As a candidate, the governor often used the phrase “Turning the page.” Now, perhaps, the governor has taken that play on his name to heart.
On Thursday, Gov. Paul LePage told Republican lawmakers in Augusta that he needed to start “zipping my mouth up and not offending them,” according to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
The governor acknowledged that he was responsible for distractions, such as removal of a mural at the Department of Labor, that have diverted attention from the crucial work that needs to be done in the State House. He continued to defend the removal as necessary to set a more business-friendly tone.
“We and the people of the state of Maine need to get away from ‘us and them’ — we have to be ‘we,’ a people, we have to do it together,” he told the network.
While one day’s contrition doesn’t make up for months of insults and provocations, it is a welcome sign that the governor understands — and dare we say, regrets — that his behavior has caused problems. We hope he is trying to set a new tone not simply for political expediency but because he realizes that insulting people, issuing threats and justifying bad decisions on the basis of notes from “secret admirers” is not the way to lead a state.
Of course, it is interesting that he made the speech on March 31, the day that definitively means the state budget for the next two years must be passed by two-thirds of the Legislature, the same percentage that can override a veto, which Gov. LePage threatened to issue if lawmakers changed his spending proposal.
The theme of his short speech, he said, was that everyone had to get back on topic. “I told them that it’s time that both the House and the Senate and the administration focus on the task at hand, and that’s pension reform, health care reform, regulatory reform, energy reform and lowering the tax on Maine people.”
These, of course, are the pressing issues Mainers expect action on. Although Gov. LePage said he was willing to compromise — a little bit — he must understand that lawmakers represent constituents who may have very different ideas of what health care and regulatory reform, for example, should look like.
At the same time that the governor was pledging to stop offending people, a small group of Republican senators was circulating a letter admonishing the governor for the “tone and spirit” of some of his remarks and calling for more civil discourse in Augusta, and a Democratic representative introduced legislation to allow citizen-initiated recalls of a governor, legislators and constitutional officers.
The Republican letter, which condemns “government by disrespect,” sends an important message that improving the atmosphere in Augusta is going to take more than one day of penitence.