Phil: It’s been many years since I attended my last State of the State address as a senator, but I can’t say I miss sitting on the benches in the front of the House chamber (where we senators are told to sit) listening to Govs. John McKernan and Angus King.
Ethan: C’mon, man. At least you didn’t have Gov. John Baldacci. I love the man and all he accomplished, but Jesse Jackson he ain’t.
Phil: In my time it was ying and yang. McKernan, like Gov. Paul LePage, had, shall I say, a chilly relationship with the Legislature. Followed by King who cultivated the outsider image, combined with an ability to generate some entertainment value. What they had in common was the staginess of the whole affair. The State of the State can feel like a Maine State Music Theater dress rehearsal.
Ethan: If those were dress rehearsals, I’m quite sure I would not have bought a ticket for opening night.
Phil: Unlike the theater, the legislative crowd did not cheer or boo in unison. Predictably, the governor would say something Republicans would like, and we’d all stand. Then he’d say something Democrats would like, and all your people would stand. It was pretty sophomoric, regardless of who was speaking.
Ethan: Not to mention all the people they acknowledge in the crowd. One by one, each representing the face of some special interest, dignitary or former legislator.
Phil: For the record, I was a guest of LePage last year, and your party — which controlled the gavel — didn’t recognize me. What’s up with that?
Ethan: I think your beef is with the governor, although I am not sure what special interest you represented.
Phil: My “special interest” is about humble beginnings. Someone who rose from the corner store his grandparents built to the lofty chambers of our state capitol and then back to being a common man who struggles every day to beat back the oppression of taxation and government regulation.
Ethan: Cry me a river.
Phil: Speaking of the governor, our good friend LePage is about to give his final State of the State.
Ethan: Final! From your lips to God’s ears!
Phil: Calm down. The final of his first term. Rest comfortably knowing there will be four more. This one is unique because it is the unofficial launch of campaign season.
Ethan: Yup. I fully expect it will be poll-tested for your base and full of TV soundbites readied for commercials and the evening news.
Phil: You over-think these situations when it comes to LePage. Unlike the governors we served with, LePage will tell us what we need to know, not what we want to hear. Trust me, he is only interested in what he believes in, not what pollsters tell him.
Ethan: Please. I am quite sure his political advisor, Brent Littlefield, will vet every word of this speech. Being an insider on that side of the aisle, can you give us any idea of what’s coming?
Phil: “Maine is on the mend. My policies are working. The economy is growing faster than almost the rest of the country.” He’ll highlight why more welfare is not a path to dignity and the American Dream.
Ethan: Oh, so you mean he will be giving a poll-tested, red-meat campaign speech just like I said. Unless you are saying that he will give Obama credit for the growth in Maine’s economy. And then congratulate 40 years of Democratic rule that has kept Maine welfare fraud at an all-time low and helped hundreds of thousands from going hungry?
Phil: Nope, but he will remind us of his painful journey through welfare and domestic violence as proof that he understands this more than the most passionate liberal. The Republican Governor’s Association produced a very moving video that tells the story well.
Ethan: Speaking of poll-tested campaign themes…
Phil: If celebrating his accomplishments and telling his personal story is not what you think he should say, please tell us what you are looking for?
Ethan: If he really wants to do something productive (and help his campaign), try reaching out to the other side. Try thanking Democrats for some accomplishment. Try extending an olive branch on expanding health care or restoring revenue sharing or raising the minimum wage. Honestly, it would go a long way toward helping him reach the 60 percent of the state who feel his performance has been, to put it nicely, less than excellent.
Phil: Good advice. I know LePage would love to give them credit. All they have to do is demonstrate through the bills they pass and the comments they make that they are committed to making the math work. If they want to expand MaineCare, join him in making the spending reductions elsewhere.
Ethan: Every time Congress fails to pass something, you blame a lack of leadership on Obama’s part. But every time LePage fails, it is the Legislature’s fault. LePage is the CEO. It is time for him to show that he can work with others.
Phil: Yeah, and every time Obama fails to get something done, you blame Congress. And vice-versa in Maine. Maybe we should both hope that LePage shows us a new way of doing business.
Ethan: Well, this upcoming speech would be a great start.