AUGUSTA, Maine — On Day 1 of Maine’s government shutdown, an estimated 200 demonstrators led by the state employees union on Saturday jeered Republican lawmakers who killed a two-year deal opposed by Gov. Paul LePage overnight.
The engineers of that deal, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, are holding short legislative sessions during the weekend, keeping weary members in the building and vowing to continue work until a deal is reached.
On Saturday, a group of 200 or so protesters affiliated with the Maine State Employees Association, the union that represents state workers, circled the governor’s residence and moved into the State House, where they heard rah-rah messages from top Democrats and chanted at House Republicans who opposed the budget as they walked through the third-floor hallway between the chambers.
Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, called the shutdown “bullsh—” in a short speech, blaming “hostage-takers that have shut the state down because they don’t know what it’s like to be a working-class person who needs these paychecks.”
Rank-and-file demonstrators placed blame squarely on LePage and the 60 House Republicans who blocked the compromise deal from getting a necessary two-thirds vote early Saturday, but LePage is expected to release a counter-offer by Monday.
A list of LePage’s proposed reforms has already circulated through the State House, but it contains items that Gideon has said would keep Democrats from voting against it.
He would allow $160 million in added education funding over the two-year budget that ended Friday night — minus the voter-approved surtax on high earners earmarked for education funding that Republicans have aimed to kill.
LePage also aims to add other reforms that progressives are cool to and reticent to handle in a budget deal, including a pilot statewide teacher contract program and repealing Maine’s voter-approved ranked-choice voting law.
Kerem Gungor, an engineer at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection who lives in Sabattus, was at the State House on Saturday with his two kids and said he brings home his family’s only income.
He blamed LePage and House Republicans for seeking too much in the deal, saying “neither side has a political mandate” in the closely divided Legislature.
“There’s a deal,” Gungor said. “They should move forward with it and open the government.”
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Saturday that the governor “understands the gravity of the situation,” but that “he needs a budget in front of him” that is “workable.”
Rep. Sheldon Hanington, R-Lincoln, was shouted down by protesters after lobbying organizers to address the crowd under the rotunda. Capitol Police also warned a demonstrator after he came close to bumping Rep. Tom Skolfield, R-Weld. Organizers from the Maine State Employees Association then implored demonstrators to give Republicans space.
Hanington said “they have their right” to protest and that he has good relationships with Democrats, remaining hopeful that the Legislature can strike a deal soon.
“We are who we are,” he said. “We’re here to make good policy and we’ll get there. We’ll get there.”