By Karl Kurtz
A visit to the Maine State House on Monday this week to conduct a training program for committee chairs added another item to my collection of legislative localisms--colorful language, like "chubbing" in Texas or "hoghousing" in South Dakota, that is specific to the legislative process in only one state (or at most a few). Similar to the way other states expedite legislation by using consent calendars or approve motions "without objection," Maine legislators say that a bill is "under the hammer." Everyone uses the term and knows what it means. "Maine's Path of Legislation," a publication produced by the clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate, describes the term as follows:
At any point, a legislator or the presiding officer may call for a vote on the current motion on the bill. When debate on a motion is over, a vote on the motion is in order. The vote may be a voice vote, or a vote "under the hammer," where approval is presumed unless an objection is raised before the presiding officer bangs the gavel.
No one seemed to know how and when the phrase first came into use.
As a postscript, when I visited the Wyoming Legislature last month, I wrote about the taxidermied bison that sits majestically in a hallway of the State Capitol. To which Maine Rep. Sharon Treat responded in a comment, "Bison are nice, but the Maine Capitol sports a moose." Well, two actually, as I can testify after taking a tour of the State House in Augusta and finding a bull and cow moose in one of four dioramas (behind glass) depicting animal life in Maine:
The dioramas were designed by Maine artist Klir Beck, who is described in a delightful 1948 article in the Lewiston Evening Journal as "the Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th century" because of his work in multiple media.