It was fun while it lasted, but the LePage era is over.
Sure, the governor will come back from vacation and continue to live in the Blaine House. He’ll get to travel around the state, feed lines to the late-night comedians and represent us at National Governors Association events, but his days as the agenda-setter-in-chief are over, and cooler heads in the Legislature will be running the show from now on.
How else can you read the column that ran in this space Monday, signed by eight state senators from LePage’s own party, taking him to task for disrupting their agenda with his unnecessary bullying?
LePage has been trying to lead them over a cliff, and they let him know — in the most public way imaginable — that they are not in a following mood.
“Belittling comments, whether they come from the governor or his opponents, have no place in Maine public life,” the senators wrote, using the same tone parents use when they threaten to end the sleepover and send everyone home if the kids don’t settle down.
“(W)e find ourselves continually diverted, responding to yet another example of our chief executive picking a personal fight not worth fighting. ‘Government by disrespect,’ should have no place in Augusta, and when it happens, we should all reject it.”
Although they claim that this is just a problem of style, there’s more to it than that.
This was an unprecedented public vote of no-confidence in a leader only three months into his term of office. Telling civil rights workers to “kiss my butt” on the eve of Martin Luther King Day is not just a slip of the tongue, it’s a failure of judgment.
The senators’ column tells LePage that the leaders of his party no longer trust his judgment. And they are willing to tell that to the world.
They are also saying that they are not afraid of him — that there is no political cost to defying him in public, which means the considerable power that he brought with him to office in January is evaporating.
The governor has plenty of passionate supporters, but even they should know that they are not in the driver’s seat. You need support from two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature, whether you want to pass a budget or override a veto.
In other words, the Republican leadership can get by without the governor, but it can’t get by without at least some Democrats. And for every tea party defector that jumps ship, there will be one more Democratic vote needed by the Republican leaders.
Maybe the leaders in Augusta are in-the-closet extremists who are willing to shut down the government if they don’t get every last thing they want, but it sure doesn’t sound like that from the senators’ column.
The authors have an agenda — they say they want to make the state more business-friendly and attractive to investors so that the people who live here will have greater economic opportunity. But they don’t seem to be saying that the governor’s scorched-earth strategy is the way to get there.
There is a movement started by LePage critics to amend the Constitution and create a mechanism enabling the people to recall a governor (something that exists in other states, but not Maine). But it’s not really necessary.
Even in monarchies, there are methods to protect society from the excesses of a leader who has lost his way. When King George III went mad, his son took over as regent and ran the empire.
So instead of the first year of the LePage administration, we may be starting the Regency of Sen. President Kevin Raye, a Down East moderate Republican who doesn’t want to see his opportunity to lead disappear behind a mushroom cloud of a governor who lacks discipline.
Raye’s priorities, tempered by the buy-in of a requisite number of Democrats, will be the state’s agenda in the upcoming budget — not LePage’s. Their interests may intersect in some places, but they are not identical.
What’s amazing about LePage is how quickly he squandered his power.
Liberals like to point out that he only got 38 percent of the vote in November, but coming to office as the first Republican governor with a Republican House and Republican Senate in nearly half a century was a tremendous mandate.
He was dealt a great hand, but he still overplayed it. He baited his critics and galvanized them. He forced anyone who supports his positions to take time to explain why they are not really in favor of pollution or against working people.
LePage still has a lot of time left in his term, and he might be better at adapting than he has shown so far. It could be that the Democrats fail to take advantage of the leverage they’ve been given or fail to find a leader who can keep party members from defecting to one of the independent candidates who must already be licking their chops to run in the next gubernatorial election.
But it will be a long time before large groups of moderate Maine Republicans and independents point to Gov. LePage and say, “He speaks for me.”
Like the senators said in their column, how you express yourself is as important as what you do.
And, in the politest way possible, they let LePage know that he has blown it.
Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: [email protected]