I’m ordinarily not a fan of “anniversary stories,” the old chestnuts newspapers once cranked out every summer, when advertising was plentiful but news was not. Yet one highly significant anniversary in Maine just passed without notice, so let’s give it a try.

It was 25 years ago this summer — on July 1, 1991 — that state government shut down because there was no approved budget. This was no mere accident. It was engineered by Republicans of the day to make the point that, 10 years after Ronald Reagan’s election, people didn’t care about government, or need its services. If Democrats weren’t willing to make huge concessions, why not just shut it down?

We don’t talk about the shutdown anymore, except that every two years the press corps ritually reports that it could happen again if there’s no budget by June 30. Yet the shutdown’s shadow looms large, its consequences are still being felt — and they’re increasingly dire.

The Maine shutdown, unprecedented at the time, became the template in Washington, D.C., for Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995 when, after taking over both House and Senate — the former for the first time in 40 years — he tried implementing his “Contract with America,” an incoherent collection of sound bites and bromides, and realized it would get nowhere beyond his own House caucus.

Gingrich was gone as speaker by 1998, but his spirit lives on, as the inspiration for Ted Cruz’ one-man shutdown of Congress in 2013, reinforcing that, although Barack Obama might have been re-elected, the Republican Congress had no intention of cooperating.

So what happened in Maine in 1991, and why did it foreshadow the poisoning of our politics, whose growing toxicity has led us to the outrages of 2016?

To start with, the shutdown is remembered incorrectly. It was, technically, about the budget, because Republican lawmakers withheld their votes. But the budget — including, astonishing as it seems today, major tax increases proposed by Republican Gov. John McKernan — was all set.

The conflict was, instead, over changes in the worker’s compensation system that Republicans demanded and Democrats largely resisted. There was, eventually, a worker’s comp bill after the shutdown, but hardly a complete success. It took a Blue Ribbon Commission the following year — essentially taking away the Legislature’s ability to craft a bill — that finally ended the crisis.

On July 1, there was chaos. It turned out people really did want government services, and resented that motor vehicle offices were closed, no one answered the phones, and you couldn’t get a fishing license.

Liquor stores, however, were quickly reclassified as “essential services” by McKernan, since summer tourism was peaking. The state reopened, then shut down again. When it was over, no one looked good.

You might say that both parties were blamed. That November, voters, with no candidates on the ballot, rejected every state bond issue except one. In 1994, they rejected the nominees of both parties to make independent Angus King governor.

Clearly, though, Democrats were hurt more. After the 1992 election, the chief aide of seemingly invincible House Speaker John Martin — who ceaselessly battled McKernan and ruled the House with an iron hand — was caught forging ballots in recounted races.

This led to Martin’s ouster, after Attorney General Mike Carpenter, a former Democratic legislator, ruled that under state law the speaker serves at the pleasure of the House. It also led to legislative term limits, promoted as a citizen’s initiative, none too subtly, as the only way to break Martin’s power, and voters approved in November 1993.

Term limits didn’t hit its intended target. Martin is still serving, now in his 20th House term, a record. It did, however, result in ever-changing, ineffectual legislative leadership, which has now been overwhelmed by a governor bent on expanding his powers at the expense of the people.

One who still celebrates the shutdown is Charlie Webster. Webster, then the Republican Senate leader, was the shutdown’s biggest advocate, and calls it a great success — which, in a way it is, if you count only the number of elected Republicans in statehouses across the country.

Webster, as Republican Party chairman, later helped elect Paul LePage governor, though the two soon quarreled, and Webster resigned. His parting message, after the 2012 elections briefly reversed his party’s fortunes, was that he going to “investigate” the “dozens of black people” he insisted were voting in rural towns all over Maine.

It is left to rest of us to ponder what has become of the civility and bipartisanship that once flourished in Augusta, and how we might finally lift this shadow from our collective past.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 31 years. His new book, “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” has just been published. Comment is welcomed at: [email protected]

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