Monday February 25, 2013 | 08:00 AM

Prediction or posture?  

Democrats jumped to DEFCON 2 after House Republican leader Rep. Ken Fredette said during a debate with House Speaker Rep. Mark Eves on the WSCH 6 show "In the Arena" that a shutdown of state government was possible if there's an impasse during negotiations of the state's next two-year budget (the entire segment is here).

Democrats argued that Fredette inflammed the threat of a shutdown before budget negotiations have even begun. Democrats added that Fredette's comments threatened to poison the sacrosanct -- and sometimes top secret -- negotiations that typically happen among members of the bipartisan budget-writing committee.

Fredette half explained his comments to Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz, saying the remark was just the lawyer in him, laying out all of the possible scenarios. 

Here's another possible explanation: It was a negotiating tactic.

Fredette didn't shy away from his comments. His communications director promoted the video on the House Republican Facebook page, which wouldn't happen if Fredette had screwed up.  

Republicans may be in the minority at the State House, but they're in a fair position of strength with Gov. Paul LePage in the Blaine House. Democrats need Republican votes to bypass LePage's veto pen, which means Republicans can probably squeeze out a pretty decent deal in the budget if they don't get rolled. 

By mentioning the possibility of a worst-case scenario -- a government shutdown -- Fredette is basically announcing that his caucus would rather have the government suspend operations than give up on key positions (i.e. the tax cuts the Legislature passed in 2011). We'll see if his caucus agrees. 

It will be interesting to see how Democrats respond during negotiations. If Washington-style brinkmanship is the result, expect to see the above clip on a regular basis, but with more ominous embedded effects. 

Pole position: POLITICO had an interesting piece last week showing how many Republican governors are softening their ideological stance amid diminishing poll numbers and the 2014 election. 

The hook for the piece is how some Republicans have agreed to President Obama's Medicaid expansion, decisions that have earned the ire of conservative pundits and activists.

The exception to this trend, POLITICO noted, is LePage, who has refused to expand Medicaid even as hard core conservatives like Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer agree to participate. 

The piece doesn't mention it, but recent polls have shown that LePage's favorability numbers aren't great, either. However, with the likelihood of a three-way governors race in 2014, he probably doesn't need to retreat from his positions as quickly as some of his counterparts in other states. 

Weekend reading: Loved this Maine Sunday Telegram by Randy Billings story about The Whistler, aka Robert Smith, the man who roams Portland's downtown whistling. Constantly. Always. In your dreams.

Key excerpt, at least from my experience with The Whistler:

"At one point, the whistling is practically in the same key as the beeping of a commercial vehicle."

Be sure to check out photographer Gabe Souza's short video of The Whistler in action. The clip could have just easily been made in black-and-white, with people fleeing and falling on the sidewalk as The Whistler marches down Portland's Cong. 

Non-political item: Grim reaper knocking at the door? Good news. A new social media service allows you to schedule tweets, Facebook posts or Linkedin messages that will post after you're taken by the light. 

It's called Dead Social.

Literal, not subtle. And free.


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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or
On Twitter: @stevemistler

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