June 28, 2013

In final days of session, Republicans and LePage grow apart

Analysis: The budget vote marked a noticeable shift: Not only did many Republicans buck the governor, but they did so loudly and visibly.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage's television, the subject of one of many State House melodramas in recent months, hovered above the media throng that gathered in the Hall of Flags as this year's legislative session came to a dramatic finish Wednesday. It played a video of a scripted interview between the governor and his spokeswoman. The volume was off.

click image to enlarge

Sens. John Patrick, left, D-Rumford, and Roger Katz, R-Augusta, watch the debate in the House of Representatives Wednesday before the vote to override Gov. Paul LePage's veto of the state budget. Katz and House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette loudly rebuked LePage's actions and leadership this week, in a sign that there's a growing divide in the Maine Republican Party.

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LePage spoke, but nobody could hear him.

Lawmakers heard plenty from LePage during the contentious legislative session, but this week a majority of them -- including 30 of 73 Republicans -- didn't listen, and voted to override the governor's veto of the state's $6.3 billion budget.

The Republicans' rebuke of LePage further revealed a divide in the party that goes back to the beginning of the legislative session and the 2012 elections, which swept Republicans out of power in the Legislature. Two Republican leaders even took on LePage publicly in a rare act of defiance that could reverberate into next year's election.

The governor's forceful personality has led some to conclude that this week's split by Republican leaders and rank-and-file members was personal. But there is also evidence that the rift is ideological.

LePage appeared to acknowledge the schism this week, while driving a wedge in further. He blasted fellow Republicans on Wednesday for participating in the "country club" atmosphere of the Legislature and lacking the "courage" to follow his lead. He even hinted that he may not seek re-election.

"I will say this, the Maine Republican Party is not a very strong party," LePage said.

On that, LePage and his Republican critics appear to agree.

In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday's budget veto override, the governor's supporters were quick to note that a majority of Republican lawmakers voted with LePage to reject the compromise budget for the two years starting July 1.

Also, by Wednesday, LePage had vetoed 51 bills and Republicans had helped to sustain most of those vetoes.

The budget vote marked a noticeable shift. Not only did many Republicans buck LePage, they did so loudly.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, played significant roles in brokering the budget compromise with Democrats, who control the Legislature. They also secured enough votes in their caucus to ensure that the budget got the two-thirds vote required to override LePage's veto.

In doing so, both drew the ire of LePage and his supporters. During a rally of conservative activists last week, LePage said some Republicans in the Legislature had lost their nerve by voting for the budget.

"Cowards!" one activist yelled.

Commenters on a well-known conservative website blasted Katz for attempting to compromise on Medicaid expansion. The senator was dubbed a RINO, a "Republican In Name Only." One commenter suggested that Katz is predisposed to support liberal policies because he is Jewish and an attorney.

Some commenters suspect that Katz will challenge LePage in the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Katz told a reporter Thursday that he doesn't plan to run, but he did little to discourage the speculation this week.

In a searing newspaper opinion column posted online after the budget vote and published in newspapers Thursday, Katz hammered the governor's "unfortunate tone" and inability to apologize to a Democratic senator who LePage said had "no brains" and was "giving it to" Maine people "without providing Vaseline."

Wrote Katz, "(LePage's) use of vulgarity and schoolyard taunts to demean his Democratic opponents. His failure to offer real apology. And then his insulting of Republican legislators who choose to disagree with him.

(Continued on page 2)

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