In her inaugural address — which was long on aspirational imagery, though short on policy specifics — Gov. Janet Mills said she wanted to bring back civil discourse and help the state find common ground. That’s good to hear from the governor, and hopefully she follows through on it as her administration and the legislative session progress.

The early signs from her are positive: Her nominees mostly seem to be experienced, competent officials who already have a background in their respective departments, rather than being ideologues chosen for political reasons. Moreover, she’s even decided to retain three LePage appointees in her Cabinet.

All of that is a good start, but it’s just that — a start. There’s a lot more to being governor than speeches and appointments. All too often, when politicians preach unity, what they really want is for the state or the country to unify behind them and their agenda, rather than truly searching for any kind of common ground. We see this time and time again from both parties. If Mills really wants to try a different way, she’ll need to engage seriously with Republicans on substantive policy issues, rather than merely spout reassuring rhetoric.

That will start with two areas of contention that will be intricately linked this session: the biennial budget and funding of Medicaid expansion.

If she wanted to, Mills could force through a partisan majority budget funding Medicaid expansion however she liked, or pass a two-thirds budget with only nominal bipartisan support. No doubt, there are those in Augusta pushing her to move forward with such a plan, just as there were some in 2011 who wanted LePage to ram through a budget on a party-line vote.

Fortunately, nine years ago LePage resisted those calls, and he was still able to enact a budget that fulfilled major conservative policy goals with widespread bipartisan support. Mills would be wise to follow that example as she crafts her budget proposal — or make it even less controversial. While she might be able to achieve more goals in the short term with a majority budget, she has to consider that in the future she might need bipartisan support — completely alienating Republican leadership isn’t wise. When she does release the details of her plan to fund Medicaid expansion, hopefully she’ll be willing to discuss it with both parties in a more constructive way than Barack Obama and congressional Democrats were when they first passed the Affordable Care Act.

Speaking of the Affordable Care Act, Democrats may think they are being very clever with their version of L.D. 1 this session. Back in 2011, when the Republican Party took full control, their version of the always-symbolic L.D. 1 was a concept draft to pursue regulatory reform, and they worked with their Democratic colleagues to craft the final language. In the end, that package of reforms passed the Legislature not just with bipartisan support, but almost unanimously.

This session, the majority party decided to take a very different approach to L.D. 1. Their legislation would essentially enshrine most of the Affordable Care Act into state law, so that even if it were overturned at a federal level, its protections would remain on the books in Maine.

Theoretically, Democrats introduced the bill as their first order of business in the new Legislature in reaction to a recent ruling by a federal judge in Texas that overturned the entire ACA.

In reality, Democrats don’t really have to worry much about Obamacare being overturned or repealed any time soon. The Republican Party wasn’t able to repeal it even when they had full control of Congress; now that Democrats have taken back the House it’s safe for at least two years. With every year that passes, repeal becomes less likely, even if Republicans retake control of Congress. As far as the ruling from Texas, it doesn’t appear to be much of a threat to overturn the law — even the Trump administration didn’t entirely agree with the opinion.

If the ACA weren’t already on the books at the federal level, this L.D. 1 would be an entirely different story. But it is, so Republicans in Augusta would be wise to avoid being drawn into a fight over it. It’s a bill tailor-made for campaign mailers, but it’s mainly a political maneuver.

Instead, Republicans should be worried about more substantive attacks on our freedom — and our wallets — being proposed in the Legislature, and focus on fighting those.

That would be the best way for them to be productive this session.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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