October 12, 2013

Our View: Civil emergency order made crisis look much worse than it was

Better communication between the governor and legislative leaders would have avoided trouble.

When Gov. LePage declared a civil emergency late Wednesday afternoon, many in Maine prepared for the worst.

click image to enlarge

Gov. LePage’s announcement of a civil emergency late Wednesday afternoon prompted speculation over how the governor planned to use this authority.

2013 Associated Press File Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

Would he use the authority it gave him to cancel laws he didn’t like? Would he use it to wiggle out of union contracts? Would he call out the National Guard?

After a series of meetings and impromptu press availabilities, it looked like those fears may have been unjustified.

LePage said he was using his constitutional powers to help get unemployment during the federal shutdown for those state workers who are paid by the federal government. Up to that point, 100 of them had been furloughed, but the number could rise to 2,700 if the shutdown continues.

Democrats and union officials remained skeptical of the governor’s choice of tactics, but couldn’t really object to his stated goal of getting quicker access to unemployment funds for furloughed workers. In the end, what happened in Augusta this week may be nothing more than a soon-forgotten ripple from the turbulent politics of Washington.

But it’s more than that: It’s also a sign of the turbulent politics in Augusta, where a mutual lack of trust and absence of communication seems to be behind every turn. This does not bode well for a state with significant unresolved issues that can’t be left until after the next election to be resolved. Maine deserves better.

If Gov. LePage was really only doing this to help workers through a tough time, he should have done a better job letting people know. The union officials who represent those workers and Democratic leaders of the Legislature found out about the governor’s plan when he issued his order, exercising his authority to “suspend strict compliance with laws or rules that prevent, hinder or delay effective management of the emergency.”

Coming from a governor who has championed anti-union right-to-work legislation, called state employees “corrupt” and advocated a state shutdown that would have furloughed much of the state-funded workforce, it would have been helpful if this pro-worker move had come with a little explanation.

Democratic leaders were left to guess what he had in mind. That may have created unnecessary concern for state workers as well as residents of the state as a whole. We’d like to think that when it comes to matters of administration, even political adversaries like the governor and the president of the Senate or speaker of the House could get on a phone or huddle in an office before the news release goes out, avoiding unnecessary concern.

The fact that that doesn’t happen in Maine – that key leaders don’t have the kind of relationships needed to make the state functions – is almost as troubling as some of the worst-case scenarios spun out over the governor’s announcement.

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