Gov. Paul LePage’s slogan must be “Just say no.” His prolific use of the veto demonstrates a significant lack of understanding of how our political system works. Unfortunately, you never get to “yes” when your response is always “no.”
Amazingly, he seems to relish his veto pen, along with the opportunities to blast both his allies and his opponents who voted for those bills. He often criticizes specific legislators in his veto messages and questions their motives. That’s not a path to success in any endeavor, but particularly in politics.
Politics is the art of compromise. Success nearly always requires cooperation and collaboration — as well as persistence.
As the lobbyist for 18 years for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I learned to take small steps forward, grabbing what I could, resolved to come back and get the rest next time or the time after that. Many will tell you that I was relentless, and that’s the truth. You really have to be. And I learned that my opponents on one bill could — if treated right — be my supporters on another bill.
The governor doesn’t understand that you get what you can, declare victory, and move the ball up the field. Even when he gets two-thirds of what he wants, he still vetoes the bill. Using football as our analogy, Team LePage gets to his opponent’s 20-yard line, but because he didn’t score a touchdown, he doesn’t kick the field goal that is within range. Instead he returns to his own 20-yard line and starts over. And oh yeah, he blasts his opponents for not letting him score a touchdown.
He also doesn’t grasp the importance of building alliances. Legislators can be his friends one day and get blasted the next. Even during his first two years, when he had a Republican legislature, he constantly belittled legislators, rather than working with them toward his goals. It’s his way or the highway, and most legislators sprinted away from him down the road.
It’s essential, if you are to succeed in our political system, to listen to others — both your supporters and your opponents — and incorporate their ideas in your proposals, or at least in the final bills that emerge from legislative committees. I guess what I’m saying is that the process is not a dictatorship. It’s astonishing that Gov. LePage has not learned this after four years.
I feel sorry for Republican House Leader Ken Fredette. He’s a good guy in an impossible position. At the recent Republican state convention, Fredette praised the governor for stopping lots of bad bills with his vetoes.
Given that Fredette voted for many of those bills initially, his comment is a real stretch. Did he mean the supplemental budget that was supported by all but eight legislators? Was he talking about the lakes bill, an important proposal to protect one of our state’s most precious resources and a bill that got a unanimous vote in the Senate and 135-0, 138-0, and 119-24 votes in the House?
Perhaps he meant the $12 million bond issue earmarked for small-business financing through the Finance Authority of Maine. That passed the Senate 29-3 and the House 123-23. The governor vetoed all of these. Were they all bad bills? Then why did Fredette and most other Republican legislators vote for them?
In fact, they were all very good and important bills, examples of some of the best work of the Maine legislature this year. Sixty-six percent of the bills LePage vetoed this session initially won the bipartisan support of two-thirds or more of legislators.
I was particularly disappointed with the governor’s veto of two bills sponsored by Rep. Tim Marks, D-Pittston, a smart, effective legislator who — in just one term — has figured out how to work with his colleagues to get things done.
One of Marks’ bills included a lot of good ideas we’ve pursued for years to clean up and streamline the concealed firearms permit system. The other got tougher on offenders who drove drunk a bunch of times over a long period of time. Even harder to accept, the governor’s veto message on the OUI bill focused on the original version of the bill, not the compromise version that was enacted.
To paraphrase one of my favorite sayings by John Buchan, the charm of politics is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
Here’s hoping our next governor understands this.