With the scheduled legislative session over as of last week, the last large item looming over state government is the most important one: Maine’s next two-year budget.
The Legislature has approved the $6.3 billion budget due to take effect July 1, but Gov. Paul LePage has said he is going to veto it. He has until Tuesday to do so, or it will become law without his signature. Without a budget, state government would shut down in July.
In light of that, the focus turns to whether the Legislature could override his hypothetical veto by getting more than two-thirds of the House of Representatives and Senate to vote against the governor.
At first glance, it appears that they should: It passed the House 102-43 and the Senate 25-10. The margins were slim, though. Both bodies passed it with just a one-vote cushion.
Nine House Democrats voted against the budget largely because LePage-backed tax cuts they campaigned on repealing were left in it, but they are seen as less likely to vote with the governor in an override scenario.
Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, one of those nine, said Friday that she “couldn’t commit one way or the other” on a possible override vote, but “I haven’t talked to anyone who wants a shutdown.”
Leading Democrats, meanwhile, are saying they’ll have the votes to override. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said it Thursday at a media availability.
But not so fast, said House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, on Friday. He has expressed support for the budget and voted for it. But the majority of his party in the House — 32 members — did not.
“I think that Democrats’ assertion that they have the votes should be put in the perspective of the current situation,” Fredette said. “They don’t know what’s going on in the House Republican caucus or the Senate caucus.”
But Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said it’s a leader’s duty to gain the needed support for the budget, a bipartisan compromise brokered by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee in concert with party leadership.
“When you have bipartisan agreement, it’s pretty much agreed upon that the parties will bring at least two-thirds to the table,” McCabe said. “If I couldn’t bring two-thirds of our caucus to vote for it, it would be a failure on our part.”
A ‘STUPID’ MOVE?
After LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett announced Tuesday that her office wouldn’t talk to the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel after reporter Colin Woodard’s three-part investigative series on Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho last week, many in journalism and public relations condemned the move.
On his blog, Dennis Bailey, a public relations consultant who served as independent Angus King’s spokesman when the U.S. senator occupied the Blaine House in the 1990s, bluntly called the move “stupid.”
Bailey was also critical of Woodard’s reporting, calling it an “unbalanced” series of “award-bait articles” that were “out to prove from the beginning that industry reps and former clients had the ear of the DEP commissioner at the expense of the environment.”
Still, in an interview Friday, Bailey spoke of a public-relations “rule of thirds,” composed of a news outlet, a politician and the politician’s opposition.
No matter how negative a story, “if you remove yourself from that equation, readers get your opponent’s point of view and not yours,” he said. “You end up validating your opponent and the newspaper.”
And, Bailey said, the move “just draws more attention to the newspaper.”
That’s been true so far, if you measure online social-media traffic of Woodard’s stories compared with the Press Herald’s story on LePage’s gag order on the paper.
As of Friday morning, the three parts of Woodard’s series combined had 3,050 shares on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, compared with 5,927 shares of the gag-order story, a version of which was featured prominently on the MSNBC show of liberal pundit Rachel Maddow on Thursday night.
“It’s totally counterproductive,” Bailey said of the gag order.
And in a strange coincidence, 3,050 shares was the exact number the newspaper’s story got on LePage’s now-infamous “Vaseline” comment Thursday, directed toward Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.
SPEAKING OF VASELINE …
LePage’s sexual reference to Jackson’s fiscal policy sparked colorful conversation among legislators on social media.
“I realize the governor has been pushed by the media and by a hostile Democratic party, but we are all called to be polite or at least decent even when we bitterly disagree,” Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, wrote Friday on Facebook.
And Rep. Lisa Villa, D-Harrison, posted a picture of herself holding a bottle of Vaseline lotion, sitting on the steps in front of the State House. She used the photo caption to criticize LePage also for vetoing a bill that would have expanded Maine’s version of Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor.
“Here(,) Gov. LePage, is (70 ounces) of Vaseline Intensive Care, better care than (70,000) Mainers will receive without expanding Medicaid.”
On his Facebook page, Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, noted LePage’s reference to Jackson, a logger, in which he said Jackson and others like him “ought to go back in the woods and cut trees and let somebody with a brain come down here and do some work.”
Harvell wrote Friday that he was “trying to find a group (LePage) didn’t insult,” saying it was offensive to the religious right, loggers and legislators. He also referenced LePage’s gag order against the Press Herald and sister papers in light of the Jackson comments.
“Last week the governor said he wasn’t going to talk to the reporters. (If) only he had kept his word,” Harvell wrote.
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at [email protected]