There isn’t much that’s amusing about politics these days. Senate Republicans in Washington are promoting a bill that will throw millions of Americans off health care. A shutdown of state government just ended in Maine. Every day brings a new candidate for governor, most of whom will scatter if Susan Collins announces that she’s running.

If it weren’t for the brilliant work of Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Saturday Night Live, this would be a tough time to keep your sense of humor.

Fortunately, over the last few weeks, we all got some much-needed comic relief in the form of a victory lap from Gov. Paul LePage and the state’s House Republicans, after they shut down government and then re-opened it by defeating their own idea. This is comedy on par with Monty Python’s merry band traveling across the back lawn on imaginary horses, producing the sounds of hoofs with clapping shells, or the escape scenes from “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”

How this all happened, and how it ended with the wild dancing by LePage and company, is worth retelling. As Larry the Cable Guy likes to say, “I don’t care who you are, that’s funny!”

The casting: Aside from hundreds of extras playing legislators, demonstrators and the worried public, this comedy troupe had four main characters, all of whom apparently have long careers in improvisational comedy and standup. The first is Gov. LePage, who works under the stage name of Vinny Veto. His main sidekick is Republican minority leader Kenny Fredette, who leads the crazy uncle chorus in the House of Representatives. Senate President Mike Thibodeau plays the straight guy, regularly reminding Veto and Kenny that they aren’t actually riding horses. Finally, there’s the earnest and determined speaker of the House, Sara Gideon, who somehow fell through a hole into this bizarre and unusual world.

Prologue: Governors, like presidents, have two kinds of power. One is the power to move their agenda forward. The other is the power to stop others from getting anything done. When they can’t do the first, they are left with the second. And so it is with Veto. In his first two years in office, he accomplished some things. Since then, almost none of his ideas have been supported by the Legislature. Angry and frustrated, he’s looking for a signature moment of triumph. At whatever cost.

Opening scene: LePage and company demand that a recently-enacted tax hike on the rich, which was supposed to increase funding for schools, be eliminated. Democrats say, OK, but give us a lot of money for education. After the obligatory mud wrestling and taunting, leaders in the Legislature agree to increase school funding by $162 million over the next two years. A small portion of the increased costs would be paid by adding a penny and a half to the lodging tax.

The first scene closes with a round of glass clinking celebrations in the Legislature.

Act Two: Enter Vinny Veto to the sounds of furious winds, flashing lightning and deep organ chords, his imaginary sword flashing. “I will shut down government unless the poor downtrodden tourists are saved from this great burden. I have spoken!” All the uncles repeat the chorus three times: “Gonna shut down government to save the tourists a penny.” Democrats are in shock. “But Mr. Veto, sir,” says Speaker Gideon, politely, “raising the tax on lodging was your idea. Don’t you remember it was in your budget?” “Nonsense,” replies Veto. “Fake news.”

And so it came to pass that the state government was shut down. State employees got an extended July 4 holiday with their families and still got paid, so it wasn’t all bad for them. Taxpayers, as usual, picked up the tab.

Just after the holiday ended, to nobody’s surprise, a new deal was struck and government reopened. Democrats kept the $162 million in new school funding that they wanted. Veto and the uncles got rid of the lodging tax, which they first proposed and then opposed. Republicans declared a great victory. Democrats smiled quietly.

Act 3: Veto and the uncles go wild. In the aftermath of the shutdown, it was as though the Monty Python circus had won its first make-believe battle. “We kicked butt,” giddy Republicans proclaimed, to high fives. The crazy uncles even worked up a catchy acapella version of the “Hi Ho, Hi Ho” classic from the Seven Dwarfs.

Epilogue: As the stage cleared, the audience sat in stunned silence at the absurdity of it all, not knowing whether they should laugh or cry.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: alancaroninmain[email protected]

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