Dramatic or erratic? LePage and the politics of the secret plan (updated)

While we don’t know much at this point about the planned focus of Governor LePage’s secret plan for a special session of the Maine Legislature, which now appears to have been been cancelled, although that is not for sure.

But one thing is certain.

This entire scenario, a special session called late and intended to upset Democrats and help Republican prospects, would have cast attention on Governor LePage — and the news about it still does.

Governor LePage is not on the ballot in November but voters will cast their ballots with him in mind.

Even when they are not running, well-known political figures can play a symbolic role in political campaigns. Back in 1994, Republican congressional candidates ran ads in which Democratic incumbents’ faces turned into Bill Clinton’s. Two years later, Democrats revived the practice, as they had Republicans’ faces morph into Newt Gingrich’s.

Some Republican candidates have constituencies for which an association with Governor LePage is helpful. In other cases, that linkage is not helpful at all.

Candidates can try to stay away from elected officials of their own party who they see as not politically helpful.

But as voters are exposed to a continuous stream of news stories, whether involving sharp rhetoric like the IRS-as-Gestapo comments or involving unusual action, such as a secret plan for a polarizing special session, candidates from his party either have to directly disassociate themselves or will be linked in voters’ minds with the governor.

Many Maine state legislative races are decided based on highly local concerns and on voters’ impressions of the candidates. LePage’s words and actions shift attention away from individual candidates.

With the governor’s high profile, Maine people will consider if they want to support LePage’s legislative majority, based both on policy and the political approach and tone of the governor.

As concerns the secret plan for the special session, they will think about the possible legislation LePage may have tried to push through, regarding “what other Republican states have done this year.” These could have been any number of things, including limits to voting, collective bargaining, unions, public employee benefits, and various other possibilities.

Voters will also think about the approach LePage brings to governing Maine — staunchly partisan, unsupportive of transparency, and — depending on how you see it — dramatic or erratic.

And so LePage ensures his place in this 2012 election.

Update: WABI is now reporting LePage would like to use state liquor money to pay state debts to hospitals, with medical providers agreeing to give up the process that requires them to get a certificate of need for expensive medical equipment. As a matter of policy, obviously hospitals would like to be paid and legislators and others would like this to occur. However, the certificate of need process serves to contain medical costs. Getting rid of it would raise medical costs in the state. Moreover, there are other things the liquor contract funds could be used to finance, including covering uninsured individuals whose unreimbursed costs are often picked up and passed along by medical providers, including hospitals. And this does not appear to necessitate a special session.

One thing to keep in mind is that may not have been what LePage was taling about. It doesn’t seem to fit LePage’s description of the sort of issue to be taken up by a special session. It doesn’t enrage Democrats and it’s not like what’s been done around the country by a number of Republican governors.

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.