Friends, we are publishing below an op-ed from Representative Karl Ward that the Bangor Daily News has refused to publish.
Not only do the people of Maine have cause for grave concern that their State Legislature can be put up for sale to the highest bidder under the decisions of Speaker Sara Gideon and Rep. Ryan Tipping, but it now also appears that the Bangor Daily News, one of Maine's largest newspapers, is intent on quashing discussion of the matter as well.
Please share this valuable commentary that the Bangor Daily News doesn't want you to read.
Something stinks in Augusta and it represents the very reason why a vast number of Mainers don’t trust their government.
A few weeks ago, it was revealed in State House testimony that Democrat Representative Ryan Tipping of Orono had accepted nearly $10,000.00 in exchange for his support of Question 2 on last November's ballot.
Question 2 raised state income taxes on highly paid professionals and pass-through businesses by a whopping 42%. It was fueled by a $3 million ad blitz of out-of-state and teachers union money and passed by the thinnest of margins - 0.8%.
Rep. Tipping - the brother of the far-left Maine People's Alliance operative Mike Tipping - has "cashed in" while simultaneously declaring himself a so-called "Clean Elections" candidate, who is legally required to refuse PAC monies like those used to fuel the "Yes on Question 2" campaign. Rep. Tipping appeared as a guest on his brother’s podcast where he admitted that he was paid to “reach out to elected officials” and influence them regarding this new tax hike. Reaching out to elected officials is clearly a euphemism for lobbying.
Here's where this story takes an even more sinister turn. With a promised legislative debate over Question 2 in the Taxation Committee looming ahead, fellow Democrat and rookie House Speaker Sara Gideon then made a surprising move that raised a few Augusta eyebrows. She selected Rep. Tipping over several seasoned veterans to chair the Taxation Committee that would determine the fate of the Question 2 campaign – the same campaign that had just put thousands of dollars in the pocket of Rep. Gideon's new, hand-picked Taxation Chairman Tipping.
When suddenly confronted during recent State House public hearing, the chief lobbyist for the Maine Education Association (the teachers union) that had paid an entire year's legislative salary to Tipping refused to come clean and would not reveal the cash recipient's identity. By that time however, Tipping, sitting a mere 20 feet away, was squirming noticeably in his seat, begging the Appropriations committee chair with hand motions to please stop the line of questioning.
Now, Ryan Tipping expects us to believe that his payoff and sudden rise to the chairmanship of this powerful committee are not related and will not affect his vote on Question 2 legislation.
Did Speaker Gideon know about this payoff when she appointed Tipping as Taxation Committee chairman? So far Gideon is sticking with Tipping who is refusing to step down as Taxation chair.
Last week, House Republicans brought a House Order to the floor demanding that we convene the House Ethics Committee to launch an inquiry into these apparently connected events. Led by Speaker Gideon, the House Order was squashed by all House Democrats in a party line vote. Speaker Gideon clearly does not want to answer on the record whether or not she knew of Tipping's receipt of cash payments from the Question 2 PAC when she appointed him chairman of the Taxation Committee. If she knew, and intentionally made the appointment, she has severely damaged her credibility and should consider resigning as Speaker immediately.
The Maine Legislature has adopted an official Code of Ethics that reads, in part:
"No Maine Legislator will accept any employment that will impair their independence and integrity of judgment, nor will they exercise their position of trust to secure unwarranted privileges for themselves or for others."
We all took an oath to live up to this Code.
As a state legislator at this moment, I have several choices. I could just wash my hands and simply quit, refusing to be part of this mess. Or I could stay silent and allow this obvious breach of ethics and "business as usual in Augusta" to go unchallenged.
Instead, I and others are calling on Tipping to resign from his ill-begotten appointment as chairman of the Taxation Committee and recuse himself from voting on any bill related to Question 2. If he refuses, Speaker Gideon can remove him from the Taxation Committee and avoid any further appearance of a cover-up.
And finally, the Maine Ethics Commission guidelines must be strengthened to prevent legislators from playing hard and fast to circumvent the rules. I have already contacted them to begin looking at a new bill that will be vetted by the Attorney General's office and submitted before Legislative Council that will give MEC some real teeth. It will be called the "Tipping Point Bill".
America's trust in her government is at an all-time low. Because of events like the unfolding Tipping scandal, their lack of faith is justified.
By coming clean, accepting consequences for poor choices and actions and by fixing the laws, we can begin to do that. If you agree, please contact the Speaker's office at (207) 287-1300 or firstname.lastname@example.org and let her know. After all, we work for you.
Karl Ward is State Representative for Maine House District 131 (Otis, Dedham, Orland, Penobscot, Stockton Springs, Verona Island and Prospect), serving on the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation and is President and CEO of Brewer-based construction company, Nickerson and O'Day, Inc.