representing Maine well either.”

Even Democrat Senator David Miramant (D-Knox) spoke out against the Order, likening the issue to a new class warfare where white collar workers can work comfortably at home while blue collar workers are forced to work on site.

“A lot of the jobs that are minimum wage or working with the public out there, they can’t be brought home or work from home, and we desperately need every need one of those folks doing what they’re doing,” Miramant said.

Timberlake and Sens. Stacey Guerin (R-Penobscot) and Lisa Keim (R-Oxford) all agreed that a hybrid model would work. Guerin told fellow lawmakers that the vast majority of Mainers don’t even use meeting software, especially professionals in the medical industry who might want to weigh in on legislation.

“I think we’re losing a big portion of our populace attending public meetings because they’re shut out by the electronic roadblock,” she said on the floor, adding that remote sessions also fail to provide opportunities for legislators to build the bonds that often lead to better legislation. “I see so clearly the lack of camaraderie and working together in the Zoom format.”

Below are Sen. Jeff Timberlake’s remarks from today’s session.

Sen. Jeff Timberlake’s Floor Remarks – Jan. 5, 2022

Thank you Mr. President

Mr. President and Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate:

Happy New Year! I wish you all one filled with hope, health and memorable moments with your family and friends.

It’s a pleasure to be with you today. To my friends and colleagues, I want to welcome you back. As I look across this chamber today, I see faces that I haven’t seen in months. It’s nice to see all of you in person and to be here with you together.

Yet that is the problem I want to address.

Regardless of our beliefs, our principles, our values or even our party, we’re here for one purpose – to represent the people who hired us. When you have a job, you’re expected to put in the work to complete that job, and to have the dedication to do so. More than anything, you’re expected to at least show up for work.

Whether it’s our first responders, teachers, nurses, students, bankers, cashiers or wait staff, Mainers across this state have been brave enough to show up for work since the pandemic began. They have displayed dedication to their jobs, their customers and their employers.

The problem is, we haven’t.

It’s unfortunate that this body won’t be back in session until Jan. 26th. Why are we any more special than the person who served us at the last restaurant we ate at, or the person who last cut our hair or the person who bagged our groceries?

The answer is we’re not.

Maine is vacationland. Our neighbors back home in the various communities across this state encounter people from all over the country – in fact, from all over the world.  Yet they continue to go about their business and serve you and me in their job capacities. Over 10,000 vehicles go by my hardware store every day. My point is that employees are showing up every day to do their job, and I think we should be doing the same thing.

It’s bad enough that some legislators haven’t even gotten to know their fellow colleagues on some of the committees we sit on. Think about that. Committee members are hundreds of miles apart on Zoom, and some have never even had a conversation with each other in person since the 130th began.

And since we’ve been apart, we’ve grown apart. We see it through a lens of partisanship and divisiveness that I haven’t seen before. And it’s just not working for Maine’s people. It’s not good governance. It’s not what we’ve been sent here to do.

Workers across this state are a shining example of Maine’s passion, spirit and dedication, and we’d be wise to learn a lesson or two from those who sent us here. Maybe it’s time we be their example. Maybe it’s high time we start leading the way.

Don’t get me wrong. There are issues in this Order that I and my colleagues agree with, such as implementing a hybrid model of conducting public hearings and such. However, these types of issues and decision-making shouldn’t be made in a silo. That’s why we have a Legislative Council. Open discussion is key.

Thank you.

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