I had a terrific July and August away, finishing a book on Maine’s next economy. I hope you didn’t notice. No self-respecting Mainer should be reading columns during those glorious months.

That time away has allowed me to appreciate what a profound change occurred during the last legislative session. Paul LePage not only lost on virtually every issue he championed, he also lost the power to lead.

You know the particulars. LePage launched a big tax plan. The Legislature, which hadn’t been consulted on any of it, didn’t like it. That made LePage mad, which in turn seemed to make him irrational.

He began to veto all bills from the Legislature, chortling about “wasting their time.”

He attacked fellow Republicans on radio and managed to get Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves fired from his new job at Good Will-Hinckley by threatening to withhold funds from the school.

All of that has led to worried whisperings, on both sides of the aisle, about whether this governor is still playing with a full deck.


On the horizon are more legislative investigations and hearings, and, outside of the Legislature, some high-visibility courtroom scenes from a lawsuit filed by Eves. However those events unfold, LePage has managed to spectacularly squander the power that he had after his 2014 re-election.

Governors have only two great opportunities to implement their agenda. One is in their first 18 months in office, and the other is during their first year after re-election, in year five.

After the last election, members of LePage’s inner circle were rubbing their hands with glee, apparently intoxicated by their victory. They concluded that it was time to firmly establish LePage’s legacy as The People’s Champion. It was time to go big.

They ultimately settled on an idea that was shockingly ambitious: LePage would rewrite Maine’s tax laws to lower income taxes, and pay for it by increasing taxes on services and tourists. It was an idea long supported by moderates and Democrats, and energetically opposed by Republican leaders.

At that moment, LePage’s self-destruction began — not because of his tax reform ideas, but because of the clumsy arrogance of his approach.

Seemingly enchanted by the idea of an imperial governorship, mistrustful of anyone but a very small circle of advisers, and disdainful of the rest of government, LePage ignored his Republican allies in the State House and the Legislature as a whole. One problem: The Legislature is not an indifferent bystander, but an equal branch of government.


That go-it-alone approach underscores LePage’s limitations as a leader. He has very few tools in his leadership toolbox. He’s not great at inspiring positive change. Nobody has accused him of bringing people together to solve problems. And he instinctively isolates himself from anyone who isn’t 100 percent compliant.

Those limitations produced a shocking set of failures last year, as LePage’s tax plan went down in flames, deep divisions erupted between the governor and Republicans in the Legislature and, in the end, nearly all of LePage’s vetoes were overturned, in many cases by votes that included every Republican in the Legislature.

Much of that — and particularly the unanimous veto overrides — was unprecedented for a sitting governor of a major political party in Maine. By the end of the legislative session, LePage had managed to move from the heights of his power to what seemed like a tragic figure in a dusty bunker, barking orders to phantom armies.

Governors have two kinds of power. One is the constitutional power to manage government, including hiring top managers within agencies. The far more important power is the power to persuade and mobilize people with ideas, inspiration or — in LePage’s case, particularly — intimidation.

LePage has lost that power, because he’s lost the confidence and trust of many of his allies. His threats are no longer taken seriously by legislators. They’ve stood up to the bully and won, and others will follow. For a leader who relies on threats to “lead,” this is a profound change.

Republicans no doubt will try to put the best face on all this, as they must, going into the next round of elections, but LePage’s legacy is now largely written. He’ll, of course, still make annual speeches to the Legislature and propose required budgets. But nobody is listening. For all practical purposes, LePage has become a three-year lame duck.

What will LePage do as this becomes clearer and he becomes more frustrated? More of what he did last spring. Dig the hole deeper. Overreach for power. Make more Republican enemies, as he’s now doing with prominent Republicans on the Land for Maine’s Future board. And invite more serious impeachment talk.

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].

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