AUGUSTA - Prominent members of the Green Independent Party lashed out Tuesday at Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, claiming Greens had been sidelined for too long in their battle for representation on the state ethics board.
Charging Democratic and Republican leaders with nurturing an "institutional bias" against the Greens for years, Nancy Allen, a party spokesman, and state Rep. John Eder, a Green Party lawmaker from Portland, said there was no reason why a Green could not be named to fill the fifth slot on the five-member Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. The board resolves ethics complaints and investigates state campaign finance violations and has conducted its business with a vacancy since April 2005.
"The Green Party ought to be considered," Allen said.
"The point is that if you become a major party, you can't be kept away from these kind of positions by the other two parties. That's unethical, unfair and undemocratic."
The Green Party statements were made in reaction to remarks offered Monday by House Speaker John Richardson, D-Brunswick. During a meeting with State House reporters, Richardson deplored the fact that the ethics panel vacancy had persisted for so long and repeatedly referred to the need to find an independent candidate for the position. The fifth candidate for the commission must be nominated by GOP and Democratic legislative leaders and approved by the governor.
Richardson implied the delay was prompted by the inaction of Republican leaders, adding that finding a candidate not enrolled in a political party who met the approval of party leaders in the House and Senate was a "very unwieldy and difficult" task. It was, he said, apparently more difficult for Republicans than Democrats.
"It appears that we have put out a number of nominees, but the Republicans have been a little late in providing their names and that has caused a fair amount of delay," Richardson said. "It is my hope that there may be a couple of names that will come forward and then, ultimately, the governor can choose one of those three names and then one can be agreed upon."
Republican leaders in the House and Senate denied Richardson's characterization of their alleged procrastination and insisted they have been discussing a candidate with members of the governor's staff.
"The speaker can play the blame game as much as he wants, but there's a process for filling this position, and I'm pretty confident it will be filled in the near future," said House GOP leader Joshua Tardy of Newport.
While the GOP's unnamed candidate is not a Green, Tardy and Senate GOP leader Paul Davis of Greenville said they would not oppose a qualified Green candidate for the ethics panel - a possibility that didn't arise Monday during Richardson's discussions with reporters.
"I'm not surprised that it didn't," Davis said. "Greens take votes away from Democrats and I'm sure they wouldn't want one on the commission. It wouldn't bother me, though, as long as they could do the job."
While Richardson referred to finding an independent candidate for the vacant ethics slot, the pertinent Maine law simply states that no more than two members of the five-member board can represent the same party. Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the ethics commission, said there was nothing to prevent legislative leaders from nominating a Green to the commission if that was their desire. Rep. John Eder, G-Portland, said his party has to continually fight for a place at the table in Maine politics.
"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you - then they fight you," Eder said. "We're moving through this process and obviously there's an effort to try and suggest that there's none other than the two parties which enshrined themselves in the Maine Constitution in the 1980s. It's a constant battle, but we want a seat on the board. We've paid our dues."
Responding to the Greens' remarks late Tuesday afternoon, Richardson said that, contrary to Davis' suggestion, he also would welcome a Green nominee for the ethics panel.
"All I would say is that if the Green Party wants to be a major party in the state of Maine, then they need to do as everyone else does: assert themselves just as Republicans and Democrats do by offering up names," he said. "I'm certainly not obstructive or adverse to the notion that a Green could serve."
Historically, the fifth commission slot has been filled by an independent. Former independent Gov. Angus S. King was presented as a potential member earlier this year, but he declined the nomination.
The panel has essentially been a four-member board since April, when independent member Terrence MacTaggart, the former chancellor of the University of Maine System, finished his term. While the commission has largely been able to avoid stalemates, that was not the case in March when the panel deadlocked 2-2 over a request from the Conservation Law Foundation to investigate Rep. Thomas Saviello, an independent from Wilton.
The foundation charged that Saviello, a manager at the former International Paper Co. in Jay, used his position on the Legislature's Natural Resources Committee to craft weaker environmental regulations for IP and that he bargained with the Department of Environmental Protection to drop an enforcement action against the mill. The two Republican members of the commission voted not to investigate the allegation, while the two Democrats supported it. The deadlock ensured no action would be taken.
The absence of the fifth member "was critical in the Saviello case," Richardson agreed.
A decision by Richardson and Senate President Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, to convene a 15-member advisory panel to review the current code of ethical behavior for lawmakers and the manner in which complaints can be resolved may yet hold implications for the Greens. The panel held its first organizational meeting last week, and while the Saviello incident enjoyed a fair amount of discussion, a variety of other potential topics were also broached.
John Rensenbrink, founder of the Maine Green Party and one of the 15 advisory panel members, said Tuesday it was high time the commission's composition reflected the Maine electorate instead of the Maine Legislature. Noting that Maine voters are composed of 39 percent unenrolled or independent voters, 31 percent Democrats, 28 percent Republicans, and 2 percent Greens, Rensenbrink reasoned it made more sense to have the panel recommend that the ethics commission consist of two unenrolled members, one Democrat, one Republican and one Green.
"One, one, one plus two would be just fine," Rensenbrink said. "I think I will be inclined to recommend that to the full commission when we get to that point."