"I followed it like a lot of people do, in the newspaper previously," says state Sen. Jim Boyle (left), of Gorham. This time, he got to watch the budget process from the inside, as a rookie legislator.
"What was very different was how much effort the Appropriations Committee puts into that whole budget process, both the supplemental early on, and then the biennial budget following that," he says. "And, so, I was surprised, again, how much work they put into it and how much it is really in their hands until it comes out of that committee."
Boyle was one of four first-time legislators we met in December. I intereviewed all four of them again earlier this month.
Democratic state Rep. Tim Marks said the budget was "huge" - he meant that literally, noting it totalled some 600 pages printed.
Marks's wife and brother are state employees; he said he was satisfied the new budget "respected" state workers. Beyond that, he says, he trusted the work of the Appropriations Committee.
"I looked at it as much as I could, and I didn't have any major problems with it," Marks (right) says. "It wasn't perfect, of course, but I understood early that, being a legislator, you need to compromise, and there are some things that you live to fight another day."
That spirit of bipartisanship also cheered Republican House member Carol McElwee. "I wish there had been more of it," shse says. "And there were times that there were; I'm not saying there weren't. But I think that we need to work together and we'll accomplish so much more."
And McElwee (left) tells this story about a one-day reversal in political color. "Early on, I met a young Democrat and she said, 'You and I are going to be the bipartisan people to work together.' So the next day, I laugh, because I met her and I had on a blue suit and she had on a red sweater."
The political often becomes personal in Augusta, as Democratic state Rep. Christine Powers learned.
"The best part was just meeting spectacular people," Powers (left) says. "When I saw you and we were there for orientation, and then leadership was talking about, 'You're going to make friendships now that will last a lifetime,' you hear that and, OK, you believe it, to a certain extent. But it happened. And there are some fabulous people that I've met that I will, hopefully, have in my life for a long time. And they're working really hard to do great things for the state of Maine."
"I'm really pleasantly surprised at how well people get along as individuals and humans," says state Sen. Jim Boyle of Gorham. "In terms of human relationships with others and beinG able to solve problems when you're outside, and before it gets to the vote, I was pleased and pleasantly surprised at how well people get along up here."
Which led me to a final question for each.
Irwin Gratz: "Does your experience encourage you to run for re-election next year?"
Sen. Jim Boyle: "Yeah, yeah, partly because I do think it won't be as big of a learning curve, and I really enjoyed the time here. I've enjoyed constituents, helping people out that really need their state senator."
Rep Tim Marks: "I have been telling people, I am still undecided at this point." Marks, a retired state trooper, says he's met great people, but is still young enough to think about taking on another full-time job.
Irwin Gratz: "Based on your experience this year, does it encourage you to want to run for re-election next year?"
"I'm going finish this session first," says Republican state Rep. Carol McElwee (left), who says re-districting will change the makeup of her district.
That will happen to Democratic state Rep. Christine Powers too, creating more travel she'd have to balance against her job as director of the Naples Public Library.
"It was much more work than I had anticipated," Powers says, "but a lot of people said that it was one of the most difficult sessions that they could remember - people who have been involved for a long time. It was challenging balancing work and homelife and getting the job done."
All four told me they've learned a lot, some of which they may apply during the next, shorter session of the Legislature that convenes in January. And Carol McElwee has grown a bit more tech savvy, too.
"I have, I'm so proud of myself," she says. "And my daughter would laugh as she hears this, but I can text now. And I've learned how to do that, and it's so convenient. It's wonderful."
Photos of Sen. Boyle and Reps. Powers and McElwee: Irwin Gratz
Photo of Rep. Marks: Courtesy Maine House of Represenatatives