Phil: One week Sen. Joe Brannigan calls Gov. Paul LePage a bully. The next week LePage calls Sen. Justin Alfond a brat. Whatever happened to the good old days when we only said this stuff behind people’s backs?
Ethan: Your memory is a little short, Phil. Don’t forget that LePage also told President Barack Obama to “go to hell,” told the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” called labor protesters idiots, and said state employees were corrupt. So, while I appreciate your efforts to depict this bad behavior as bipartisan, I daresay this “cultural” change in Augusta begins and ends with LePage.
Phil: The missing piece is that these quotes are all in reaction to an insinuation that someone’s motives or integrity have been questioned. But perhaps rather than talking through intermediaries, one could just pick up the phone or knock on the door and talk directly? Because whether you are a legislator or the governor, diplomacy is job one.
Ethan: Sage advice, but I don’t think you are giving the readers what they are looking for: an honest assessment of why the governor behaves the way he does. For my money, I simply quote the opening lines from The Grinch, by the late great Dr. Seuss, “It could be, perhaps, that his shoes are too tight. Or it could be that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all may be that his heart was two sizes too small.”
Phil: You could say it’s been a perfect storm — a straight-talking governor who puts people before politics meets a legislature led by Republicans for the first time in 40 years. Saying this changed the dynamics and created tension is an understatement. Then we witnessed the urgency LePage put behind his efforts to change Maine’s direction, and you have fuel for a media and legislative fire-storm.
Ethan: Stop making excuses. Former Gov. John Baldacci put people first, said what he believed and made dramatic changes quickly with no inappropriate name calling. And since when did “straight talk” mean dismissive and insulting? Straight talk is what you and I do with each other, not what LePage is doing
Phil: As in Washington, Augusta is in an arm wrestling match to find the balance on the proper role of government. Going forward we must come to a mutual understanding about what level of government we can afford and a realization that quarreling will only paralyze us. Treating each other with dignity will help everyone feel like they are understood, even if we disagree.
Ethan: Phil, you and I fundamentally disagree on “the proper role of government,” but we don’t call each other names. Your solution is a little too, “let’s all hold hands and sing and everything will be fine.” C’mon, give your people some tough love. I’ve seen you do it on TV.
Phil: Now you’re talking tough. Look, I’m not in charge of the Department of Charm School. I’m offering the analysis that past behavior is clearly not generating goodwill. Time for the governor and Democrats to turn the corner.
Ethan: But sometimes turning the corner is about taking personal responsibility. Eight Republican state senators called out the governor for his tone last year. And when they did, the governor pulled back. That is my point. The way forward is for all of us to have the courage to call out our own.
Phil: Fair enough. So here’s a thought: let’s show up for the press conference to hear Rep. Chuck Krueger’s apology for saying he wanted former Vice President Dick Cheney to suffer the same fate as Saddam Hussein. A fresh start?
Ethan: There is no need to go to the press conference since he already apologized. (I wish the governor would do the same!) But yes, we do need a fresh start, a little accountability, a little personal responsibility and perhaps a little public spanking from within the family.
Phil: You know Ethan, Gov. James Longley had a pretty contentious relationship with the Legislature (he called them “pimps”!), and he certainly got a lot done. Maybe things haven’t devolved as much as we think, and maybe LePage is smarter than we think.
Ethan: Hmmm, maybe you’re right Phil. And maybe the Longley precedent of only running for one term might also take hold.
Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman are former state senators. They are political commentators on WCSH/WLBZ TV and WGAN Radio. You can follow them on Twitter @Ethan6_2 and @Phil6_2.