Political party conventions are big on boosting energy and piling on the rhetoric. This weekend’s GOP convention, held in Bangor, appeared to serve its purpose well, stoking enthusiasm among the party faithful and projecting a message of unity, in contrast with the party’s 2012 gathering.
Gov. Paul LePage remained true to form with a speech in which he attacked “liberals” in the Maine Legislature and his rivals in the gubernatorial campaign. In addition to touting policy priorities and accomplishments, he also defended the way he governs.
“They may criticize the way I say things, but they sure can’t criticize how I do things,” he said. “We get it done.”
Indeed, his campaign theme has become, “Actions speak louder than words,” building on his propensity for off-the-cuff remarks.
But LePage may be misreading his foot-in-mouth reputation as his primary liability. Regardless of whether one supports his stated policies, the contempt LePage has shown for the governing process — the “how” — is indeed a significant concern.
Governing requires a pragmatic, open-minded approach focused on tackling the state’s biggest problems. If a governor doesn’t participate in the process and shows no willingness to engage with his opponents, the result is division that can’t be overcome, diminished faith in government’s ability to accomplish something worthwhile, stagnation and a significant amount of wasted time.
— LePage has issued more vetoes than any governor in the state’s history. Governors customarily work with lawmakers to fix bills they don’t like or get them thrown out before the bills reach the governor’s desk. The broad use of veto power is one indicator of a lack of communication and engagement with the Legislature. It’s also an indicator of wasted time and energy on ultimately fruitless legislation.
— This winter, LePage refused to craft a supplemental budget to fill a budget gap, forcing the Legislature to do the work typically performed by the executive branch, without access to the same information held by the executive branch. Democrats and Republicans alike supported the two budget patches produced by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. The second budget patch, for $30 million, passed the Senate 35-0 and the House 136-8. Yet LePage, who shouldn’t have expected what he wanted without participating in the process, vetoed it.
— At the same time that LePage stayed out of the budget process, he called from the sidelines for increased funding for choice initiatives. He proposed four new district court judges, 14 Drug Enforcement Agency positions and four assistant attorney general positions to fight drug crime. But he didn’t propose a funding source.
“To me, this is not about the money,” said LePage, who frequently talks up his business credentials. His spokeswoman said it was up to the Legislature to find the funds.
— While LePage has continually railed against Democratic lawmakers for failing to make difficult choices, LePage himself has largely failed to make the tough decisions. Last year, when LePage proposed his two-year budget, it was apparent he couldn’t come up with the structural reforms he so boldly promised on the campaign trail. Rather than restructure government, he suggested eliminating municipal revenue sharing and cutting property tax relief programs in order to balance the books.
— Apparently, LePage’s example of making a difficult choice is spending $925,000 in taxpayer money on a consultant who delivered an embarrassingly insufficient and dishonest analysis of what it would cost the state to expand Medicaid. Then, he corralled many in his cabinet to speak out against Medicaid expansion, creating the false impression that Medicaid and its recipients can be blamed for all of government’s problems.
— When LePage wants something, he has wielded voter-approved bonds as leverage, stalling critical investments in the state’s infrastructure and economy, instead of figuring out a less antagonistic way forward. LePage also stalled the progress of government to exercise a grudge: For much of last year, he made it burdensome for department heads to testify in front of legislative committees, making it more difficult for lawmakers to craft effective bills.
While LePage readily characterizes his rhetorical style as a liability, Maine voters should be concerned about much more than his occasional gaffes when they go to the polls in November.