When Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that Maine’s legislative term limits law should be thrown “out the window,” he blamed the current, dismal state of Maine governance on “young people with firm agendas” elected to the Legislature who are “hurting us in the long haul.”
Apparently, LePage would like to see a Legislature of mature senators and representatives whose thinking isn’t so inflexible that it prevents the passage of important policies that benefit Maine.
It’s remarkable to hear LePage preach the virtues of productive governance when he has so little ground to stand on.
During the same speech Thursday, to the Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine, LePage called the Legislature’s top Democrat, Senate President Justin Alfond, “a little rich boy” and accused him of “disgusting” behavior in connection with legislation addressing the use of timber revenues from public lands.
Lesson No. 1 in productive governance could be: Cultivate a working relationship with your opponents rather than constantly demean them personally and accuse them of ill intent.
LePage isn’t solely responsible for the complete and utter breakdown of policymaking that has taken hold in the State House since the 2012 elections. But he is more responsible than anyone else for creating an atmosphere that eschews genuine attempts at governance in favor of constant berating of political opponents.
Recall LePage’s refusal to meet with the Legislature’s newly elected Democratic leaders, Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves, shortly after the 2012 elections. LePage might have been upset that the Democratic Party sent a tracker to film him at public appearances, but if he were serious about accomplishing something important for Maine people, he would have become serious about cultivating a working relationship with Democratic leaders.
Then, recall LePage’s outburst at the new Legislature’s swearing-in ceremony — also about the Democratic tracker. LePage hasn’t acted seriously about governing since.
This year, LePage has refused to propose a supplemental budget bill aimed at filling a gap in the state’s two-year budget, and he hasn’t allowed members of his cabinet and administration officials to cooperate much with the lawmakers attempting to fill the gap. For months last year, LePage prevented officials from his administration from appearing before legislative committees to provide information and be held publicly accountable.
As the Legislature has debated an expansion of Medicaid, LePage has berated lawmakers for not first addressing the needs of elderly and disabled residents on waitlists for services. Except LePage himself hasn’t put forth any proposal of his own to address their needs.
LePage has issued poorly reasoned veto after poorly reasoned veto. And, overall, he has displayed a defiant, erratic approach to policymaking with constantly shifting demands that leave lawmakers and the public wondering what he will suddenly designate his next rhetorical priority.
In many cases, Democratic leaders have not helped to cultivate an atmosphere of productive governance. Last year, for example, when LePage’s administration offered a well-reasoned bill to restructure the state wholesale liquor contract and use the proceeds to pay off the state’s outstanding hospital debt, Democratic leaders decided without good reason that they needed to add their own mark to the legislation.
Maine has a divided government, but divided government doesn’t always prevent good governance. Across the country, there are numerous examples of politicians doing good and important work under divided government.
LePage isn’t wrong that term limits have something to do with the quality of governance in Augusta. But before he blames others for failed governance, he should take a look in the mirror.