A bipartisan audience of about 125 legislative colleagues, friends and family paid tribute to Senate President Michael D. Thibodeau, R-Waldo County, last night, following a dinner at the Augusta Civic Center.

The political makeup of those gathered — estimated by an organizer to be about 50-50 Democrats and Republicans — testified to what several speakers described as Thibodeau's integrity, respect for all, and ability to compromise for the good of the people of Maine during his 12 years in the Maine House and Senate.

Tributes in the form of letters were read from former Republican Senate President Kevin Raye and Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon, who were unable to appear in person.

In a video message, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Thibodeau "led with the conviction that cooperation is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength," a sentiment echoed by other speakers. She noted that, among his accomplishments, the retiring Senate president "led the largest investment in education in Maine's history."

Recalling the budget battle that briefly shut down state government in 2017, Robert Caverly, his chief of staff, said Thibodeau "laid the foundation" for the eventual compromise by saying, "We will honor the spirit of what the voters passed without inflicting the damage" it would create.

When Democrats and Republicans could not agree on educational funding pursuant to a 2016 voter referendum calling for a 3-percent income tax surcharge, the government shut down June 30, 2017. The shutdown didn't last long; under Thibodeau and Gideon's leadership, by early morning July 4, Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, with Gov. Paul LePage, had agreed on a $7.1-billion biennial budget that added $162 million to K-12 education funding, repealed the 3-percent surcharge, and delivered property tax relief.

Among others to address the gathering, former Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves thanked Thibodeau for his 12 years of service "to the people of Waldo County and the 1.3 million people of the state of Maine."

He spoke of Thibodeau's rise from "gravel pit to gavel," alluding to his construction business. Describing the lasting friendship that evolved between the two of them "during many long nights and weekends" working on the state budget, Eves praised his colleague's abilities to "mend fences and build coalitions, … see the good in people … and tell a good story."

Republican Rep. Phil Curtis of Madison had the audience laughing almost non-stop with a series of tales, many of them "out of school," about Thibodeau's days in the House, while GOP Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta joked that Thibodeau, during his 2016 campaign, had come "this close to a deal with the Russians to sell them 10,000 snow shovels."

In closing remarks, the two-term Senate president expressed hope that "we can find a way to see value in each other's ideas."

"The one thing the general public is most discouraged about is the dysfunction in government, particularly on the national level," he said. "The people in this room have the power to end that in the state of Maine."

Eying the table where his family sat, including his two daughters, their husbands, and his two toddler grandchildren, Thibodeau said he's been asked repeatedly what's next for him. "I am on a mission," he said, "to be Maine's best grandfather."