Throwing me out of a hearing won’t stop me from speaking against Gov. LePage’s budget

On Friday, I was ejected from a committee hearing of the Maine Legislature where members of the public were testifying on the tax and school funding changes in Gov. LePage’s budget. It was a surreal moment.

I had never attended a legislative hearing before, but seeing education and educators attacked by the LePage administration drove me to write my testimony, battle the blizzard Thursday night to print off copies for the Committee, drive to Augusta from Orono in the early hours of the morning and sit nervously with an empty stomach for five hours, waiting for my chance to speak.

Of course, I didn’t expect to have a lawmaker eject me from the room for “making a face” (which was just my shocked expression as a result of his shouting at those in attendance).

The Press Herald covered the incident in some detail, but I’ll just say that, as others attendees have made clear to the media, I did nothing to disrupt the hearing.

Obviously this is not the way I wanted to start my career as a politically-active individual, and I was shocked by the fact that Sen. Hamper chose a female student to “make an example of” over the myriad businessmen, lobbyists and attorneys that showed up to complain about their profits in connection with the proposed LePage budget.

The reason I went was to not only fight against a budget plan that is just another blow to public education in Maine, but also to defend the voices of Mainers who voted in the majority for Question 2. This is not the first time our government has shown weakness in assisting education as well as respecting the rights of voters; in 2004 Mainers voted for the State to fund 55 percent of education costs only to have their vote ignored by lawmakers. After this experience, my view that Maine’s government is disconnected from its people and lacks compassion has only been reinforced.

I am going to do more for my community than ever before and I am not going to let the heated spitefulness of one political moment silence my voice.

Here is the testimony I would have given if I had been allowed to speak:

Honorable Senator Hamper, Representative Gattine, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs, my name is Mary Manley and I live in Manchester; a town that is just four miles from here, and thanks to my public education in Manchester and Readfield I am now excelling at the University of Maine at Orono as a third year student. I am the daughter of a single, middle-class working mother and I have had the experience of working while in school for a small business in Readfield that was ultimately forced to close. If LePage’s budget proposal is approved then working families and children in Maine’s public schools will suffer.

I find it ironic and misleading for the governor to write in the Budget Briefing “My budget sends a message that we are cutting taxes, we welcome professionals and small businesses and we want working people to keep more of what they have earned.” The deceit of this statement is extraordinary. Certainly he is proposing to cut taxes but only for the wealthy. In fact, he is proposing to cut their income tax rate from 10.15 percent to a flat rate of 5.75 percent. As for the majority of Maine which, as LePage himself even wrote “is not wealthy” this is a devastating blow. LePage’s attempt to fiscally impair the majority of Mainers trying to pave a brighter future for their families indicates the governor’s stubborn resolve to ignore the voices of the people he is supposed to listen to as well as represent.

It is our government’s responsibility to work in the interest of all Mainers. For Maine’s people to take part in their state’s future, to consciously make the decision to get registered and to go out and vote and then to be dismissed by the people who are meant to represent them is an outrage. What would be the purpose of voting, then? Gov. LePage’s proposal to delay Question 2 from going into effect is one example of the governor’s ignorance towards his people’s definitive decisions on Maine’s future. For the governor to not include Question 2 in his budget plan is irresponsible. It is unfortunate that Question 2 must be reiterated: those who make over 200,000 are asked to pay a measly amount to benefit Maine children’s public education.

Were it not for my right to a public education I would not be the individual I am today. Maine public school teachers are paid meager sums for work that is underappreciated. The funding we allot public schools will determine the future of Maine. But I am not only here to defend education, I am also here to protect the rights of voters and to say that the words spoken by the people of Maine should not be ignored, and it is my hope now that our state will not abandon democracy.

Photo via Andi Parkinson.

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