Politics

November 28, 2012

Bill Nemitz: Dysfunction no mystery to new Maine Speaker

If ever there was a time when Augusta needs a certified family therapist, this is it . . .

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

Recently, incoming House Speaker Mark Eves sat down with outgoing Speaker Robert Nutting to talk about what it's like to preside over the 151-member Maine House of Representatives.

click image to enlarge

Newly-elected Speaker of the House, Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, tries out the gavel earlier this month. Eves is no stranger to dysfunction.

AP File Photo

"(Nutting) said, 'One thing in this role that you need to understand is that you're a therapist sometimes and you're a pastor sometimes," recalled Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, during a visit to the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday.

As luck would have it, Eves told the Republican Nutting, he's a family therapist by profession. Better yet, he got his master's degree in marriage and family therapy from the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Replied Nutting, "That will come in handy."

From his lips to God's ears.

If ever there was a time when Augusta needs a certified family therapist, this is it.

Simmering in his office since Election Day we have Republican Gov. Paul LePage. If Maine were one big family, he'd be the uncle with serious anger management issues.

Upstairs and down the hall we have Senate President-elect Justin Alfond of Portland. Because he happened to be born into one of Maine's wealthiest families, he's already been denounced by LePage as a "little spoiled brat."

And then we have Speaker-elect Eves. He's a former president of the Maine Chapter of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, whose website contains a "recipe for home" that goes like this:

 

"One-half cup friendship and add a cup of thoughtfulness. Cream together with a pinch of powdered tenderness, very lightly beaten, in a bowl of loyalty, with a cup of faith, one of hope and one of charity. Be sure to add a spoonful each of singing and ability to laugh at all the little things. Moisten with the sudden tears of heartfelt sympathy. Bake in a good-natured pan, and serve repeatedly."

 

That or ... just run for cover before the lid blows off the State House?

"I'm not delusional about this in terms of how difficult this is going to be," Eves, 35, said with a smile.

Indeed. As the incoming Democratic majorities set their sights on what Eves calls "overreaching" by the Republicans these past two years -- unfunded tax cuts, health insurance "reform" that spawned higher premiums for small businesses and rural Mainers, promises of jobs that have yet to materialize -- an entire state now braces for the ultimate political showdown.

Will LePage continue to rage against anyone and everyone who dares to differ with his my-way-or-the-highway view of the way life should be?

(Forget about Powerball. This is one you can bet on.)

Will the Democrats, who need only a handful of Republican crossover votes to achieve veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, simply tune out all the gubernatorial growling and go about their business?

(There were times at the end of the last legislative session, notes Eves, "when a number of Republican legislators were willing to break with the governor.")

Or -- and this one's a long shot -- can a guy like Eves actually look a guy like LePage in the eye and say, "Governor, I'm sensing that you're feeling angry and maybe a little threatened here. How about we take a time out and talk about that ..."

(Editorial cartoonists, start your pencils.)

Eves, like Senate President-elect Alfond, has yet to actually meet with LePage since Election Day. But he has chatted with House Minority Leader-elect Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and he's cautiously optimistic.

"Working with Republicans in the Legislature is going to be critical -- I think even more critical than our relationship with the governor," Eves said, adding that he and Fredette have already agreed on a set of "ground rules" for the upcoming session.

Ground rules?

"No surprises. No publicly embarrassing people," Eves explained. "This is not personal. This is about policy and our values."

The same, Eves can only hope, will apply with LePage.

"I'm a realist," Eves conceded. " I'm a pretty pragmatic person and I understand there will be ... certainly times when we don't agree."

But, he said, that doesn't mean he and his fellow Democrats can't at least attempt to find "common ground" with the governor and, however, incrementally, proceed from there.

"Everything is based on a relationship -- that's the bottom line," said Eves. "I think the skill set (of a therapist) around conflict resolution -- negotiating tough situations, keeping people at the table -- these are all things that are really helpful in terms of producing a positive outcome together."

It would be easy to dismiss Maine's new House speaker, even at this early stage, as a dreamer. After all, LePage has had enough trouble in the past two years getting along with his own party, let alone the Democrats.

But maybe, just maybe, Eves' mild manner and anything-but-combative tone are exactly what a politically weary Maine needs right about now.

Maybe he can persuade our ever-angry governor that life need not be a battle, with the winner determined only by who screams the longest and the loudest.

Maybe Eves, if and when he finally gets that invite to the governor's office, should grab the nearest armchair.

And let LePage take the couch.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@mainetoday.com

 

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