This week, Republicans in the Legislature took out the knives and leapt out of the trenches to engage in hand-to-hand combat over Maine’s future. What is remarkable is that they weren’t fighting Democrats. They were brawling with fellow Republicans, in the most open intra-party division seen in decades.

Outside of Augusta, a Republican PAC run by Gov. Paul LePage’s daughter is attacking Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau, of Winterport, in his home district, for having the audacity to support compromises on the budget. What they don’t seem to understand is that the state budget requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, a majority that cannot be achieved without those dreaded compromises from all sides.

Thibodeau and others are being accused of two crimes that agitate the most far-right Republicans. One is the notion of consorting with the enemy. The other is living in the real world.

What Republicans are fighting about are ideas that are at the heart of LePage’s second-term agenda, including a budget that would send less money to towns, lower income taxes but without paying for it, increase sales taxes and slash energy-efficiency programs.

While we’re still a few weeks away from the last hours of this Legislature, the ending is already coming into focus. LePage is headed toward a nearly complete rejection of his second-term agenda. Aside from the crumbs that the Legislature will throw at him when they can, he’s being routed in this Legislature.

Budget negotiators from both parties already have agreed to scrap LePage’s sales tax increases, along with deep cuts in income taxes, revenue sharing cuts to towns and most other elements of the governor’s budget.


On the energy front, the Senate this week voted unanimously for an energy-efficiency bill that will fix a simple clerical error in an earlier bill, and dismisses the changes that LePage demanded.

On issue after issue, in fact, the Legislature is ignoring LePage’s ideas and overriding his vetoes.

LePage has responded, not surprisingly, by lashing out in all directions. Last week, he held one of the most bizarre news conferences by a sitting governor in anyone’s memory. In what can only be called a tantrum, he threatened to oppose Republicans during next year’s campaigns. He also promised not to sign any bills sponsored by Democrats, or release any bonds, no matter how important they are to Maine.

He talked about ignoring the Legislature and going directly to the people with a referendum on eliminating the income tax. (Note to the Gov: Getting that issue on the ballot requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.)

LePage’s performance was described by Democrats as “unglued.” Some called it “unhinged.” One major newspaper in Maine likened him to “an embarrassing carnival barker.”

For those who enjoy the July Fourth fireworks, I urge you to keep your lawn chairs handy. This is just the beginning for LePage. Wait until he discovers that nobody, including some Republican leaders, is listening to him, and that his power to persuade others has vanished.


All of this can be traced back to LePage’s re-election last fall. When a governor wins a second term, a thoroughly predictable cascade of events is set into motion.

First, re-election goes to his head. He feels entitled. He proclaims a popular mandate, regardless of his winning margin, which he then attaches to every one of his ideas, no matter how wacky.

He starts thinking about his legacy and what he’ll be remembered for by grade-school kids 50 or 100 years from now. The talk invariably turns to “bold ideas” and earth-shaking change. The resurgent governor then shocks the political world by calling for things that don’t add up or can’t be done.

Finally, unless the governor has extraordinary leadership skills, it all ends in a heap.

So it was with LePage. “We’re going to eliminate income taxes,” he said, as everyone with a calculator was scratching their heads. Then he went a big step further by proposing to increase sales taxes and expand them to services.

Most of us who follow these things marveled at LePage’s newfound political skill in uniting Republicans around these ideas, some of which the party, and its current legislative leaders, had fought just a few years back.

Republicans must be awestruck by LePage’s election, I thought, and they’re all falling in line. It turns out, as we now know, that LePage hadn’t even talked with fellow Republicans, who learned about his bold plan just like you and I did, by following the news.

So rather than being the new Republican unifier, LePage has quickly become the Great Divider.

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

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