House Republicans placed constituent service above party loyalty when they voted Wednesday to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of LD 1366, a bill that would require school districts to offer students instruction on cardiopulmonary resuscitation and how to use an automated external defibrillator.
Unfortunately, that leadership failed to carry over to the Senate, which sustained the veto with votes by 13 Republicans on Thursday. Republican lawmakers have helped sustain all 11 of LePage’s vetoes this session, often reversing their original votes on legislation to show solidarity with the governor. By doing so, they have not only turned on their own values but the wishes of most of Maine voters, as they do not hold the majority.
Apart from recognizing the merits of LD 1366, the House override vote offers hope for a shift away from partisan trench-digging toward rational, collaborative problem-solving at a time when it’s most needed in the State House.
The bill called for Maine schools to offer the same type of pragmatic, measurably beneficial training for which LePage advocates as part of his education reform agenda. It seems he had to scrounge to find a reason to reject it.
In his veto letter, the governor argued that LD 1366 would impose an unfunded mandate on local schools. But amendments to the bill that won unanimous support in the House and Senate negated that concern by calling on the Department of Education to craft rules ensuring “that the training requirements can be met without a public school’s being required to expand or modify its activity so as to necessitate additional expenditures from local revenues.”
LePage’s veto letter indicates he believes that part of the bill directs “the Department of Education to do the impossible, creating a statewide program at no cost.” But House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport showed more faith in the department’s ability when he said “this can be done within existing resources” in his explanation of why he voted against sustaining the veto.
In doing so, Fredette and minority Republicans in the House did their part on this bill to establish a professional and collaborative tone that will be required for legislators to overcome the gaping communication gap between LePage and Democratic legislative leaders in time to prevent a government shutdown on July 1.
It’s to be expected that a Republican governor would veto some Democratic initiatives based on ideological differences, as was the case with LD 1546, the bill that linked Medicaid expansion with hospital debt repayment, and LD 272, which would have prohibited people younger than 18 from using tanning beds. But LePage’s vetoes too often have been based more on politics than policy.
The governor has used some vetoes this session as jabs in a political power struggle with Democrats in the Legislature. His first veto of this session — of LD 49, a straightforward measure to standardize billing practices for registers of deeds — sacrificed a good bill to LePage’s desire to be taken seriously in his threat to nix all legislation that arrived at his desk before a hospital repayment bill. House Republicans joined Democrats in voting for an override, but 12 GOP senators sustained the veto as a show of solidarity for the governor early in the session.
LePage’s stated reasons for rejecting LD 1366 and other pieces of legislation, including calls for a study of workplace bullying and how to address the housing needs of people with disabilities, included objections to legislators adding work for state agencies. Given LePage’s unwillingness to lift freezes on state employees’ wages and his past verbal assaults on “bloated state government,” these objections seem based more on LePage’s need to show Democrats that he’s the boss than concern that studies would overburden state workers.
With their votes Thursday not to override LD 1366, yet another bill that Republicans backed resoundingly before it was vetoed, 13 Senate Republicans again rewarded LePage’s inappropriate use of vetoes as tools to assert his power and pushed state government deeper into stalemate.