What are they inhaling in Augusta?

Phil: What’s in the air in Augusta these days? Seems a little tense.

Ethan: You referring to my Democrats vaporizing former Rep. Jonathan McKane’s nomination to the Dirigo Health board?

Phil: Indeed. But not just your party. Democrats did that on the heels of Gov. Paul LePage threatening to veto every bill the Legislature sends to his desk if they didn’t agree to pay the hospitals the $484 million they are owed.

Ethan: Which, of course, was right on the heels of Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette saying the state shutdown train may be entering the station this spring.

Phil: And didn’t you tell me you got a couple of calls from legislators “off the record” bemoaning the state of affairs between the two parties?

Ethan: Yup. I actually got a call from a Republican this week telling me that he has never seen committee work this divided. He’s been there under a lot of different leaders, and he said he has never seen it this partisan.

Phil: When Republicans start calling you, maybe we should call in Homeland Security to investigate what was injected into the ventilation system. Or maybe Washington, D.C., has wafted into the Maine State House.

Ethan: Any thoughts on why it’s occurring? I know many will blame LePage as setting the tone for the state, but that feels too simplistic to me.

Phil: Remember our post-election comments last fall on WCSH 6 and WLBZ 2 where I offered the opinion that Democrats regained control of the Legislature by vilifying key Republican candidates for casting votes that they themselves voted for?

Ethan: Yes, I do.

Phil: Then, post election day, your party tattooed a videographer to LePage to record “special moments” for the next campaign. These win-at-all-cost efforts mirrored the D.C. elections. Campaigning hasn’t ended, and governing for the people hasn’t started.

Ethan: I am trying to steer clear of blaming one party over the other, and you are flat out blaming the Democrats. C’mon, no one buys that.

Phil: Stay with me. My point is that the political philosophies are deeply rooted. One side sees no problem with government spending; the other sees it as cruel to inflict this generation’s bills on the next.

Ethan: If you honestly believe your last sentence, then you are perpetuating the problem. You know as well as I do that there are hundreds of examples of Democrats opposing spending and hundreds of examples of Republicans inflicting bills on the next generation. The issue between the two parties is simply priorities around spending and where and when the government should get involved. But that philosophy hasn’t changed for 100 years, so this tension in Augusta has to be related to something else.

Phil: In a word: emotion. If Augusta could just find enough votes it could appropriate money for almost anything. I recall my former colleague, now-U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree declare from the floor of the Maine Senate that there should be no budget surpluses with so many unmet needs out there.

Ethan: The difference between our parties is often the difference between what one side says we can’t afford to do and what the other says we can’t afford not to do. But again, something is different today.

Phil: Well, what do you think it is?

Ethan: I suspect it has to do with this being the first time in 10 years that Maine has divided government. Since 2002, one party or the other has ruled both the executive and legislative branches. Not so today, and both sides don’t know how to handle it.

Phil: In fact, if you really think about it, this is the first time we have truly had divided government since the early 1990s when Republican Gov. Jock McKernan was in the Blaine House, and Democrats ruled the State House.

Ethan: True. And we all know how that turned out. Sixteen days of government shutdown. You think we are headed down the same path?

Phil: I hope not. But again, I come back to the issue of campaigns. I sense the tension will just get worse and worse if the 24/7/365 campaigns we see these days don’t slow down. The Democratic Party tailing the governor with a video camera two years prior to a vote being cast doesn’t send a very welcoming message. 

Ethan: Nor does it comes across as genteel when “Maine GOP Research” sends out daily slams against the speaker and Senate president.

Phil: It’s time to govern, face facts and recognize that just because you have the gavel or the keys to the Blaine House, it’s not “winner take all.” That happened on Election Day last November.

Ethan: Both sides have got to rise above the fray and see beyond the fighting. The greatest lesson of politics, in my opinion, is to never let all the praise you receive go to your head. And never let all the attacks get into your blood.

Phil: Otherwise known as finding a way to become a states-person  Maybe it will take time, but let’s hope they get there.