Five months after beginning his second term, Gov. Paul LePage seems frustrated by the constitutional limits of his office. In a press conference reminiscent of the poetry of Dylan Thomas — “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light” — the governor identified the objects of his frustration.
Some individuals were named.
The governor said Sen. Dawn Hill should apologize for seeking documents of his communications with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). LePage promised Hill wouldn’t get anything worthwhile “because I don’t put anything in writing.”
Referring to Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, LePage said, “I think the speaker of the House should go back home to where he was born, and I think that Mr. Alfond should be put in a playpen.”
Then the governor went after Democrats overall, saying, “I will spend the rest of my time as your governor in town halls, trying to convince Maine people that the Democratic Party is not the party of the people. . .They don’t care about the people. . . They simply don’t care.”
But it wasn’t only Democrats that drew LePage’s ire. The governor was clearly unhappy with Senate Republicans, saying, “I don’t hear anything” from them.
Not getting one’s way can be frustrating, but LePage’s reactions make it more likely the governor prematurely achieves lame duck status.
LePage has always pushed the boundaries of his office’s powers, and he is doing so in his second term by refusing to release the Land for Maine’s Future bonds.
But he’s increasingly taking himself out of normal governance, the give and take required in a checks-and-balances system.
As LePage admitted in his press conference and as news about legislative negotiations shows, his budget proposal is “dead.” And no power is more central to governing than decisions about taxing and spending.
One cause is LePage’s certainty that people who disagree with him do so out of bad motives; this makes it harder for him to accomplish things.
What the governor said about Democrats not caring about people stands in stark contrast to recent comments by Vice President Joe Biden at Yale University.
Biden told the graduates about something that happened when he was a young U.S. senator.
After seeing another new senator, Jesse Helms, talking to others about a bill on people with disabilities and objecting to the proposed legislation, Biden told Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield he believed Helms “doesn’t care about people in need. He has a disregard for the disabled.”
Since learning Helms and his wife had adopted a disabled teenager, Biden recounted, “Never once have I questioned another man’s or woman’s motive.” When trying to reach an agreement, “No matter how bitterly you disagree. . . it is always possible if you question judgment and not motive.”
It seems that LePage has yet to learn that lesson.
Second, comments that there should not be resistance to the governor’s proposals because LePage was elected reminds everyone that the governor never ran on his budget plan.
Sure, LePage talked about reducing income taxes, but he never proposed a regressive tax shift that included ending the homestead exemption for people under 65, broadening and raising the sales tax, and zeroing out municipal revenue sharing.
Third, legislators hearing comments about LePage getting elected may think to themselves, “What am I, chopped liver?” After all, everyone in the Maine Legislature was elected. In fact, nearly all got higher percentages of the vote than LePage, and each legislator has her or his own commitments and constituents.
Fourth, LePage’s claim that the people’s will has been blocked because his PUC nominee hasn’t been confirmed is hypocritical. If anything shows what people want, it’s referendums, and LePage hasn’t released the bonds people endorsed at the ballot box.
Fifth, misinformation injures trustworthiness. When LePage says Kansas has the fastest growing economy when it’s lagging, and that legislators never asked his office for fiscal estimates when they have, this reduces his credibility.
Sixth, vetoing everything, even a bill to counter identity theft unanimously supported by the House and Senate and wanted by the business community, shows lack of judgment and exhibits exasperation.
It is too early to say LePage is a lame duck, but in undermining his involvement in normal governance, he has hobbled himself.