I’ve been an observer of Maine elections for almost four decades. Until just a few months ago, it never occurred to me that Maine voters should have the power to recall governors, a power that we don’t currently have.
We’ve had governors on the left and the right. We’ve had two independents. Some have been more skilled or more partisan than others. A few have been surprisingly ineffective. None has been particularly harmful or out of control, until now.
Paul LePage is fast becoming the poster child for why voters need the power to remove governors when they become destructive to the state, abuse their power or are remarkably incompetent.
Many people already are making a persuasive case for LePage’s removal. They cite his giveaway of a half-million dollars to a crony to produce a phony study about welfare. Or giving millions of dollars to Cate Street Capital in exchange for nothing.
Others think he is abusing his power by withholding bonds for land conservation, which were passed by wide margins by the voters; vetoing all bills sponsored by Democrats; and recklessly attacking nongovernment organizations that he wants to control.
While I think voters should have the power to recall governors, I don’t think LePage should be recalled, at this time, or until it becomes clear that his behavior is getting even worse. Here’s why:
• He just won an election. How LePage was re-elected has been a matter of much conjecture. For me, it all comes down to the fact that the voters who broke to him at the end felt they had nowhere else to go. He also skillfully presented himself as something he is not, which is gradually maturing and effective.
Finally, he was dealt the luck of the draw against two candidates who both had good qualities and resumes but who, for different reasons, could not close the sale with voters.
• He represents a segment of voters that needs to be heard. LePage’s popularity is the product of frustration and anger about an anemic economy and a government that has been too slow to change and modernize. He has given voice to a broad swath of the electorate that feels it hasn’t been listened to.
Those people appreciate LePage’s forceful expression of their views, which boil down to believing that government has become the advocate of the slackers and the enemy of the doers. They want a government that spends less time focusing on the symptoms of poverty and more time reducing poverty through a stronger economy.
• LePage is not anti-business. For many people, including those who aren’t hardcore conservatives, Maine’s government, and particularly Democrats, have become so wrapped up in government solutions to problems that they’ve forgotten how private-sector jobs are created.
Right or wrong, those beliefs are strong, and they won’t go away when LePage exits the stage. Ignoring the pressure for change, and allowing it to build over time, is exactly what caused it to boil over in the first place, and what propelled LePage into the Blaine House.
Understanding the Paul LePage phenomenon is vitally important for those who want to see a more constructive and positive government in the future. While many Democrats don’t want to hear this, LePage is a symptom of deeper problems in Maine. If those problems aren’t addressed, other LePages will follow. And they will almost certainly be more skilled and more articulate (think Gov. Bruce Poliquin or Gov. Mary Mayhew).
So LePage should not be recalled at this time, even if the Maine Constitution had a recall provision. But an amendment to the constitution allowing recalls should be submitted to the Legislature, as a high priority next year, and the matter should be put before the voters in 2016.
This is an issue that transcends partisan interests and personalities. It’s a vital safeguard that will help ensure that future governors don’t exceed their authority. It is a power that must be used in only the most serious instances. We don’t need a recall provision that is simply a way to extend campaigns or continue fights over policy differences.
The good news is that LePage is a big supporter of constitutional amendments that put more power into the hands of voters. For weeks, he’s been berating Democrats for not supporting his constitutional amendment to lower income taxes. “Let the people decide,” he’s said. “What are you afraid of?” he’s asked Democrats.
Democrats should see just how committed LePage is to the principle of giving voters more power by putting a recall provision on his desk next January.
Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is a partner in the Caron and Egan consulting group, which is active in growing Maine’s next economy. Email at [email protected]