The best thing you can say about the legislative session is that it’s over. Lawmakers worked late into the night Thursday, flying through votes on 48 gubernatorial vetoes, giving Gov. Paul LePage a record 182 for his three-plus years in office.
The governor took some lumps, seeing a $30 million supplemental budget passed over his objections, as well as 13 other bills that got the necessary two-thirds votes in both houses to become law without his approval. But he was successful twice as often as he was overriden, which is a nice average in any league.
As it has been throughout the LePage era, the governor was able to sustain vetoes even on uncontroversial bills that had sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan majorities.
governing in lockstep
A typical vetoed bill is L.D. 1468, “An Act to Establish the High-Efficiency Biomass Pellet Boiler Rebate Program.” Though the measure was enacted by the Senate 26-9, Le-Page’s veto of the bill was sustained 20-15, a testament to the authority that the governor has over many Republican lawmakers. He can get them to change their votes, even on bills they once thought would be good for their constituents.
Parties are important in our system: They bring many voices together so they’ll be loud enough to be heard. There are ideological differences between the two major parties, and choosing between visions is the proper substance of elections.
But unless you think that every issue is ideological or that either party has a monopoly on the right answers, partisan lockstep is no way to govern.
On the issue of MaineCare expansion, for example, lawmakers had a chance to govern the right way. Democrats and Republicans divided on ideological grounds. But then two Republican senators, Roger Katz of Augusta and Tom Saviello of Wilton, put together a compromise that addressed all the Republican concenrs and advanced a Republican policy goal of moving the entire MaineCare program to managed care.
politics over policy
The bill got the expected veto from LePage, but when it came back to the Legislature, it could not attract enough Republican votes to override. It was clearly not a matter of policy but of pure politics. The governor got the issue he wants to use in the upcoming campaign, and as a result, as many as 70,000 uninsured Mainers who could have received federally funded coverage will again go without.
The lesson of this session is that while party politics might be unpopular outside the state Capitol, under the dome it is the most powerful force in shaping public policy. No one runs for the Legislature promising to slavishly follow a leader like the governor, but when they are in office, it’s a different story.
The session is mercifully over, but the campaign is just underway. The lesson of the last two months should be that party matters.