The Coastal Packet: Word

Tuesday, March 1


Governing - Divided government is always challenging, but what is happening in Maine right now goes far beyond any conventional notion of divided government or partisan competition. It is an exercise in extreme political hostility, in which even the most routine give-and-take between the executive and the legislative branches has disappeared. Faced with an obstinate chief executive, legislators are essentially trying to run the state on their own. The only positive by-product of this has been a tenuous coalition of Democratic and Republican legislators willing to work together to prevent the situation from deteriorating even further. “In terms of creating law, we’ve done that in the absence of a governor,” says Mark Eves, the Democratic speaker of the House. “It’s too bad, but it doesn’t stop us from working together.”

It didn’t help matters last year when LePage blackballed Eves for a job, threatening to cut off funding for a charter school that wanted to hire the speaker. The atmosphere of mutual distrust has carried over into this year. The governor has signed some bills, but legislators are proceeding with the expectation that he might decide to block any bill for any reason. Therefore, nothing much is going to move unless it commands overwhelming veto-proof support from both parties in both chambers. “Everybody recognizes that you’d better have bipartisan support from the beginning and throughout if you’re going to be successful,” Eves says, “because you’ll have to overcome the governor’s veto.”

That’s already happened in some cases. Legislators gave unanimous approval to a conservation bond package LePage had fought, as well as a bill that addresses the state’s drug addiction crisis. The latter package won unanimous approval from both the House and Senate, and LePage signed it. Despite all the conflict, some work does get done. A few bills are being entered into law.

With the entire legislature up for election this year, Republican lawmakers now face a stark choice. Their normal inclination would be to side with the governor of their own party. LePage is seeking to promote that line of thinking by taking his case directly to the people, holding town hall meetings on a nearly weekly basis and working hard to recruit candidates he considers supportive -- even if that means finding challengers to run against incumbent Republicans. “The more the governor is able to talk about his priorities and articulate them to the people of Maine, the more the legislature is willing to listen,” says Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary.

But some Republicans -- knowing that LePage was elected twice with less than a majority vote and that he remains a controversial figure because of his unwillingness to make deals and his tendency to make offensive statements -- are deciding they don’t want to run as LePage Republicans. “Everyone, including Republicans, are individually sizing up what kind of impact this governor will have on their individual races,” says GOP state Sen. Roger Katz, “and how closely they do or don’t want to be aligned with him as a result. That’s 186 different calculations going on.”

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