Frustrated to a fare-thee-well, five years into his tenure as Maine’s chief executive, Paul LePage has officially unplugged from the legislative process and embarked on a roadshow of weekly public appearances.
Even during his first term when his own party was fully at the controls, the governor was never naturally inclined toward the muck-work of gaining policy alliances through negotiation with the Legislature. Styling himself as Maine’s CEO, LePage yearns for plain dominance over the legislative branch and increasingly resents any more complex relationship as treasonable insubordination.
Toward that end, the governor employs a heroic narrative in which he is embattled on every front by corrupt and ignorant legislators. On Oct. 6 at our local high school, residents of the Mount Desert Island area heard the governor outline his version of this unvarnished truth.
It was a bewildering presentation during which facts frequently were subordinate to certainty, passion more than once displaced reality, and the governor valiantly fended off a whole haunted hayride of straw men.
On energy, the governor turned his back on the unpleasant memory of his overturned veto of the Legislature’s omnibus energy bill, which cleared the way for state funding for expanded regional natural gas pipelines. Instead the governor told the audience that the Legislature simply said no to natural gas in Maine.
On college student loan debt, the governor declined to explain why in his budget proposals he ignored legislative recommendations to increase state tuition grants by $27 million in order to remedy the problem of unmet financial need. Instead the governor blamed the Legislature for the failure of two other bills that he claimed to have submitted.
One, apparently, was LD 1360, which sought to subsidize loans for Maine graduates employed by Maine technology businesses. Submitted well after budget negotiations concluded, this bill carried a $10 million price tag for which the governor never identified funding.
The second bill, which the governor said offered tax credits for businesses assuming employees’ loans, on follow-up no one on the governor’s policy staff seems able to identify.
In answer to an audience question about the state’s failure to accept federal money to expand MaineCare coverage for health care, the governor, with remarkable certitude against the facts, simply denied that Maine had ever been eligible for the funds.
In response to students’ questions about public obligation for state assistance to refugees, the governor denied any principled objection, saying only that, if the state supported such a policy, the Legislature needs to clarify the law.
Finally, in response to a question about reducing heroin addiction, the governor vehemently asserted that the Legislature “turned their backs” on the problem of opiates, refusing to acknowledge that the state budget, enacted over the governor’s own vetoes, significantly increased spending for treatment, education and enforcement.
Maine is poorly served by a chief executive who abdicates his responsibilities to engage honestly in the legislative process. It seems a strange admission of failure for a state leader, five years into his governorship, instead to retreat to politics as an outsider.
Certainly there are many policy initiatives on which I substantially disagree with the governor. On those, his inability to advance them does not disturb me. But at the same presentation, the governor also expressed, nearly word for word, points that I have made repeatedly in the dooryards of my own constituents: Maine people want only honest opportunities to work hard at good jobs. Education is the best route to prosperity. The environment is our great asset. Maine’s values and quality of life are the envy of the nation. Maine’s future depends on attracting and retaining young people with economic opportunity.
Advancing these mutual values requires sincere engagement from all parties. Policymakers who hope to lead real change must be willing to listen and understand Maine’s natural landscape of political opportunity and respectful collaboration. At this time, a strategy of blame and exclusion results only in missed opportunities for Maine’s prosperity.
It is for our common aspirations that I grieve the governor’s tactics of disrespect and division. In contrast, I have increasing confidence that the Maine Legislature is up to the task of working in good faith for a better future.
Maine people should hold all elected officials to that goal.
In his second legislative term in the Maine House, Brian Hubbell, a Democrat, represents Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Lamoine. He serves on the Education Committee.