The best politicians care about how laws and programs affect people but don’t mistake disagreement for personal attacks.
But, even after Maine’s Legislature finished its budget business, Gov. Paul LePage appeared to feel personally put upon.
Despite prevailing on many issues, in part by vetoing a record number of bills and having the vast majority of the vetoes upheld, the governor’s budget was set aside while another was adopted.
With the budget battle behind him, LePage’s Saturday radio address cast policy differences as personal.
Said LePage, “Politicians work around the clock to kill common-sense legislation, just because I proposed it. They would rather ignore the best interests of Maine people than see the governor get good legislation passed. That is truly offensive.”
The governor continued, “Being hateful toward me is one thing. But punishing Mainers just to see me lose is absolutely disgraceful.
Somehow LePage seems to think that more than two-thirds of legislators, Republicans and Democrats, adopted a budget that they believe is against Mainers’ best interest simply because they want to hurt him.
In other words, the governor believes that everyone holding an elected office in Maine who took votes counter to the governor’s preferences acted out of nefarious motives.
The governor expressed similar ideas just days earlier, in terms so crude they went viral, spreading through national news outlets.
LePage said, “Sen. Jackson claims to be for the people, but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline. He is bad. He has no brains, and he has a black heart.”
After focusing on this single individual, LePage focused on himself.
After a reporter said that some might find his vulgar comments offensive, LePage stated, “Good. It ought to [offend], because I’ve been taking it for two years.”
Referring to those remarks in his radio address, the governor said it was “straight talk” and “the only way I can get your attention.”
OK, these comments certainly got a lot of attention, but not all publicity is good publicity. And not all direct statements ring true.
Rather than acknowledging that legislators disagree with him and support bipartisan compromise to govern, LePage believes legislators have chosen to hurt Mainers.
Understandably, LePage thinks his policy proposals are best for Mainers today and generations to come. But plenty of people disagree; they don’t think the LePage path would help Maine.
LePage speaks a lot about Maine needing structural change in taxing and spending, and he embarked on this priority from the start.
Last session the Legislature passed income and estate tax cuts that most benefitted high income people. Others got small cuts.
But that tax policy was just part of LePage’s desired structural change.
Half the budget hole this Legislature faced was due to those initial cuts.
This year the governor proposed cutting all municipal revenue sharing. Less aid to towns and cities, along with requiring school districts to pick up funding for teachers’ pensions, shifts costs to property taxpayers.
LePage’s budget would have ended the Homestead Exemption for those under 65, along with the Maine Residents Property Tax and Rent Refund Program. These would have raised property taxes for hundreds of thousands of Maine people.
While the legislators’ compromise reduced revenue sharing, the cut is less than LePage proposed.
Believing that taking federal health care dollars is bad for Maine, the governor blocked expanding Medicaid for low-income working people.
Studies show that previous Medicaid expansions saved lives and improved health. Most Mainers, beyond the 70,000 whose coverage is at stake, disagree with the governor.
When legislators counter LePage, their aim is better policy as they see it, not differing with the governor just because.
Voters picked these legislators less than a year ago, sweeping the Republican Party out of its short-lived legislative majorities.
Maine people like the idea of working across party lines.
Legislators did that. A Medicaid expansion compromise passed with votes from Democrats and Republicans, but fell just short of a veto override. Avoiding a government shutdown, legislators enacted their bipartisan compromise.
With his background as a business executive, it may be hard for LePage to bear democratic disagreement.
But, truly, it’s not black-hearted, not personal and not meant to hurt Maine.