March 10, 2013

Dan Demeritt: LePage vows vetoes till debt do us part

Last week I was in a small-town eating-and-meeting place in western Maine talking business and frost heaves with the owner of the establishment. For 22 years she has literally lived her small business, residing in an apartment a flight of stairs above her store. I liked her instantly and respected her immensely.

My new friend did not have much time or interest in politics, but on a hunch, I brought up Gov. LePage's promise to veto every piece of legislation in Augusta until the hospital debt gets paid.

As she considered LePage's line in the sand, a devilish smile formed on her face and a spark took hold in her eyes. "Good," she exclaimed as she moved off to freshen up the coffee of another patron.

I thought the very same thing when I saw her reaction.

When LePage won in the fall of 2010, I believed he had the ability to provide transformational leadership for Maine. I was convinced the governor's straight talk and resolve would present citizens and legislators with a new direction and clear choices. And over time, I believed, LePage's accomplishments would win over some of those concerned with his rough-around-the-edges political style.

On the hospital debt issue, you are now seeing the potential I saw in LePage in the run-up to the inauguration. The change can best be explained by considering friends versus foes and the messaging power of show versus tell.

In his first two years in office, LePage had the benefit of working with a Republican-led Legislature. Much was accomplished, but it is not our governor's style to use the prominence of his office to promote his own standing or accomplishments -- especially if the governor is not entirely satisfied with the result.

There is a workmanlike approach to LePage that I really respect, but it makes life tough when it came to developing messaging opportunities for him and his fellow Republicans in the State House.

While LePage may resist chances to take credit on behalf of himself and his friends, he relishes opportunities to take on his opponents. You see it with the governor's budget proposal, the response to the concealed-weapons permit issue, and now very clearly when it comes to the nearly half-billion dollars in unpaid hospital debt.

LePage has presented the Legislature with a clear opportunity to use revenues from state liquor sales to service a revenue bond that, when leveraged with hundreds of millions of dollars in federal spending, clears the debts owed our hospitals.

On the surface, people understand the importance of our hospitals as community service providers and job creators. Repaying debts going back four years is the right thing to do.

Behind the scenes, the governor's strategy takes hundreds of millions of revenue out of the control of his foes in the Democrat-led Legislature, ensuring less funding in Augusta and a smaller state government moving forward.

It is sound strategy, but what makes it great politics is the governor's willingness to show the people of Maine what is at stake. LePage's veto threat on all other pieces of legislation creates brinksmanship that gets people talking about the hospital debt in ways that a simple policy discussion would never accomplish.

Paul LePage is going to win on the hospital debt issue because he is presenting voters with clear choices linked to community-based institutions they understand. He is going to win because showing rather than telling ensures that his message does not get muddled.

I knew he could do it.

Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at:

dan@win207.com

Twitter: @demerittdan

 

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