Whenever I mention my intent to write a book about “Governing as an Independent in Maine” or some such other attention-grabbing title, former Gov. Angus King reacts as if it’s a threat, apparently suspecting that my real goal is to reveal his top 10 idiosyncrasies.

He usually is comforted, however, by his belief that the book wouldn’t sell more than a score of copies, hardly a real threat to his secrets.

Last week’s ninth King administration reunion and Gov. Paul LePage’s proposals to address the budget shortfall at the Department of Health and Human Services have me again thinking about the differences between an independent and a partisan governor.

Most of the major differences between the men who have governed the state of Maine is in their personality and approach to the job, regardless of party affiliation or lack of same.

There are differences, however, in the way that the Legislature and special interest groups react to a governor not affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties. Some of the differences are obvious, others perhaps not so much.

King used to be fond of saying that, as an independent, he didn’t have any automatic enemies in the Legislature, just 186 skeptics. That was largely true.

This comment brings me to the LePage proposals to significantly cut the Medicaid program to deal with a deficit that the Legislature’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review suspects might be exaggerated.

The criticism of the proposals reported in the media is all coming from Democrats. Members of LePage’s party are being silent or openly support the reductions.

A proposal of this sort from the King administration would have been roundly criticized by both parties in the Legislature. No one would have the political need or the temerity to utter a word of support.

That’s not a lament, although there were many occasions when being able to grease a gubernatorial initiative with the unconditional support of a political party would have been welcomed.

When the philosophical differences represented by the Republicans and Democrats are both engaged in probing a matter of public policy, greater accountability is guaranteed. More often than not, more Mainers are going to feel represented by the result.

An independent governor liberates both parties to follow their philosophical guideposts. No one is expected to swallow a solution they don’t believe in for the sake of party unity. Many Republicans at the State House are uncomfortable with the LePage proposal. Public opinion might be better shaped if they weren’t mum about it.

Another saying that King often repeated was that the best sense of achievement came from working hard with people you cared about. Many of those people just gathered for the ninth time to celebrate the season at the home of King and former first lady Mary Herman.

The former state employees who attend aren’t just those who were King’s political appointments; many of them were career state employees who served under more than one or two governors.

For an independent to govern successfully, he must aggressively use the professional resources of state government. They more than make up for his lack of partisan political muscle.

Many career biologists, attorneys, engineers, doctors, social workers, financial analysts and administrators of all fields had never been involved in a policy discussion in the governor’s office until they were expected to attend a meeting with King.

One early example stands out in my memory. The state had long booked revenue that was questionably collectible and spent it. A team of financial analysts at the Department of Administration had convinced King of a way to write off these uncollectible revenues and improve the state’s balance sheet through an appropriation of one-time surplus revenues. The Legislature needed to approve the appropriation.

Both the Republicans and Democrats held press conferences accusing King of creating slush funds with state money and promised to kill the proposal. TV reporters and the entire State House press corps were at the State House to witness the fireworks.

The political drama dissipated immediately when the financial experts from the department were able to explain the concept — a job usually taken by a commissioner or other political appointment.

To seriously and successfully address the Medicaid shortfall today, it might be better if it were being explained by career state employees and if Republicans were openly questioning the governor’s proposals.

Kay Rand is former chief of staff for Maine independent Gov. Angus King.

filed under: