The year in arguments: Five Maine, national matters we haven’t seen the end of

By BDN Editorial Staff, Special to the BDN
Posted Dec. 20, 2013, at 12:24 p.m.

Maine saw its share of the national spotlight in 2013. It didn’t take the form of idyllic images of the Maine coast and Moosehead Lake splashed across the front page of The New York Times and on the covers of national magazines.

This year, divided government in Maine was at the root of it, and the partisan division provided plenty of fodder for the editorial pages of the BDN. Here’s a roundup of five topics that got a lot of editorial ink in 2013. We expect these topics will resurface in 2014.

Medicaid — to expand, or not

One could have argued at the start of the year that the fate of an effort to expand Medicaid coverage in Maine under the Affordable Care Act was predetermined. Republican Gov. Paul LePage has argued since he took office that Maine’s Medicaid program needs to slim down, and his initiatives have successfully cut coverage for some. Still, a debate with a seemingly certain outcome gathered momentum. LePage at one point said he was discussing the possibility of a Medicaid expansion with federal officials, and the Legislature’s Democratic majorities made the expansion a marquee issue, holding out hope they could muster enough GOP support to override a LePage veto.

The BDN argued Maine shouldn’t pass up an offer from the federal government to extend coverage to about 50,000 low-income adults without children — the federal government would pick up 100 percent of their tab for three years and ratchet down to 90 percent of costs by 2020 — and preserve coverage for 25,000 additional low-income parents and childless adults otherwise slated to lose Medicaid on Jan. 1, 2014.

We still think that, even as we continue to argue that Maine’s Medicaid program is ripe for improvements and cost-saving reforms. Legislative leaders have let through another Medicaid-expanding proposal that we expect to once again dominate debate in 2014.

Constant impasse in Washington

As dysfunctional as Maine politics might have appeared in 2013, dysfunction inside the beltway trumped any chaos in Augusta. Divided government in Maine prevented some major initiatives from seeing the light of day and brought Maine government within days of a shutdown, but there were occasions when enough Republicans and Democrats set aside their differences to pass major legislation.

President Barack Obama and a divided Congress seemed never to be able to do that. The distance between the parties doomed progress on pretty much everything and shut down government in October. When enough in both parties finally set aside enough of their differences toward the end of the year to hash out a budget deal, the result — essentially a do-nothing budget — reflected accurately what the current Congress can accomplish.

We advocated over the course of the year for states to adopt nonpartisan redistricting that doesn’t leave parties with the task of drawing noncompetitive congressional districts. We also called on Republicans in Washington — fruitlessly, we concede — to move beyond their obsession with repealing Obamacare and to try to make a positive mark on the law.

LePage’s obstruction

We’ve been less than impressed — to put it mildly — with LePage’s behavior as governor in the past year, especially a tendency to make the political personal and to even put politics before governing.

In May, the governor wasn’t allowed to address the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee when he approached the microphone following a discussion of the Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to pay its bills. We don’t doubt LePage’s message for the lawmakers would only have inflamed passions following a productive discussion among lawmakers and two of LePage’s cabinet members.

Since then, LePage has returned the snub, and more, by largely cutting off lawmakers’ access to his staffers and appointees in the executive branch. Lawmakers have had to ask LePage cabinet members to appear before their committees by sending a request through the governor’s office. LePage has denied many requests, and lawmakers instead have sent written queries and received written answers in return. LePage said Thursday he plans to again allow his commissioners to attend legislative meetings as part of a renewed emphasis on civility.

We’ll see how long the civility lasts. LePage has also indicated he has no plans to propose a supplemental budget to bring the two-year state budget he opposed into balance. And we have our doubts that changes in temperament promised by leaders on both sides of the aisle will last. We hope we’re proved wrong, but we’re concerned Maine government — especially in an election year — will become only more dysfunctional.

An offshore energy future for Maine?

We found LePage’s determination throughout the year to undermine Norwegian energy giant Statoil’s offshore wind energy pilot project disappointing and inconsistent with his business-friendly rhetoric. Whichever way you look at it — LePage’s opposition gave Statoil the cover it needed to abandon Maine or the governor’s above-and-beyond opposition to the company’s project actually drove Statoil away — we think LePage’s treatment of a multinational firm considering an investment in Maine was unacceptable.

But with Statoil’s exit, we’re excited about the prospect of a University of Maine-led offshore wind energy venture signing a power purchase agreement with the state. The university-led pilot project — which would launch two floating turbines at sea off Monhegan — relies on developing technology that’s innovative and Maine-grown. It’s our hope the pilot project will attract U.S. Department of Energy grant funding and succeed, planting the seeds for a nascent offshore wind energy industry that can take off in Maine.

Just as we’re excited about the prospect of an offshore wind energy industry taking hold in Maine, we’re pleased that offshore wind energy could figure into the energy mix for all of New England. We’re glad to see New England’s governors starting to cooperate on a regional energy strategy that incorporates renewable energy, new transmission and expanded natural gas infrastructure.

Our hope for a 2014 campaign with integrity

Unfortunately, our expectations aren’t high for a 2014 race for the Blaine House that will be primarily characterized by productive policy discussions about the best path forward for Maine. The election is more than 10 months away, and the race isn’t off to a good start.

We’re also concerned that the 2014 campaigns at every level — from the race for governor on down to campaigns for the state Legislature — will be dominated not by the candidates but by out-of-state interests who determine which issues Maine voters will hear about most.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/20/opinion/the-year-in-arguments-five-maine-national-matters-we-havent-seen-the-end-of/ printed on August 21, 2014