AUGUSTA, Maine — Besides their political differences, something that distinguishes Gov. Paul LePage from his immediate predecessors is the likelihood he will sign bills that wind up on his desk.
It turns out the Republican governor is a tad stingier with his signature, allowing six bills enacted by the House and Senate to become law without his signature, an option the state constitution allows. There are still six weeks left in this year’s session, meaning he’ll get plenty more opportunities to save ink.
By comparison, no bills were allowed to become law without the chief executive’s signature during the last two-year session, when John Baldacci was governor. The Democrat allowed one to go on the books without his autograph during each of the previous three sessions.
Before that, independent Angus King allowed nine bills to go through without his signature in all eight years he was governor, according to Maine Office of Legislative Information figures.
The current governor feels he has the latitude to let a bill become law without his signature if it contains language he finds objectionable, said spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.
An example was a bill dealing with licensing public water system operators, which will allow increased fees. “The governor’s not interested in putting his name next to something that raises fees,” said Bennett.
“He’s exercising a right that every other governor has. He is a governor who examines every bill and reads through the language of every bill,” said Bennett.
LePage still has a long way to go before approaching the 35 bills that went onto the books without a governor’s signature under John McKernan, the last Republican governor.
McKernan’s reluctance to sign bills is understandable, considering the politically turbulent atmosphere of the time, said Paul Mills, a Farmington lawyer and Maine political historian.
McKernan governed through “one of the worst crises in state government in modern times,” said Mills, referring to the shutdown that resulted from a failure of the two parties — and even the House and Senate — to cooperate on critical budget and workers’ compensation issues.
In Baldacci’s case, he worked hard to have a cooperative relationship with the Legislature, “even though at times it became strained,” said his former spokesman, David Farmer.
“Governor Baldacci felt he had an obligation when a piece of legislation came to his desk to make a decision about it,” said Farmer. “We did utilize the veto and on occasion, the pocket veto.”
In the current political setting, a party that has been out of power for decades suddenly finds itself in charge, observed Mills. LePage’s “being an outside-the-Augusta-Beltway player” in the State House scene may have something to do with his letting bills slide through without his signature. A former Waterville mayor, LePage had not held a state political office before winning the governorship.
LePage had little to say when he let what many viewed as a superfluous bill, to make whoopie pies the state “treat,” become law, indicating he wanted to focus on weightier issues instead. The governor also rested his pen when the bill banning the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, wound up on his desk.
Other unsigned bills dealt with dementia care training, tobacco cessation and giving away legally caught fish.
On the other hand, LePage had signed roughly 50 bills into law by last week. One requires annual proclamations making March 16 Gov. William King Day in honor of the first governor of Maine. Other examples include rules for a vehicle to be considered abandoned, making it legal to store lobster traps on docks, and revisions in the state budget.