Friday, April 25, 2014
With the exception of Gov. Paul LePage and his confidants, nobody knows what the governor will say when he delivers his State of the State address Tuesday night.
Governors sometimes use the annual address to reveal a new set of policy initiatives or re-emphasize old ones. LePage offered a mix of both during his 2012 speech, which served as an outline of his previous accomplishments and a sprinkling of initiatives that he planned to pursue last year.
And much to Democrats' pleasure -- or was it their chagrin? -- he struck a positive tone.
Tone. LePage hears a lot about his tone from Democrats, and sometimes, Republicans.
Last year, Democrats held a news conference prior to the State of the State address urging LePage to shelve the combative rhetoric. The governor's staff dismissed the presser as theater. Some Republicans suggested it was designed to provoke LePage.
The governor didn't take the bait. In fact, he used the speech to turn the tables on Democrats.
At one point early in his 45-minute address, he paused at the rostrum to address then-House Minority Leader Emily Cain in the crowd.
"How is my tone, Rep. Cain?" LePage asked.
"You're doing awesome!" Cain, D-Orono, responded cheerfully.
It seems doubtful that Democrats will hold another media event before LePage's speech, but they're already talking about tone. Again.
In last week's Democratic radio address, Senate President Justin Alfond said that he hoped the governor won't just focus on the state's shortcomings.
"Important to the success of this Legislature, to this state and to the people of Maine is the tone we, as lawmakers, leaders and citizens set," Alfond said. "We need to set a tone of focusing on what's right instead of what's wrong."
Any clues as to who Alfond was addressing there?
LePage's staff won't say what the governor plans to discuss Tuesday. But here's a prediction: Given the frigid relationship between Alfond and LePage, it's a safe bet that the governor will reserve the playful shout-outs for someone else.
Political junkies spending a lot of time on Twitter may have noticed that Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte has been pretty active lately. LaBonte appears to have taken a keen interest in the governor's budget proposal, which freezes municipal aid for two years.
Unlike other city officials, LaBonte isn't howling about the governor's plan. He apparently sees an opportunity for municipalities to find savings by consolidating services with their neighbors.
Last week, LaBonte talked with LePage about such measures during a meeting with the governor. He said the meeting was "constructive," which is a positive development given that LaBonte and LePage have had at least one public disagreement in the past.
LaBonte, a Republican, also publicly backed independent Eliot Cutler over LePage during the 2010 governor's race, a move that may have cost him a few friends in the party.
In 2011, LaBonte suspected that his support for Cutler had prompted LePage to exclude the newly elected mayor from a job-creation forum held in Auburn.
As the mayor of a major city, LaBonte obviously has a keen interest in what the budget ultimately looks like. As an Auburn resident, he's probably familiar with the hurdles of consolidation, too.
Around 2006, Lewiston and Auburn embarked on what was considered a bold quest to share services. A consolidation commission worked for several years and received more than $500,000 in grants awarded by then-Gov. John Baldacci through a program designed to encourage towns to share services.
The commission's work was widely applauded, but it disbanded in 2009 after the two cities failed to implement recommendations that would have likely cost a few high-level administrators their jobs.
RIDDLE OF THE 'LUCKY 7'
LePage sent a cryptic message via Twitter last Wednesday evening.
"Sometimes less is more," the tweet read. "I applaud the lucky 7."
Get it? We wouldn't have if LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett hadn't tipped us off.
Before sending it, she told a reporter it was in reference to a story that morning in the Portland Press Herald, looking at seven legislators who haven't submitted bills for this legislative session.
Six of the legislators were Republicans. The other was a Democrat who had heart surgery in December and spent her first day in the Legislature this past week.
So those legislators can feel good to get a boost from LePage. For our part, we hope the governor tweets more riddles to solve.
Last Thursday, the progressive activist group Maine's Majority marched into the State House to deliver 73 pocket calculators to Republican lawmakers and the governor. The idea, the group said, was to remind Republicans "that poor fiscal policy" -- in other words, the tax cuts passed by the Legislature in 2011 -- was to blame for the state's current fiscal malaise.
Republicans didn't take kindly to the publicity stunt. So the very next day, a few Republicans staged their own.
Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, and communications director David Sorensen delivered the calculators to Chelsea Elementary School. Sorensen rubbed it in, too, tweeting a photo of Sanderson and tagging Maine's Majority's Twitter account.
Maine's Majority later posted on the House Republican Facebook page, "It is sad that this was the only way for Maine's schoolchildren to get something out of this administration, but we're glad to have been a part of it."
The comment was later deleted.
-- State House Bureau reporters Steve Mistler and Michael Shepherd compiled this report.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at: