Prepare to hear a lot about welfare fraud, drug enforcement and nursing homes over the next few months.
Those are the issues, according to Gov. LePage, where Democrats have failed Mainers. They are sure to be featured prominently in his re-election campaign.
On welfare reform, there were deep disagreements between the parties, and future action will be decided at the ballot box.
However, the blame for the failure on the latter two issues, where there was agreement, falls squarely on the governor, and any attempt to say otherwise is rewriting history.
‘POLITICAL IDEOLOGY’ CITED
In his latest attempt at misdirection, LePage last week wrote Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, once again demanding lawmakers return for a special session “to deal with three vital initiatives you failed to enact” in the session that ended in early May.
He then scolds them for dismissing the governor’s welfare reform measures “to further your political ideology.”
Of course, last session, LePage’s top priority was welfare reform. Democrats rightfully had concerns about the enforcement and efficacy of the bills he proposed, and after much debate, the bills were, for the most part, scrapped.
The Democrats still might not have budged on the issue, but LePage didn’t help matters with his approach, describing welfare in Maine in terms full of hyperbole, stereotype and disgust.
But the differences are at least out in the open. If re-elected, LePage will continue to push his particular welfare reform initiatives, without any capacity for compromise, and Democrats will oppose them. Voters can decide on the merits.
However, there is more to say about the other two issues than LePage is letting on.
BLAINE HOUSE ULTIMATUMS
In both cases, the debate stretched on for much of the session. And, in both cases, Democrats and Republicans were negotiating a compromise.
And, in both cases, the governor demanded that his proposal be passed without any changes, ending the negotiations and sending lawmakers home without a solution.
For nursing homes, legislators already had passed a bill sending $38 million in new funding. It became law without LePage’s signature.
In the session’s final moments, however, when legislators were scrambling to finish their work, the governor put forward a proposal for further funding. When lawmakers began to debate the source of that funding, LePage issued his ultimatum.
Much the same, with the same timing, occurred with LePage’s proposal to increase drug enforcement.
The governor originally wanted to add 14 new drug enforcement agents. The Legislature cut that to 10, and rightfully adjusted the bill to include treatment measures, though the bill ultimately was not funded.
LePage’s late attempt to find the funding for the additional agents also came with an ultimatum not to amend the bill, and when lawmakers could not agree, the measure was shelved.
A FAMILIAR PATTERN
So it was not that Democrats did not do their work – it was that they didn’t do the governor’s bidding. And while the drug enforcement bill should have met a better fate earlier in the session, it was the governor’s lack of interest in working with the Legislature that ultimately doomed it.
That’s a pattern with LePage. Where the parties disagree, his scorched-earth leadership style pushes them further apart. And even when legislators can find common ground, LePage cannot abide getting anything but his absolute way. That obstinacy may be attractive to some voters, but it makes for poor government.