Even when his party controlled the Legislature, Gov. Paul LePage relied on the veto. He vetoed 24 bills and was only overridden twice, making him 11 times more likely to veto a bill than his predecessor. That is not likely to change with new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
It takes a two-thirds majority of all voting and present to override a veto from the governor. Based on the current seat totals for the 126th Legislature, it will take just four Republican votes in the Senate and fewer than 10 in the House to enact legislation over the governor’s objections.
All of that offers an opportunity for thoughtful, pragmatic Republicans in the Legislature a unique and oversized opportunity to lead. And they know it.
I am calling this collection of centrist Republicans the governing caucus. While the name may not stick, the work of building a bipartisan coalition that can reach agreement across the aisle is under way.
When I went looking for the governing caucus, Republican state Sen. Tom Saviello of Franklin County was my first call. Come to find out incoming Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall had called a day earlier.
Saviello and Goodall served together as chair and lead on the 125th Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Saviello characterizes their working relationship on the committee as phenomenal and believes their ability to work together in the 126th Legislature will continue.
Saviello believes there are opportunities to work with majority Democrats to improve and adjust signature GOP accomplishments from the last two years, like the health insurance reform package and the tax cuts. And he is willing to do more than just cooperate. Saviello may offer legislation that returns Maine’s top tax rate to 8.5 percent for incomes over $250,000.
Roger Katz of Augusta is the incoming assistant leader for the Senate Republicans and is looking forward to leading from within the caucus. If a centralist coalition develops, he believes it is more likely to vary by issue, suggesting legislative Republicans will support the governor where they can, but that their primary allegiances belong to their constituents and consciences.
As a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, Katz saw first-hand how involvement from all parties and points of view led to better outcomes and unanimous committee reports. And he specifically references the contributions three Senate Democrats made to the health insurance reform bill as examples of where give-and-take led to a better bill.
Goodall also beat me to Katz. The two attended the same meeting last week and made plans to have lunch together soon.
Prior to talking to his Senate Republican colleagues, Goodall had the chance to talk to his constituents. Going door to door he heard a great deal from voters about the responsibility to govern together and the need to set aside over-reaching rhetoric.
Goodall appears committed to keeping this charge and finding common ground with those who are willing to work together for the good of Maine.
The challenge for Goodall and other Democratic leaders will be keeping promises of civility made to voters while meeting the expectations of the left-leaning organizations that powered and funded their Election Day success.
In the House, Republicans have elected Ken Fredette of Newport as their caucus leader. Fredette’s service on the Appropriations Committee demonstrates an ability to achieve cross-party agreement. And those speaking in favor of Fredette’s leadership bid highlighted his willingness to work independently from Gov. LePage.
Senate President Justin Alfond and I spoke last week about the role of centrists as well as my experience working with the governor.
Alfond, to his credit, is very willing to put past differences and affronts aside and work with LePage.
But he may not have to. While LePage has the veto pen, the math is no longer on his side. And as this month’s election shows, the governor lacks the message and political muscle to rally the electorate to his cause.
If Alfond and his colleagues can take principled but measured stands, maintain an inclusive, family-focused message, and actively engage centrist Republicans, they will have the votes they need to propel much of their agenda beyond the governor’s desk and into law.
The separation of powers is a critical protection in our system of government. But it need not be a barrier to negotiation within and across political parties.
If I were Gov. LePage, I would start taking some meetings.
Dan Demeritt can be contacted at: