DAVID FARMER

Victory can carry its own dire consequences

Posted May 18, 2011, at 8:29 p.m.

Despite strong Democratic opposition and tactics that left the Republican caucus struggling to mend itself over the weekend, many of the consumer protections in Maine insurance laws have been rewritten.

After the final votes were counted, Republicans used the power of their majorities in the House and Senate to quickly dispatch their political foes.

In the process, Rep. Pat Flood, a Republican from Winthrop and the House chairman of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, resigned his leadership role out of anger with the process.

Late Thursday night, in an attempt to solidify their victory and stop the fighting, Republicans sent LD 1333 to the Appropriations Committee with an order that it be exempted from the procedural considerations performed on most legislation that will affect the budget.

Such a move is not unheard of and can be expected near the end of the legislative session, but because it almost always explodes along party lines, the move is generally saved until after a bipartisan consensus has formed around the state budget.

The fear: Partisan power plays make budget negotiations more difficult, and Republicans must have significant Democratic support to pass a budget with the required two-thirds support.

Flood, a fair, reasonable and honest man of the highest integrity, has since agreed to return as House chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Coming back might have been a more courageous act than leaving in the first place.

But the actions that prompted the resignation in the first place will not be undone, and the question remains whether the damage they caused can be healed.

In victory, the Republicans have done themselves lasting damage. Some victories may be worth such a cost — Democrats certainly thought so about tax reform and marriage equality.

Even though fewer than a handful of Democrats supported LD 1333, which I believe will be costly for many Maine families and move our state backward in attempts to provide affordable health insurance coverage, most Democrats — and especially those on the Appropriations Committee — are united in a way that they weren’t before the bill.

They have been galvanized and educated.

Democrats — and their supporters — have had a hard time adjusting to life as the minority party.

Similarly, Republicans have struggled to understand the role of the majority — its obligations, its power and the consequences of actions.

The way in which LD 1333 was written, passed by committee and adopted by the Legislature has clarified the situation. It was forced through with pure partisan power and discipline by the Republicans, who neither engaged in real debate nor sought real compromise.

Their victory was delivered by the force of numbers.

In the long run — not on the day the governor signed the bill — this may indeed turn into a Pyrrhic victory.

During the Pyrrhic War, the Romans were defeated in a major battle by the forces of King Pyrrhus. But the victory was so costly that reportedly Pyrrhus said that another such win would “utterly undo him.”

While the Romans lost the battle, they were able to replenish their numbers and their supplies. Pyrrhus was left with few allies and with his best commanders among the dead. His victory came with a terrible price, from which he could not recover.

LD 1333 has tested the strength of the Republican coalition, and so far it has held.

But how much pressure can it sustain before the cracks we have seen all session grow into fissures?

As contentious as LD 1333 was, the work ahead on the budget will be much harder.

If a deal is reached, legislative leaders of both parties — including Flood — will have to deliver votes for a budget no one particularly likes. The power of the majority is diminished.

And with Gov. Paul LePage waiting, perhaps with his veto pen in hand and a self-imposed and imaginary line drawn in the sand over any perceived slight, Senate President Kevin Raye and Speaker Bob Nutting could be left with the choice of bucking a governor of their own party or risking a government shutdown.

The Republican majority won — for now — on its insurance overhaul. But the tactics they used may haunt them as they try to finish their legislative work and dog them come Election Day.

Another victory like that, and the Republicans could easily join King Pyrrhus, standing alone while their opponent’s numbers continue to grow and wondering whether the win was worth it.

David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. You may reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.

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