This past week, two very unusual and very public political rebukes were delivered to Gov. Paul LePage from his own party.

In the Senate, eight Republicans penned an op-ed faulting the governor for his disrespectful tone and the conflict he has created.

In the House, a quieter, but perhaps more important, revolt occurred when the chamber voted 145-3 in favor of a ban on the use of the toxic chemical bisphenol-A in children’s products. LePage had strongly and colorfully opposed the ban.

(Disclosure: My employer, the Maine People’s Alliance, advocated in support of the BPA ban.)

Even a month ago, it would have seemed impossible for a newly elected governor with majorities in both chambers and a motivated tea party base to be facing this kind of political mutiny.

But here we are, nonetheless. Maine will be a very different place for LePage when he returns from his Jamaica vacation in the next few days than it was when he left.

Of the two rebukes, the op-ed written by the Senate Republicans has so far received more attention.

It led news coverage for days, was angrily denounced by LePage’s remaining allies and prompted MaineToday Media columnist Greg Kesich to declare the end of the “LePage era.”

Kesich predicted that Senate President Kevin Raye will take control of the Republican agenda, comparing it to the regency of George III’s son after the king lapsed into mental illness.

While it appears that LePage’s authority and stature have diminished, he’s still the governor and through his office will always have the ability to get his message across, lead the debate and, if it comes to it, veto legislation.

Also, the same strange statements and actions for which the senators fault him also have raised his statewide and national profile and ensure that he’ll remain at the center of Maine’s political landscape.

When Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, one of the op-ed’s principle authors, was asked on talk radio about its purpose, however, he didn’t declare it to be part of a palace coup. Instead, he said it was a message meant for his constituents as much as it was for LePage.

“It’s important for people to know what kind of Republicans we are,” he told WGAN Radio host Phil Harriman.

This seems to support the argument that the missive was an attempt by these Republicans to separate themselves from LePage in preparation for the 2012 election.

This makes sense when you consider that most of the signing senators represent districts whose voters lean more Democratic.

If this is the plan, however, I don’t think these senators have gone far enough. The next legislative election likely will be a referendum about LePage regardless of whether either side wants that to be the case. His persona and agenda are going to define the Republican Party.

Simply disagreeing with his tone, while supporting his policies, isn’t going to be enough for Republican legislators to unshackle themselves, especially if they continue to make statements like “I have a huge amount of admiration for Governor LePage” and “the governor’s policies are absolutely spot on,” as Katz did in that same interview.

To truly distance themselves from LePage, they’re going to have to take some votes that show daylight between themselves and the governor, especially on issues such as workers’ rights and the environment that he has elevated into areas of heated public conflict.

These senators also may find themselves confronting a challenge from the right. Members of Maine’s tea party have said there’s a good chance they’ll be challenging them in the primaries. Although, with the right-wing movement yet to show signs of mounting a credible challenge to even their bête noir, Olympia Snowe, I’m not sure how much these state senators have to fear.

Whether the reasons for writing the op-ed are either a grab for power or for electoral independence, the revolt also confirms something about LePage’s governing style.

Apparently, it isn’t just his political opponents that the governor has treated with disdain and derision, but his friends as well.

These politicians must have felt that simply asking LePage, face-to-face, to change his behavior wasn’t going to work; otherwise it’s hard to imagine them taking such public action to get their point across.

As Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said in a radio interview, also on WGAN, “Evidently they reached the conclusion, I have to assume, that they couldn’t get the message to the governor’s office any other way.”

Mike Tipping is a political junkie. He writes the Tipping Point blog on Maine politics at DownEast.com, his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine People’s Resource Center. He’s @miketipping on Twitter. Email: [email protected]

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.