Friday, March 7, 2014
Throughout last week, the pace at the Legislature was frenetic.
Sessions ran late into Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, with legislators addressing some of the most consequential issues, including energy, Medicaid expansion and the budget.
Only a few days earlier, Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat from the 2nd District, announced he'd formed an exploratory committee to run for covernor, setting off a flurry of speculation about which Republicans and Democrats might seek to succeed him in the House of Representatives.
All in all, it was a significant, dramatic and newsworthy time in Maine politics.
Let's take stock of where we find ourselves.
Michaud's entry into the gubernatorial contest guarantees a serious three-way race for the Blaine House.
With 17 months until Election Day, it's impossible to know exactly how the race will turn, but there are several things we do know.
First, 2014 is unlikely to be a replay of 2010. Gov. LePage is no longer an upstart, tea party mayor from Waterville but a well-known and polarizing figure whose off-the-cuff, bullying and occasionally offensive style has become a notorious hallmark.
Second, Eliot Cutler enters this race as a credible candidate and established political personality. However, because of his extraordinary rise in the final two weeks of 2010, his mettle went largely untested.
That won't happen this time, and it's no certainty that Cutler's late-breaking 2010 supporters will stick with him in 2014.
Third, Mike Michaud is not Libby Mitchell and will enter this race with broad statewide appeal, a motivated base and deep financial resources.
He can also cut into LePage's support in both rural and Franco communities while luring disaffected Democrats away from Cutler.
For Michaud, the key to victory is college-educated, upper-income women in the 1st Congressional District.
Finally, though 2014 won't be 2010 redux, that contest will nonetheless reverberate.
Look for Democrats (particularly national Democrats) to challenge Cutler early in an attempt to marginalize him and make this a de facto two-person race.
Second, expect considerable "strategic voting" this time, with voters coalescing around the clear "anyone but Le-Page" candidate shortly after Labor Day 2014.
The governor's energy policy has been straightforward and consistent: lower the cost of electricity.
In response, the Maine House and Senate passed a sweeping, bipartisan energy bill that would only not advance the governor's policy but also incorporate several of his specific ideas and initiatives.
Even so, the governor chose to veto the bill in order to extract support for the University of Maine's offshore wind pilot project called VolturnUS.
Previously, the governor has been an unrelenting critic of renewable energy generation, especially wind, because he believes it's uncompetitive and increases costs.
Yet he chose to spike a piece of legislation that moves his energy policy forward to advance a renewable energy project he fundamentally opposes.
The move is as perplexing as it is ironic. Regardless, the House overrode the governor's veto within hours, and the Senate will almost certainly follow suit.
The budget that emerged from the Appropriations Committee was unanimous, blessed by legislative leaders and received more than two-thirds support in both the House and Senate.
Yet the governor intends to veto it, preferring instead a 60-day continuing resolution to fund government while lawmakers craft something more to his liking.
The governor claims the budget's temporary tax increases are the source of his opposition, but the claim is disingenuous.
The governor's original budget included $206 million in tax increases, to say nothing of the property tax increases Mainers would've absorbed as a result of cuts to municipal revenue sharing.
The governor is claiming the mantle of a tax-cutter, but it's political gamesmanship.
For the Maine taxpayer, it's the difference between the money coming out of your right pocket or your left.
The Legislature will convene for a near-certain veto override in late June, and then, graciously, this session will come to an end.
Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at: