AUGUSTA — After a lively platform debate with a surprising amount of opposition, delegates to the Republican State Convention on Friday voted 386-349 in favor of reducing the size of the Maine Legislature.
Delegates also voted to recommend that Maine withdraw from the Northern Forest Lands Council, a federally sponsored regional forest planning agency that has generated controversy.
The two-day state convention was expected to attract more than 2,000 conventioneers to the Augusta Civic Center. Speeches and floor demonstrations for candidates in the tightly contested primary races for governor and Congress were scheduled for today.
The vote on reducing the size of the 186-seat Legislature reaffirmed a plank in the platform developed by a committee led by Carol Emery of Tenants Harbor.
“In this platform, we stress local government, local solutions and local control,” said Emery.
The platform also favors giving the governor the line item veto, reducing legislative staff and study commissions, and giving voters the power to elect constitutional officers, now elected by the Legislature.
Reducing the size of the House from 151 members to 99 members has been proposed in the Legislature without success for several years. Gov. John R. McKernan again tried it this year without success. Rep. Sumner H. Lipman of Augusta, a Republican running for governor, also has been promoting a smaller Legislature for some time.
But any reduction would need to be in the form of a constitutional amendment which requires two-thirds approval from the Legislature before it can go to the people in referendum. And the Legislature has been most unwilling to vote for a reduction in its size.
A surprising number of Republican speakers Friday argued that reducing the size of the Legislature would produce large, unwieldy districts and a proliferation of work for individual lawmakers.
“I think it would be a terrible mistake to reduce the size of the House,” said Rep. Willis Lord, R-Waterboro. “You’ll have to go to more professional help if the districts are larger.”
“Small communities will lose representation with a smaller Legislature,” said Rep. Eleanor Murphy, R-Berwick.
But attorney Merton Henry said, “Maine has one of the largest legislatures in the nation. We have drifted very close to having a professional Legislature.” Henry chaired a government restructuring commission that recommended shrinking the Legislature.
Roland Sutton of Norway said, “One of the themes of our party is that less government is better government.”
There was much less debate on the proposal to have Maine drop out of the Northern Forest Lands Council and the amendment was adopted on an overwhelming voice vote. The council has been controversial as it proposed regional land-use strategies for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.
“We cannot make combinations of states for governing these states without permission of those states,” said Mark Finks of Falmouth. “The best way to manage land is to let the private owners manage it and get the blasted taxes and regulation off those owners.”
Finks is a perennial convention gadfly and after the resolution he supported passed, Convention Chairman Kenneth M. Cole III said, “The chair would add that in the 14 years he’s known Mr. Finks this was the first time we’ve ever agreed on anything.”
The civic center was festooned with campaign signs advertising the multitude of candidates. The signs started on the front lawn, where gubernatorial candidate Jack Wyman tethered a small balloon, and continued on every available space inside the building, even inside the restrooms.
Rep. Judith Foss of Yarmouth made a big splash in her campaign for governor. Greeting motorists driving in the main entrance to the civic center complex was a big trailer with “Judy Foss” written on the side in seven-foot letters.
Then outside the front door of the civic center, Foss had a Wurlitzer military band organ playing rousing marches on the back of an antique truck. The band organ plays automatically like a player piano and sounds like a full marching band.
Owner Erv Bickford of Yarmouth said the band organ dated from about 1910.
“I play it to have a good time and to give other people a good time,” he said.
Garry Maines of Windsor, a Lipman supporter, admitted, “Everybody’s noticing it. It’s doing a good job.”
Foss, the other seven gubernatorial candidates, and the eight congressional candidates all will have a chance to strut their stuff today.
“It’s going to be pivotal, this being the best public forum to get their message home,” said Republican strategist Tony Payne. “The ones who emerge as front-runners will have captured the imagination, they’ll have the most vigor with their message.”