When Gov. Paul LePage spoke at the Sea Dog brew pub to an audience of Republican campaign donors, supporters and elected officials, he probably knew that his words would travel outside of the walls of the restaurant.

After all, what he was announcing was so provocative and mysterious that it was guaranteed to start people to talking. The announcement: That he would call the Legislature back into session to pass a secret policy agenda that he refused to name but that he guaranteed would make Democrats hate him.

LePage probably didn’t realize that a recording of his speech would make its way onto my blog, but he shouldn’t have been too surprised. After all, the last time I was handed an audio recording from a Republican event it was from the governor’s own campaign supporters, attempting to tarnish one of his opponents in the 2010 primary.

He almost certainly didn’t anticipate how widely his remarks would be spread, however. On a slow August news day, they ended up as a front-page headline on every newspaper and leading every TV news broadcast in the state.

LePage likely wouldn’t have said what he did if he knew how much it might damage his credibility (whatever is left of it), his immediate legislative agenda (whatever that may be) and his Republican allies facing a November election.

By being so secretive while at the same time so openly partisan, LePage once again gave lie to his campaign pledges to be “the most transparent governor in history” and to “put people before politics.”

At this point, both those phrases have turned from political slogans into political jokes.

By announcing his intention in such an overbearing and antagonizing way, he virtually guaranteed it would never happen. A special session just before an election would almost certainly require some cooperation between the parties and LePage’s actions likely eroded what little spirit of cooperation was left between his allies and his opposition.

By stating openly that House and Senate Republicans would go along with whatever partisan and controversial policy he was planning and “get it done in about a day,” LePage gave even more credence to the statements and ads from the Democratic Party painting Republicans legislators as rubber stamps for the tea party governor.

He also was tacitly admitting that he likely won’t have the votes to pass his initiative after the election.

Now, several days later, while we still don’t have a clear picture about what LePage was talking about, we do have some murky ideas.

WABI TV (the station that formerly employed LePage spokesperson Adrienne Bennett) heard from anonymous sources within the administration that his secret plan involved selling the state liquor contract in order to pay down hospital debts.

While paying the hospitals some money might give LePage cover to deny the Medicaid expansion required under the federal Affordable Care Act (which would otherwise help hospitals by decreasing uncompensated “charity care”), it wouldn’t create the level of “hate” toward the governor from Democrats that he promised in his remarks.

  • In fact, this plan wouldn’t fit several of the criteria that LePage laid out at the Sea Dog:
  • It’s not something that several other Republican states have done this year.
  • It doesn’t particularly “push the envelope.”
  • It would be a huge stretch to say that it puts the state “on the right track for the next 10 years.”
  • It likely wouldn’t rise to the level of extraordinariness necessary in order to require a special session.

It seems to me there are two options. The first is that this is a diversion. LePage is or was planning something else and he’s either not ready to discuss it yet or got so much backlash over the last few days that he has decided to shelve it completely.

The second option is that he either completely misunderstood or willfully exaggerated what his staff was planning in order to please a partisan audience. Basically, he just made up a lot of what he said out of whole cloth. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The status of the secret plan or of a special session is not clear at this point.

LePage apparently told Democratic House Leader Emily Cain that he had decided not to go ahead with his plans, but his office later disputed the content of that conversation and said he was still keeping his options open.

Mike Tipping writes a 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 to [email protected]

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