May 22, 2013

Greg Kesich: Are Democrats ready to stand up to bully of a governor?

But picking a fight with a man who likes to fight is the beginning, not the end, of this conflict.

The common myth about bullies is that they have low self-esteem.

Generations of kids have been told that deep down inside, their bully doesn't believe in himself, and all that needs to happen is for someone to stand up to him and his confidence will crumble.

This is the kind of advice that has gotten a lot of kids beaten up.

In real life, bullies can have great self-esteem -- sometimes, too much. They think they are superior to the people they torment, which is how they can live with themselves. It's the demoralized victims who doubt their worth and wonder if they really deserve a beating.

Anyone who has been following Maine politics for the last two-and-a-half years probably can guess where this is headed. Many commentators have compared Gov. LePage to a schoolyard bully, who pushes around anyone who looks weak -- like the poor, the unions, teachers and Democrats. But this year, Democrats have decided to stand up.

Using their majorities in the House and Senate, Democratic leaders are setting up for a big showdown with the governor, and everyone crowding around the schoolyard knows what's about to happen.

First, the Democrats are going to give the governor everything he wants, and a little more. They are pushing through a bill that would achieve LePage's top priority policy goal: paying off back debt to the state's hospitals. They are even using his method of raising the money -- through a revenue bond -- and his mechanism to pay it off -- tying up income from the state's renegotiated liquor contract.

The governor could sign the bill, and declare victory, but there's a catch. Attached to the bill is another bill, which would expand Medicaid eligibility to the full extent allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. This would provide health insurance for almost 70,000 uninsured Mainers, paid 100 percent by the federal government for three years and no less than 90 percent after that.

Win-win, right? Wrong.

If anyone thinks that Gov. LePage won't veto his favorite bill even though it gives him everything he wants, they haven't been paying attention.

This governor acts like he's the only honest man in Augusta, and everyone else is just "playing politics."

If he wants it, it's good. If anyone else wants it, it's no good. He likes to fight, and he'd rather lose than compromise, and he doesn't lose very much. "I'm a pragmatic person!" he croaked Sunday, as he was being denied an opportunity to disrupt a tenuous bipartisan balance on the Appropriations Committee.

Since everybody knows how the governor is going to act, the interesting group will be the Democrats. They're standing up to the bully and passing their bill. He's going to throw it right back into their faces. They will try to override, and unless something happens to radically change the Republican hearts and minds in the House and Senate, the veto will be sustained.

Then what?

This is the question Democrats should be asking their leadership right now. And if they don't like the answer, there is no point in going down this road.

If LePage is willing to veto his own hospital bill, the Democrats should be ready to show they can be crazy, too. If Medicaid expansion is not important enough to risk losing an influx of funds pumped into the state's most reliable job creators -- its nonprofit hospitals -- that the hospital bill would deliver, the Democrats should cut and run right now.

This is a tough spot for the Democrats. They want to pay off the hospital debt, too. They also want to release the $100 million in bonds that the governor has been holding hostage to get them to go along with his way of doing it. But they have made a point about not forgetting about the 70,000 uninsured Mainers who would get coverage they could never otherwise afford.

Pretty soon we'll know if they are ready to stand up to a bully, and they shouldn't expect him to crumble from a lack of confidence.

In the end, it will probably be up to the other Republicans to decide whether this fight is really worth having.

School bullying experts say that adults can put up all the posters and hold all the assemblies they want, but the only thing that really makes a difference is when other kids speak up and make it stop.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at:

gkesich@pressherald.com

 

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