April 24, 2012

Our View: Republicans fail to honor their word

Republicans took a vote to undermine a budget compromise that they had supported.

Corrected on Monday, April 23:

An editorial on Page E2 Sunday mischaracterized Republican senators’ transparency in letting stand Gov. LePage’s line-item vetoes. Senate Republican leaders have released the results of a poll, indicating which senators did not want to return to session to address the vetoes of a budget compromise they had previously supported.

House Republican leaders, however, are not releasing the names of their members who voted against addressing the line-item vetoes.


The last eight days saw two historical firsts in Maine government. Gov. Paul LePage used his constitutional privilege to veto two items

And Republican lawmakers decided in a secret poll not to support the budget compromise they had publicly backed just a few days earlier.

Of the two moves, LePage's was the least surprising. The governor stood firm on an ideological position that he wanted to cut public access to the last-stop safety-net program General Assistance, even if that meant passing on the burden to taxpayers in Maine's cities and towns.

The legislators' stance was a bigger surprise. Their leadership worked hard for a compromise with Democrats when they could have passed the budget with only Republican votes. They listened to mayors from around the state and crafted changes that would reduce benefits and cut costs without upending municipal budgets. They passed the compromise with a unanimous vote in the Senate and 120-26 vote in the House.

But when they needed only a simple majority to override LePage's veto, they would not return to Augusta for a vote.

Since then, they have been called a lot of names, most notably "cowards" by Barry Hobbins of Saco, the Senate Democratic leader. But what they did could also be seen as quite brave -- if not reckless.

Legislative Republicans have ceded their authority as the leaders of a coequal branch of government, and tied their political futures to an unpopular governor. Paul LePage's name may not appear on a ballot until 2014, but it might as well be penciled in next to that of every Republican incumbent who seeks re-election this year.

Fear of the governor was clearly more important to these lawmakers than keeping their word. Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, the moderate co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said he did not support overriding the veto because he was afraid of what Le- Page might do. "The governor made it clear that if we did override, he would veto the entire budget," Rosen said.

Rosen said the shortfall created by LePage's veto can be addressed later when lawmakers come back to finish their work for the session on May 15. But he doesn't say why Democrats should bother talking to members of his party, who won't stand up for their agreements if the governor doesn't approve of them.

We have criticized LePage in the past for not respecting the legislative process and acting as if independently elected legislators worked for him. But perhaps we owe LePage an apology.

Apparently, the Republican legislators we thought answered only to the voters of their districts really do work for the governor, and any agreement they make should be cleared by his office before it can be trusted.

If that means the end of the Legislature as a coequal branch of government, that would be another historic first.

Apparently, the Republican legislators we thought answered only to the voters of their districts really do work for the governor, and any agreement they make should be cleared by his office before it can be trusted.


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