The government exists to fix people’s problems. But under current leadership, Maine’s government can’t fix a typo.

That’s what’s happening to the Clean Election fund, which won’t be able to distribute money to qualified candidates this year because a minority of legislators blocked passage of routine bill to fix errors and omissions. Their intransigence could not only affect the outcome of the 2018 elections, it also breaks a good-faith budget agreement and sows partisan distrust in a place where they don’t need any more of it.

Their reason? They felt like it.

“Our caucus has never been a big proponent of Clean Elections,” explained state Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. “And I still don’t think we’re a big proponent of Clean Elections,”

With all due respect to the gentleman from Turner, nobody cares what his caucus thinks about Clean Elections at this point. This was not a bill submitted to introduce the practice of public financing of campaigns — that law was passed by the people in 1996. It wasn’t even a bill to appropriate money to fund this year’s races — that was part of the budget compromise that passed last year with overwhelming majorities in both houses of the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Paul LePage.

What was on the table this spring was a bill that, among other mundane things, fixed a typographical error that unintentionally halts payments to candidates after July 1. Timberlake and the House Republicans didn’t have to be “big proponents” of anything other than copy-editing to vote for this. Instead, they turned a custodial task into an opportunity to exert leverage, hoping to exact further concessions than they received last year, when this same group of lawmakers (with the governor’s support) shut down state government for three days.

This scorched-earth politics is something they learned from a master of dysfunction. Gov. LePage has never shown much ability to pass a bill, but he has no peer when it comes to stopping them.

He will soon be headed to court, because he’s been sued by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections  for refusing to partially pay out Clean Election funding using money that had been distributed to candidates for the 2016 elections but not spent. The last three governors, including Gov. LePage, have approved this type of distribution in the past.

This approach does nothing to improve people’s lives. Refusing to spend money that has already been raised doesn’t shrink government or lower taxes. It just undoes work that was accomplished through a deliberative process in which everyone was represented. This kind of stunt makes it harder for lawmakers to work together and breaks faith with voters, who don’t need a government that would rather create problems than fix them.

The first rule of democracy is that you can’t win ’em all. Everyone has to compromise, and there will be times when everyone has to accept a defeat.

Responsible leaders don’t keep torturing the process until they get what they want. They don’t try to turn a typo into a do-over.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial misnamed the plaintiff in the suit against Gov. LePage. It is Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.)

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