How many elected officials does it take to change a lightbulb?

Some of us have an affection for corny jokes, like the ones about changing a lightbulb, or describing some good news and some bad news.

One goes, “How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.”

Maine policymakers who put together a compromise budget faced a more difficult situation than this doctor. Every legislator wanted to brighten Maine’s future but disagreed about solutions.

But there is good news and bad news.

On the positive side, legislative leaders were able to come together and negotiate a budget deal they together characterized as moving the state forward.

We also saw the Maine Legislature standing up to Gov. Paul LePage acting in ways contrary to normal governance.

After LePage proclaimed he would veto every bill sponsored by Democrats, he went on a veto spree. But then the Legislature overrode nearly all of his vetoes, some unanimously, putting LePage on track to become the governor with the most vetoes overridden in Maine history.

After LePage’s appointees to the Public Utilities Commission decided that a drafting error meant there would be less than half the funds for energy efficiency that the Legislature intended, the governor tried to use the situation to broaden his powers. But then the Legislature near-unanimously passed a simple fix, adding the earlier omitted “and” to the law.

After LePage held back conservation bonds the voters had approved at the ballot box and Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, introduced a bill that would force the governor to issue them, LePage called Katz “my enemy.” But then, with a veto-proof majority, the Legislature voted to compel the governor to issue the bonds.

On the negative side, LePage’s approach has made it harder to address real issues in the state.

The governor continues to insult people he doesn’t agree with and spread misinformation. Sometimes it’s partisan, like saying Democrats don’t care about Mainers and don’t want the state to become more prosperous. But the governor has also blasted political allies who don’t like something he wants to do and how he’s proceeded.

LePage’s actions and statements about the conservation bonds prompted the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) to ask the governor to “stop playing politics with this highly popular and essential conservation program and please consider learning more about who is being served by our public lands.”

Consider also what Lance Harvell, a former member of the Maine House recently wrote about LePage.

Harvell, a Farmington Republican, found himself “quite saddened [by] the governor allowing himself to be taken out of the budget picture almost entirely.”

How did LePage sideline himself on a key second-term effort?

As Harvell explained, “Politicians are people and like any profession involving people relationships matter. Politics is how policy is enacted and politics involves people. Something LePage has yet to learn is the value of relationships.”

Lessons from history, Harvell wrote, show that, “Failure in politics to build working relationships even with those you disagree with means it is not likely you will achieve your policy goals.”

After the budget passes, Republican strategists will likely claim it’s a success for LePage. That’s smart politics.

Those strategists will point to portions of the deal consistent with what the governor proposed. But they are not unique to LePage, and many elements can be found in the 2013 Gang of 11 tax reform plan and the 2009 plan the GOP ran against. The budget contains good news and bad news for everyone in a compromise crafted by legislative leaders.

Given LePage’s promises, he’ll veto the budget, and it will be enacted over his veto.

It makes no sense to argue the budget deal demonstrates LePage’s success if he vetoes it.

It’s possible that the governor may yet consider how he has limited his own impact.

LePage should listen to Harvell, who noted that, while some find LePage’s style refreshing, “These rants are actually ineffective to achieving his policy goals. He well knows how to use the stick but not the carrot. In fact if one gave him a carrot he would likely beat someone with it.”

After LePage softened his image during the 2014 campaign, it turned out he doesn’t want to change — and that’s no joke.

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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.