Ethan: In the end, Gov. Paul LePage goes 78-5 on his vetoes. Pretty impressive.
Phil: That’s even better than the 96 NBA Chicago Bulls, who went 72-10.
Ethan: And seeing as Republican legislators flipped their positions on at least fifty of the vetoes, perhaps the news of LePage’s party abandoning him are a bit premature?
Phil: Another way to look at it is that LePage was able to put a fresh set of eyes on legislation because he isn’t subjected to the constant barrage of lobbyists and advocates standing in the legislative hallway every moment.
Ethan: Not to mention the constant barrage of his TV flashing at every legislator who walks by his office.
Phil: My sense is that for every bill, LePage asks himself: “Do we need another law?” Meanwhile, legislators ask: “Why wouldn’t we pass this law? It’s what we’re here to do.”
Ethan: Not very high praise for your Republican colleagues if you think all they do is pass bills because that’s what they do.
Phil: Nor Democrats. Either way, as you say, I am pleased the governor succeeded in preventing 78 new laws and accompanying regulations from taking effect.
Ethan: Well, those laws he prevented from taking effect mean that minimum wage workers won’t get a raise; critical environmental laws won’t go into effect; and guns will continue to get in the hands of criminals. Not sure those are good things.
Phil: Of course you left out vetoing bills forcing the state to buy U.S. products and another prohibiting small farmers producing 20 gallons or less from selling raw milk. Like I said, he prevented 78 unneeded laws and regulations from taking effect.
Ethan: Seeing as so many legislators stood with LePage and supported his vetoes, do you think that Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, is really the one at odds with his party?
Phil: I don’t think so. Katz is likely preparing for a run for governor in 2018. Anything he can do now to show his constituents and statewide independents that he can separate himself from LePage keeps him in the Legislature and gives the media an opportunity to single him out.
Ethan: But has your party moved so far to the right that rank and file Republicans identify more with LePage’s Tea Party conservatism and less with old school moderate Yankee Republicanism?
Phil: It’s politically amazing to me that you find someone who paid overdue bills, championed domestic violence initiatives and lowered income taxes so citizens have just a little more in the checkbook as “far to the right.” Would you describe your party as left wing liberals because they want more spending regardless of where it comes from?
Ethan: You don’t consider LePage a tea party Republican? Remember, he was at a tea party rally when he said Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, had failed to use Vaseline.
Phil: TEA stands for “Taxed Enough Already.” It’s not an official party. More just a group of like-minded taxpayers.
Ethan: It should stand for “Take Everything Away” because all it wants to do is take money away from schools, Social Security and roads.
Phil: Using your labeling, shouldn’t you refer to Democrats as U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s or Portland Sen. Justin Alfond’s “Union Run Liberal Party”? My point is labeling can be disabling.
Ethan: OK, let’s get rid of labels. You can’t honestly be saying that LePage’s version of the Republican Party is the same as Margaret Chase Smith’s, Bill Cohen’s, Olympia Snowe’s or even yours? Honestly, had you been governor, I couldn’t imagine you vetoing 78 bills in one session. Former Gov. John McKernan never came close, and he had a Democratic Legislature just like LePage.
Phil: With respect, I would say part of the frustration today is that Cohen and Snowe diplomatically moved us into the debt challenge we face today. If I were governor, I would have engaged more one on one with legislators, explaining my concerns, offering optional language in an effort to minimize the number of bills I vetoed. That said, it’s difficult for the governor’s legislative liaisons to track thousands of pages of bills, resolves and amendments.
Ethan: C’mon. Every governor before him has done it. You are being way too forgiving today.
Phil: Or maybe they just decided to let all the “little” bills become law and save their power for the major policy disagreements. By the way, do you have any suggestions for the new chairman of the Republican Party?
Ethan: How nice of you to ask. Yeah, find a way to get LePage to be a little more like Katz. I think he’d be a shoe-in for re-election.
Phil: That feat, coupled with regaining the Senate or House would spin the political atmosphere into a dizzy spell. With the departure of Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, to the Small Business Administration this is certainly plausible.
Ethan: Plausible, but still a long shot. It you pick up Goodall’s seat, you’ll be at 16 in the Senate but still need two more to get the majority. But with LePage at the top of the ticket, you could just as easily lose a couple.
Phil: That’s why preparation for November 2014 is already simmering below the radar. Legislators seeking election will spend this summer and fall shoring up their supporters and communicating face to face with their constituents. Equally important will be the final legislative session — January to May, 2014 — where the governor and legislators can use the power of their office to put themselves in the best position possible to win in November.
Ethan: Do you think he’ll use the second session of the legislature to try and beat the 1971-74 UCLA Bruins basketball team record of 88-0?
Phil: Let’s hope he doesn’t need to.