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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan and in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine. He was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.
The craziness of 2020 strikes again.
No, not because of COVID-19. Or the Hunter Biden saga. Or Mike Pence’s black fly.
Rather, it is because Democrats are attacking a Republican for voting against a tax cut.
Let’s step into a time machine and go back to 2011, when Paul LePage was governor, Barack Obama was president and Tom Brady was a Patriot.
Maine Republicans won a historic victory in November 2010, sweeping the Legislature and the Blaine House for the first time since 1967. However, the GOP was not a monolithic bloc. Kevin Raye and Roger Katz were state senators and unabashed moderates. Meanwhile, a cadre of more traditional conservatives entered the Maine House.
Including Dale Crafts.
LePage had run on a fairly typical Republican platform of lower taxes, welfare reform and streamlining regulation. His “moonshot” idea was common sense: pay Maine’s hospitals the debt they were owed by earlier increases in government-sponsored health care programs.
However, one of the lesser-known deadlines in Augusta’s budgeting process concerns a newly elected governor. The Maine Constitution sets inauguration day as the “first Wednesday after the first Tuesday of January.” The new governor needs to submit a budget on the “Friday following the first Monday in February.”
In layman’s terms, it is about 30 days.
Think about it. Right out of the gate you need to write a multi-billion dollar spending plan full of major policy initiatives while setting up an entire administration. It is a daunting task.
Nevertheless, LePage — with the help of Baldacci-era appointees setting their own perspective aside to assist the new chief executive — submitted his budget on time. It was not a perfect reflection of his electoral platform, but it ultimately included the largest tax cut in Maine history.
Democrats hated it. That isn’t hyperbole; then-Democratic Leader Emily Cain said explicitly that they “hate [the] tax cuts.”
They ultimately passed overwhelmingly. Some of the leftmost legislators voted against them. Yet, since the tax cuts were contained in the $6 billion budget bill, four rock-ribbed conservatives voted “no” as well. They believed it contained too much government spending.
That brings us to today. On the campaign trail, Crafts champions his support of the largest tax cut in Maine history. But Democrats have attacked him for that argument.
It is just another strange twist in a year full of them.
U.S. Senate Republicans are under attack for their 2016 actions, neglecting to hold hearings on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in an election year. Yet, now, they are on the cusp of confirming a new Justice just days before another election.
Of course, 2016 saw Cain attempt to take credit on the campaign trail for the LePage tax cuts. Republicans accused her of hypocrisy, because she avowedly “hated” them despite voting in favor.
Now, Crafts is under attack from Democrats for voting against tax cuts. Even though he supported them in principle, and voted “no” because he thought the state was spending too much in the budget.
These attacks highlight two simple truths. First is that “consistency” is not terribly well valued in politics. Democrats hated the LePage-era tax cuts, but now attack one of the Republicans who unequivocally cast a vote against them.
Second, is that policymaking is an inherently nuanced exercise. 2011’s Democrats hated tax cuts, but voted in favor of them because they protected some of their spending priorities. 2011 Crafts thoroughly supported the largest tax cut in Maine history, but voted against them because he believed Augusta was too loose with the checkbook.
It is something to keep in mind as election day — and maybe your absentee ballot — approaches. Crafts is unapologetically Republican and holds fast to his values. Whether you agree or disagree with them, there is no doubt about what he believes.
And he is in favor of lower taxes, even if he voted against the budget containing the largest tax cut in Maine history. If lower taxes are something you value, then Crafts is your candidate. Even in 2020.