Bipartisan targets of Paul LePage (with update)

Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage has been a fierce critic of Democrats in the Legislature, accusing them of obstructionism.

Just the other day, his spokesperson reported, “The governor believes the Democrats have been sitting on their hands.”

But now it looks like Governor LePage is unhappy with more than one political party.

In a spirit of (targeting) bipartisanship, Governor LePage is also criticizing his own party and lodging threats to campaign against certain Republican legislators. A compromise has been reached involving Democratic and Republican legislators. In response, according to reporter Steve Mistler:

On Tuesday LePage told the Sun Journal that he may actively campaign against Republicans who don’t support his budget proposal. The governor on Wednesday repeated that statement during his education announcement in Skowhegan.

Moreover, as Eric Russell reported, LePage’s bipartisan targeting included cutting off information to a bipartisan legislative committee working on the supplementary budget.

Late Monday night, LePage reportedly directed DHHS staff to stop working with the Appropriations Committee. His office would not confirm that but Republicans and Democrats on the committee did. Bennett said the administration believes the Appropriations Committee “has all the information it needs.”

Withholding information is a real power play verging on unconstitutional, as the head of the executive branch takes steps that make it harder for the legislative branch to do its job.

What’s the Republican politics?

It certainly looks like there is bad blood between the Governor and Republicans in the Legislature.  Although several people have told me there were threats involving campaign support lodged to Republican legislators last year, focused around votes for the health care insurance changes and ending same-day voter registration, as far as I know, none of this was reported in the press — meaning that no one would go on the record about this.

Since those heavily-lobbied pieces of legislation were passed, same-day voter registration was restored by a 60-40 People’s Veto vote, another legislative proposal to limit voting was abandoned, and the health care law appears to be associated with sharp rises in health insurance costs in rural areas.

Those tough votes coud come back to haunt some Republicans who had their arms twisted and currently they don’t seem as amenable to pressure.

Now the Governor is trying to rally his base through the media and through more directed communications, such as his Facebook page. Part of that message involves the claim that the 2010 election delivered a firm and cohesive message against spending and for tax increases.

The Governor’s base, it should be remembered, gave him a win of just 39% statewide, while nearly all legislators were elected with over 50%.

Moreover, if the legislators faced previous primary challenges, they secured their nominations with majorities, while LePage prevailed in a large primary field with 38%. Likely his most loyal base is far more than 38% of Republicans now, but how large is hard to say. Thus it’s unclear how much pull Governor LePage has among Republican primary voters.

But there’s more going on

1. The crafting of a bipartisan compromise undercuts LePage’s message and bright line between his stance and the Democratic party. How can they be the obstructionists if they have compromised on the proposal? While voting for the compromise makes that label absurd, it may undercut Democratic legislators in their party base.

2. LePage’s criticisms could also be helpful to Republicans in the Legislature if they pass a compromise budget as long as they prevail in any coming primary fights. Why? This allows them to triangulate between LePage and Democratic critics.

3. The bipartisan targets of Governor LePage — Democratic and Republican legislators — are thus both cross-pressured, with the degree of pressure affected by their own policy commitments and political constituencies.

Update: Conservative activist Lance Dutson weighs in to pressure Republicans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEFebruary 8, 2012 

MHPC to GOP: TAX INCREASE IS UNACCEPTABLE

Republicans Proposing a $5 Million Tax Increase to

Sustain Out-of-Control Welfare System

 

 PORTLAND – Lance Dutson, Chief Executive Officer of The Maine Heritage Policy Center, today issued the following statement on the current supplemental budget debate in Augusta, and the proposal to stop the scheduled draw-down of the Dirigo Assessment:

“For decades, the people of Maine watched as the Democrat majority in Augusta used gimmicks and double-talk to heap an unbearable burden on the backs of taxpayers, while extending the hand of government into every sector of our lives.”

“The people of this state finally said ‘Enough!’ when they elected a new majority to run this state government. The expectation was that Republicans would march into Augusta and turn back the tide on the crushing regulation and tax burden that had amassed over the years. In many ways, the new leadership has done just that.”

“However, the budget process has fallen prey to a troubling dynamic. Instead of being driven by the principles of lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, legislative leaders seem focused on decorum and consensus with a group of individuals that have already proven themselves poor stewards of Maine’s economy.  Republicans were not sent to Augusta to coddle the likes of John Martin or Peggy Rotundo. They were sent to Augusta by the people of this state to clean up after them.”

“Now it appears this dynamic of cordiality has so blinded members of the Appropriations Committee that they are considering the unthinkable – using a tax increase on working Mainers to avoid making common-sense changes to Maine’s welfare system. This is an outrageous dereliction of the GOP mandate, and one that will not be suffered lightly by the already-suffering taxpayers of this state.”

“This effort to fund the continuation of an out-of-control MaineCare system on the backs of health insurance ratepayers is unacceptable. The Maine Heritage Policy Center stands strong with Governor LePage in his efforts to roll back decades of irresponsible growth in our welfare system, and will work in the coming days to ensure the voice of Maine taxpayers is not ignored through this process.”

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.