The 125th Legislature comes back to Augusta today sporting an 18 percent approval rating in the latest poll. It could be worse. Eighteen percent is better than the 12 percent approval rating the U.S. Congress got in a recent Fox News poll. And it’s not as if 82 percent of Maine residents think the Legislature is doing a bad job.
Only one-third of the people polled by Critical Insights have a negative impression of our state’s lawmakers. The rest, a full 46 percent, have no opinion about the Legislature at all.
And why should they? Gov. Paul LePage is clearly the most significant figure on the Maine political landscape and the apparent decision by Republican leaders to follow his lead has made the Legislature more of a formality than a co-equal branch of government.
Republican lawmakers and their leadership have stuck with the governor, upholding his vetoes on bills that they had supported unanimously just a few days earlier. When the governor issued Maine’s first-ever line-item veto on budget items that were the product of bipartisan negotiations, leadership did not even bring members back for an override vote.
Today, legislators are expected to debate a budget tailored by Republicans to get the governor’s support. It makes cuts to health care programs for children, people with disabilities and the elderly — cuts that lawmakers of both parties had resisted making in previous rounds.
In LePage’s first months in office, Republican leaders did stand up to him, such as when they denied him the laundry list of regulatory reforms he submitted as soon as he arrived in the Blaine House. They joined with Democrats and gave nearly unanimous approval to a ban on the use of the chemical bisphenol A, a ban LePage had publicly mocked, and they reached bipartisan compromises on difficult budgets that included restructuring the state pension fund.
It was just over a year ago that eight Republican state senators wrote an op-ed column that took the governor to task for his unproductive, hyper-partisan approach. A bipartisan coalition of the Legislature looked poised to stand up when the governor’s proposals hit the extreme. But that posture has slumped.
It looks now as though Republicans are content to let the governor run the show, so in that case, it’s understandable that this Legislature hasn’t made much of an impression on many Maine people.