Is LePage taking the Republican Party back to the 1990s?

Ethan: So, your boy gave quite a speech on Tuesday night. War on drugs. Tax caps. Union bashing. It sounds like the Republican Party has decided to refight the lost battles of the 1990s.

Phil: Didn’t you mean to say: compassion for drug-affected newborns, limits on government and the right to choose if you want to belong to a union?

Ethan: Whatever you want to call it, the solutions Gov. Paul LePage is proposing were battles fought long ago and lost.

Phil: Those of us believers in a vibrant private sector where people are unleashed from government welfare entrapment will carry on.

Ethan: I will give your guy credit for a speech that connected with his voters. He had better passion than Obama and made clear to everyone that he will not be a shrinking violet whether he has a year left or another term.

Phil: It’s interesting that you say that. I had the privilege of being in the chamber during the speech, and what came through was his passion. Like his message or not, LePage deeply believes what was in his address.

Ethan: That’s what many of us are afraid of.

Phil: For sure, the tension was palpable. Usually the post-speech analysis by legislators is that the governor made some good points. Not this one. You could tell Democratic legislators were not too pleased with anything the governor said.

Ethan: Can you blame them? Not a single appreciation for anything they accomplished together. Not one olive branch on some contentious issue. No offers of reconciliation to resolve differences. It was straight up, “You are wrong, and I am right.”

Phil: His truth was that bigger government, more welfare and higher taxes hasn’t worked. It is time for a new direction. Tough to hear, right? For instance, take his proposal for business development. He said if a company invests $50 million and creates 1,500 new jobs, it will get tax breaks, job training, lower electricity and be free of unions.

Ethan: Great. Basically, if you are a huge corporation that wants to come to Maine, you get to pay people nothing, and everyone else picks up your tax bill.

Phil: This bold idea is directed at employers who could have a transformational impact, like Boeing, Google or even Ford. Think of how much better off we would be if one of those employers located, say, in the deep-water port of Eastport.

Ethan: How about his proposal to send a tax cap bill out to voters? Haven’t we had this battle at least four times already, and hasn’t it been crushed every time?

Phil: I believe his point was Democrats think government needs to do more and are willing to raise taxes to do it. LePage believes just the opposite. So, he proposes that we ask the people of Maine what they want. It would send a clear message from which Augusta could then govern.

Ethan: But we did ask them. In 2004, a tax cap was defeated, 63 percent to 37 percent. In 2006, a spending cap was defeated, 54 percent to 46 percent. In 2009, two bills, one a tax cap and one a spending cap, were again defeated: the spending cap at 60 percent to 40 percent and the tax cap at 74 percent to 26 percent! The “clear message” on this idea has been sent.

Phil: Indeed those were campaigns of government unions and special interests against taxpayers. As our friend and Bowdoin government professor Chris Potholm proves, fear tactics drive out logic. Let’s move on to this: LePage proposed taking a fresh look at drug addiction. Certainly you can get on board with that?

Ethan: I did appreciate his focus on this issue. It is a terrible scourge that has been growing steadily for 10 years. There isn’t a family in Maine that hasn’t felt the pain of addiction.

Phil: Seven percent of babies are born with drug addiction, which ends up costing more than $50,000 per birth, as opposed to $6,000 for a healthy birth. And welfare picks up 80 percent of that increased cost.

Ethan: The problem is real. But the solution LePage wants is simply going back to the same failed policies. More police. More Drug Enforcement Agency agents. More prosecutors.

Phil: He also called for more drug courts. The drug courts work with people to use our enforcement system as an incentive to get clean. They were very successful.

Ethan: That was a bright spot of the speech. The problem is that he still sees this issue as fundamentally about law enforcement as opposed to understanding it as a disease. A disease that you need to manage through the watchful eyes of a doctor.

Phil: Many of these people also make the choice.

Ethan: Yes, unfortunately they do. Just like someone makes the choice to eat too much sugar and gets diabetes. Or has unprotected sex and gets HIV. The difference is that we don’t throw those people in jail. We manage the illness and try to help others not make those choices.

Phil: But as long as someone is out there making a living dealing drugs and creating addiction, why isn’t a key part of the solution focused on eliminating the dealer?

Ethan: You understand capitalism as well as anyone. As long as there is a demand, a supplier will step in. Reduce demand by treating the illness, and the suppliers go away.

Phil: While my sense is that my man’s agenda will clearly receive a frosty response in the months ahead, I hope we can agree that helping prevent drug-affected babies should receive the warmth of bipartisanship.

Ethan: Yes, we can.