AUGUSTA, Maine — Nearly as fast as Republican Gov. Paul LePage can sign veto letters, lawmakers are overturning them. It’s putting LePage on pace for another entry in Maine’s political record books: the most overturned governor in state history.
The Maine House of Representatives overrode 11 of LePage’s vetoes Tuesday, and the House and Senate combined have overturned 14 vetoes this lawmaking session.
Former independent Gov. James Longley holds the record for having more of his vetoes overturned than any other governor during a single term in office, according to Paul Mills, a Farmington attorney, author and political historian. Longley, who served from 1975 to 1979, saw 64 vetoes overridden.
And according to Mills’ research, LePage is the “runner-up.”
The Republican-controlled state Senate matched the House’s pace Wednesday, overriding nine vetoes in a blistering 20 minutes, without debate.
An unofficial count Wednesday morning showed LePage vetoed at least 42 bills since the start of the 2015 lawmaking session. With an estimated 400 or more bills still in the legislative pipeline, the number of vetoes is expected to climb, given LePage’ recent promises to veto every bill hitting his desk with a Democratic sponsor on it.
LePage said he’s vetoing bills authored by Democrats, even those agreed to unanimously — bills that “go under the hammer” — in the House and Senate, to punish lawmakers for not supporting his efforts to establish a ballot question seeking to eliminate the state’s income tax.
Senate Republicans appeared to be standing with Democrats on the overrides with eight of 10 vetoes to Democratic bills being overturned on 35-0 votes.
On Wednesday, LePage sent three more vetoes to the House, including two sponsored by Democratic lawmakers and one sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon.
Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, chastised LePage for blindly vetoing bills based on sponsorship and not over concerns or disagreement on policy.
Gideon and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan touted the “bipartisan” way lawmakers seemed to be rejecting LePage’s stance, which many see as an arbitrary abuse of his powers.
“This morning, we once again made decisions based on the policy, knowing that we heard from the public, examined the facts and debated the merits,” Gideon said Wednesday. “The Legislature labors over these decisions. What we’re seeing from the governor is altogether different. Not only is this not good governance; it’s not governance at all.”
In each of his veto letters on Democratic bills, LePage has included the same statement: “As promised, I am vetoing all bills sponsored by Democrats because they have stifled the voice of Maine citizens by preventing them from voting on the elimination of the income tax.”
Beyond making a political statement against his Democratic rivals, LePage’s actions are having the effect of slowing down the legislative process as lawmakers face a looming adjournment date of June 17 and a budget stalemate.
McCabe said the House took between two and three hours Tuesday just to override vetoes — time lawmakers could have used to finish other work left on committee tables.
“It’s tiring, and you see the look on Republicans’ and Democrats’ faces when they have to take up these veto overrides for pure partisan reasons, and it is pretty disappointing,” McCabe said.
While LePage may be attempting to drive a wedge between the respective caucuses on several key issues, his recent actions may be having the opposite effect, McCabe said.
“It’s a great example that people weren’t sent here to be partisan; they were sent here to set good policy,” McCabe said. “Those votes (Tuesday) showed that Republicans were not going to fall in line with the governor by penalizing Democrats for not following his agenda.”
McCabe said LePage has a record of being vindictive, “but the difference now is he is doing it in a very public manner.”
Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, was more forgiving of LePage’s actions Wednesday. Thibodeau said the Senate was taking the override votes in stride.
“That’s part of the process, to take up vetoes,” Thibodeau said. “And the governor has decided he’s going to send some up, and we are going to work through that process. I’m only trying to affect the things that I can change.”