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Good day.

The Maine Legislature returned to Augusta this week with much work to do and the hope of a successful session.

To the person, the men and women in the House of Representatives and the State Senate are dedicated to doing the best they can for the state and the people they represent.

It’s no easy job to serve, and this year promises to be just as challenging as they have been in the past. Members of the Legislature will see their patience and perseverance tested.

I know the feeling of excitement and opportunity that builds among State lawmakers on the eve of their return to Augusta.

For 12 years, I represented my hometown of Bangor in the State Senate. Those were challenging and good times. My colleagues and I were able to accomplish a lot.

I know that today’s Legislature comes to town with those same high hopes and great expectations.

They will be greeted with many difficult questions that will require their full attention and commitment. They will be called upon to put their normal lives – and too often their families and friends – on hold while they get to work away from home.

It’s no easy task. But like my mother used to tell me, she said: “John, you ran for it. You asked for it. Don’t complain about it.”

First of all, on our to-do list, lawmakers will be helping me to close the revenue shortfall of $95 million dollars.

With a lagging national economy, high energy prices and a struggling housing market, Maine revenues haven’t met expectations.

Last month, I took the action to reduce government spending by $38 million for the rest of this year. It is my constitutional duty to ensure that the budget is balanced.

I’ve done that.

That step put us in a stronger position to deal with the changing revenue picture.

Next Wednesday, I will deliver a speech of the State of the State to a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

In it, I will describe my plans for the State budget and unveil the details of how I think we can best move forward.

No doubt there’s going to be arguments this year about Maine’s priorities. There will be disagreements, some of them heated.

But in the end I am convinced that all of us – Democrat and Republican and Independent – are here for the same reason.

We are here to do what’s in the best interest for Maine and its people.

Democracy is a great conversation where competing ideas vie for support.

Between now and April, the conversation will cover a lot of ground. We’re going to talk about our priorities as a state and the shape and function of state government.

We’re going to talk about how to reduce spending, how to streamline government and how to take care of our most vulnerable citizens while also recognizing the limits of what the State can and can’t do.

We’re going to talk about economic development and job growth and how best to put the resources of the State to work delivering opportunity and prosperity to all of our people.

We’re going to talk about K-12 education and college access and about how to best to prepare our children and grand children for a lifetime of success.

And we’re going to make sure that our veterans and servicemen and women are better taken care of when they return home from war.

We’re going to talk about energy and how to wean ourselves from dependency of foreign oil.

And to talk about how we can protect the health and welfare of our people, providing better access to health insurance and to get us away from dangerous toxins that are hidden in everyday products.

It’s going to be complicated at times because of the election-year politics that will entice us with the lure of partisanship.

Thursday, caucus goers in Iowa began the process of choosing a new president. New Hampshire primary voters will follow suit on Tuesday.

In Maine, the entire Legislature will be up for election in November.

The temptation for showmanship and confrontation will be great.

But Maine’s better than that. The passions of November have no place in the policies of January.

We’re sent to Augusta to work together, to solve problems and make Maine a better place to live and work.

In 1961 during his inaugural address, President Kennedy spoke about the necessity of a constructive dialogue with the Soviet Union.

I think his words apply equally to politics in a time of sharp partisan divide.

“So let us begin anew,” Kennedy said, “remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems that divide us.”

With those words, I’d like to welcome the Legislature back to Augusta. Working together, this session holds great promise for Maine, our shared goals of prosperity, opportunity and good health for all of Maine’s people.

Thank you.

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