AUGUSTA — With state revenues scarce as ever and the political atmosphere as fickle as the Maine weather, Gov. Paul LePage will give his second State of the State speech this evening to a Legislature that’s far different from the one he addressed last year.
The blunt-speaking Republican governor will present his accomplishments and goals to a joint session of a Legislature that’s now under Democratic control, making bipartisan support necessary to advance his agenda.
LePage is almost certain to address the state’s chronically problematic budget and Medicaid payments that he says are growing faster than the state’s ability to pay. LePage’s office has not released specifics on the speech, but educational choice, improving the business environment and lowering energy prices have been other key issues on his agenda that could be put front-and-center in what is traditionally the governor’s most important speech of the year.
The constitutionally required State of the State address has long been a key moment for Maine’s chief executives. It can be part pep rally and part policy speech, allowing governors to raise what they consider crisis issues, trumpet accomplishments or exhort the Legislature to act.
Maine’s first governor, William King, charged lawmakers with “perfecting a system of wise, equal and wholesome laws” in his 1820 address, after Maine split from Massachusetts.
In 1976, Gov. James Longley warned of “urgent and grave problems” associated with the state’s school funding law. In 1986, Gov. Joseph Brennan sounded an upbeat note, saying the previous year had brought higher incomes, lower unemployment, and the new year a Super Bowl appearance by the Patriots.
Whether or not LePage sounds any alarms or focuses on pumping up last year’s accomplishments, he faces a different political landscape than he did a year ago.
The speech comes amid evolving relations between Democrats, who won back their majorities in last fall’s elections, and Republicans, who remained sore following the bruising fall campaign.
Whatever the governor proposes in his speech, he will need some measure of Democratic support to get it done.
On the eve of the address, LePage ended a two-month stalemate with Democratic legislative leaders by meeting face to face with House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate President Justin Alfond, along with their GOP counterparts. LePage had declined to meet with them because of a Democratic cameraman following him at public events.
There were other signs that the two parties were working together with the appointment of the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, whose mission is endorsed by the governor. Members of both parties have renewed a moderate caucus, and a bipartisan Measures of Growth Caucus will focus on economic and quality of life issues.
A year ago, the governor challenged Republicans and Democrats to work together. “In order to succeed, we must put politics and gridlock aside,” he said.