This past week, Gov. Mills signed into law a biennial budget that raised taxes, thereby breaking her earlier promise and proving the worth of her word. After this U-turn, it’d be within reason to ask whether you should believe anything that the governor says. And you shouldn’t. Mills is clearly willing to shift her stances any time it suits her politically. 

Rather than criticizing her for breaking her promises to the people of Maine, though, Maine’s mainstream media seems more interested in criticizing Democrats for failing to embrace more radical proposals. Indeed, even legislative Republicans in Augusta seem continually unwilling to hold the governor’s feet to the fire.

While it’s all well and good that they were at least able to delay her supplemental budget from going into effect until September, they couldn’t do anything to stop it; it was purely a protest vote. That means that, for all the protestations from current Republican leadership that they would do things differently this session, the most they’ve managed to do is delay a budget that was basically a fait accompli, and that was only after minor dissent from within their own caucus.

They chose to mount a quixotic rebellion in order to stifle intraparty dissent, thereby diluting their own power. Unlike the conservatives who rebelled against electing Kevin McCarthy as speaker, they didn’t even gain anything from it at all. In the end, it was all a show, leaving reasonable, well-informed observers to ask: What, exactly, was the point? 

The lead Republican negotiator on the supplemental budget, Rep. Sawin Millett, said that a failure to get two-thirds approval could be a setback for some Democrats’ priorities. Now, Sawin Millett is one of the best-respected legislators on either side of the aisle, but if the best argument he can make for the budget is that voting against it might delay Democrats’ priorities, what does that say about it? In effect, he’s giving Republican legislators carte blanche to vote against the budget, since the only impact will be a slight delay on programs that they almost unanimously oppose. 

The endless budget negotiation fiascos show that Republican leadership in Augusta has no clear direction or strategy.


If they want to try and negotiate a real, bipartisan budget, Republican leaders need to win actual concessions from the Democrats and convince their entire caucus to vote for them, come hell or high water. That’s what true leadership is. In order to do that, however, they have to decide on a clear set of priorities and set red lines that they will not retreat from. They also have to make it clear to Democrats that the majority party will pay a painful price for going it alone. Instead, they have, again and again, merely sat back and acted as if they were dispassionate observers rather than active participants. 

Right now, the budgetary process in Augusta is muddled. Gov. Mills might say that she wants to be bipartisan, but she’s often willing to go along with liberal priorities in the face of unified Republican opposition. Republicans might say they oppose those policies, but they’re rarely willing to put up a real fight over them.  

If they’d entered these budget negotiations with a real strategy and a plan, and with a unified caucus behind it, Republicans could have emerged politically stronger, even if they won few real concessions from Democrats. They would at least have made it clear to Mainers that they were ready to govern. Instead, they negotiated a bad deal, then were unable to wrangle their own members to even support it, or to stop it from being passed. That was the worst of all possible outcomes; they did themselves real political damage with nothing to show for it. 

Right now, Democrats are able to simply ignore Republicans and spend money as they like. If the economy goes south or Republicans gain seats, though, they won’t be able to do either. That’s when both parties will find themselves with their backs against the wall, and that’s when the years of partisan charades and fiscal irresponsibility will really hurt all Mainers. It would be nice to see politicians in Augusta – in either party – to prepare for the bad times during good times.

Instead, kicking the can down the road seems to be the only thing attracting bipartisan support lately. 

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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