Can the Legislature and LePage get along?

Phil: So, now that you are done gloating about the election and your predictions (yes, dear readers, he kicked my butt, and I paid him his dollar on statewide TV), do you expect that your new leaders will be willing to reach across the aisle and work with Gov. Paul LePage?

Ethan: My dear friend, that answer resides almost exclusively in the Blaine House. Democrats clearly were willing to work with the Republicans last session, helping to pass five super-majority budgets. I see no reason for that to change.

Phil: All true, my good man. Yet, while you are rightly glowing from your triumphant return to power, elections have consequences. You won the Legislature by assailing Republicans for voting for these very same bipartisan “super-majority” budgets you claim as proof your party can work collaboratively. I’m not sure Republicans are ready to trust you.

Ethan: We won the Legislature by not being obstructionist. We may not have liked all that we voted for, but we chose governing over intransigence. We chose “better” over “perfect.” That is a sign of leadership. The question now on everyone’s mind is whether LePage will be able to do the same. Will he be like President Bill Clinton in 1994, when he lost both branches of government to the opposing party, and reach across the aisle to develop compromise policy?

Phil: Or he could act like President Barack Obama did after the self-described “shellacking” he took in the 2010 mid-term elections: Use the pulpit to simply draw the new democratic leadership into a debate of ideas to be adjudicated in the next election.

Ethan: Great, a two-year debate of “ideas” focused on winning an election as opposed to working to actually help Maine people. Did you take this from House Speaker John Boehner’s playbook of governing?

Phil: Are you listening? I just suggested that LePage could choose to act like your president who ignored the midterm elections and decided to stick to his liberal dogma and won.

Ethan: OK, OK. Neither of us wants what America had the last two years to occur in Maine (whomever we blame). Here’s my advice to Democratic leadership, don’t react. Don’t wait for the governor’s ideas. From the budget to the environment to economic investment, put your ideas into legislation and drive it to the governor’s desk with as much bipartisanship as the Legislature can muster. If the governor chooses to engage in the process, that’s great. If he doesn’t, and he simply chooses the veto pen, fight for the override. You were elected based on your values; don’t shy from them.

Phil: Good advice. Yet as we both know from our time as senators that overriding vetoes is rare. So, working with legislative Republicans and the governor is the best way to make this legislative session successful. House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, declared that reducing energy and health-care costs are the path to a stronger Maine economy. I agree with him, and they are issues the governor wants solved, too.

Ethan: But, as we also know from the last session, the governor is not always willing to engage until the final product crosses his desk. Of the 20-plus bills the governor vetoed last session, he gave no indication ahead of time that he had a problem with the bill. My sense is that it is much more incumbent upon on the governor to be willing to engage than the other way around. I mean Senate President-elect Justin Alfond, D-Portland, has called his office twice already to set up a meeting and has received no response.

Phil: If I were governor (that image probably gave you heart palpitations), my leadership move would be to invite new legislative leaders to the Blaine House for a summit. At said summit, I would acknowledge that the election requires each of us to take the most challenging issues and fix them now. I would say that I’m prepared to join them in hopes that we can come out of this time together with a framework to move Maine into a better future.

Ethan: Nice gesture but not much humility. The electorate didn’t simply say fix our problems. They rejected the fixes your party put in place over the last two years. If I am one of the Democratic leaders, I am going to be looking for you to give a little in regard to your policies. So, Gov. Harriman, where are you willing to give? Just like Republicans nationally who are finally accepting that the wealthy are going to have pay more if we want to strengthen our fiscal house, where are you willing to accept a little Democratic philosophy in that Republican soup you’re cooking?

Phil: Seems like Maine Care eligibility is the one to focus on as a demonstration of my goodwill. I’m going to work with Democrats to find a way to meet top needs. And let’s always remember, Sen. Strimling, that the transition to new leaders in December will be done without a single shot being fired, nor an act of violence, something that continues to make America one of the greatest experiences of democracy in the history of the world. We are indeed privileged to live here.

Ethan: Well, maybe you didn’t hear any shots on Election Day, but I sure did…

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