AUGUSTA, Maine — Despite promises made in March to veto every bill to reach his desk — if they got there before a deal to pay the state’s hospital debt did — Gov. Paul LePage has a relatively diminutive record for vetoes when compared with other governors.
On Wednesday, the state Senate failed to override LePage’s eighth veto this lawmaking session, which means the governor is batting 1.000 when it comes to vetoes in 2013.
But by volume alone, the veto champ is the late Gov. James Longley, an independent, who issued a career-high 49 vetoes in a single session in 1977.
A review of vetoes going back to 1975 based on information provided by the state’s Law and Legislative Reference Library shows Longley also holds second place for single-session vetoes with 26 in 1975. Former independent Gov. Angus King comes in third place with 25 vetoes in 1999.
Longley issued 17 vetoes in 1976 for fourth place and 16 in 1978 for fifth place. Former Gov. John “Jock” McKernan takes sixth place with 14 vetoes in 1989 and seventh place with 13 in 1993.
LePage and fellow Republican McKernan are tied for eighth in the single-session list with 12 vetoes. LePage issued 12 vetoes in 2011 and 2012, while McKernan did so in 1994.
So far this session, all eight of LePage’s vetoes have stood as Democratic lawmakers have failed to muster the two-thirds votes needed to override. Without a supermajority, Democrats have been unable to counter LePage’s veto pen.
Paul Mills, a Farmington-based attorney, author and Maine political history expert and columnist, said despite the relatively low number of actual vetoes issued, LePage has been effective in making his vetoes stand out.
“There’s been a lot of fanfare accompanying the vetoes and he’s drawn a lot of attention to them because of his style of government and his public relations orientation and his public mindset,” Mills said. “But certainly most of the things have drifted through in a routine manner and it’s been business as usual despite the fact he’s been very demonstrative about his vetoes when he has done them.”
Mills said LePage seems to use veto power with more political finesse and to make points of principle as much as dispute specific policy disagreements with Democrats. LePage’s recent veto of a bill that actually adopted the governor ’s plan to pay back the state’s debt to its hospitals was vetoed because it included a provision that required the state to expand Medicaid eligibility as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act.
While LePage hasn’t said he’s outright opposed to the expansion, he and fellow Republicans have said the two issues shouldn’t be connected in one bill.
Also surprising are vetoes that have been sustained after first passing with what appeared to be broad bipartisan support.
Republicans who voted for the bills on passage have had to change their votes to support LePage’s vetoes — an issue that’s frustrated Democrats but one that demonstrates LePage’s support within his political base, Mills said.
Since becoming governor, LePage has issued 32 vetoes and 30 of them have been sustained by the Legislature for a 93.75 percent success rate.
Longley, by comparison, issued 122 vetoes in four years but only 58 or 47.5 percent of them were sustained.
“That’s the big difference between [LePage] and Longley,” Mills said. “He’s got a party and he does have the appointive power and it became a situation where he does command the allegiance of a party base.”