Brace yourselves, Mainers on both sides of the political divide: It appears that Gov. Paul LePage has come down with a clear-cut case of “Scott Walker Envy.”

Walker, of course, is the stubborn-as-a-mule freshman Republican governor from Wisconsin, whose battle with teachers’ and public-employees’ unions has made the Dairy State ground zero in the nation’s ongoing culture war between organized labor and the tea party movement.

LePage, on the other hand, is the shoot-from-the-hip freshman Republican governor from Maine who, while already embarrassing enough to a good chunk of Vacationland, has yet to claw his way to the top of the national news cycle.

But hey, give the guy credit for trying.

Three weeks ago, with the world still fixated on the standoff between Walker and Democratic lawmakers who fled Wisconsin rather than allow a vote on a budget bill that stripped the state’s public employees of their collective bargaining rights, LePage made a bold prediction to a reporter from the online newspaper Politico.

“Quite frankly, once they start reading our budget they’re going to leave Wisconsin and come to Maine, because we’re going after right-to-work,” promised LePage, who at the time was attending a National Governor’s Association conference in Washington, D.C.

OK, so it was an odd thing to say. There’s no connection, at least not yet, between LePage’s proposed two-year budget and various “right-to-work” bills still winding their way through Maine’s legislative pipeline.

Still, as LePage put it moments later, “It’s going to be a battle.”

Fast forward to this week, when LePage sat down at the State House with Mal Leary of the Capitol News Service to talk about the budget.

“If that budget is altered it is not my budget,” LePage said. “If they alter the pension (reforms), if they alter the tax breaks, if they alter the welfare reforms, those are showstoppers.”

Asked by Leary if he meant he would veto a budget with any such changes, LePage replied yes.

On so many levels, the threat made no sense.

There’s the political: With both the executive and legislative branches securely in GOP hands for the first time in almost a half-century, is it really necessary for a Republican governor to publicly fire a veto shot across a Republican-controlled Legislature’s bow?

Consider the reaction of Senate Majority Leader Jonathan Courtney, R-Springvale, when Leary told him what LePage had said:

“He said what to you? … We share a lot of his priorities. But we are not drawing any lines in the sand.”

Then there’s the mathematical: Unless the Legislature passes the budget and adjourns by March 31, which flat-out will not happen, the spending package must pass by two-thirds votes in the House and Senate to take effect with the new fiscal year on July 1. That would be the same two-thirds majorities that could override a gubernatorial veto.

Can we say “empty threat?”

Also worth noting: Two-thirds means 24 votes in the Senate and 101 votes in the House. With Republican majorities of 20 in the Senate and 78 in the House, the GOP leadership is painfully aware that it can’t pass a budget without some support from the Democrats.

The same Democrats who, with veto threats flying around, now might be tempted to sit back and see how far “LePage’s budget” gets without them.

Finally, there’s the procedural: With public hearings on the budget scheduled through the end of March, followed by legislative work sessions, party caucusing, horse-trading and everything else that goes into making this biennial piece of sausage, it will likely be late May or June before the final floor votes are taken.

Why, then, gum up an already tedious process with threats from the governor’s office in mid-March?

As Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, put it Wednesday, “I’m really surprised he did that because everybody has been working really hard through the process. I was surprised he would show his cards so early.”

Dan Demeritt, LePage’s ever-intrepid communications director, did his best this week to emphasize that LePage was only answering a reporter’s question, not going out of his way to throw down a gauntlet.

“We’re not looking to go to war,” he said. “But you get elected for a reason, and we’re trying to be clear about that.”

Still, it’s hard not to get the feeling that LePage is itching to get out there, a la Walker, onto the national stage.

This is, after all, the same guy who acquired the nickname “Front Page LePage” while he was mayor of Waterville, and who predicted during his campaign that “you’re going to see a lot of me on the front page saying, ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell.’ “

(For a politician who claims he doesn’t read newspapers, Maine’s chief executive clearly has a thing for front pages.)

How this will all play out — a veto? a shutdown? a budget sans LePage’s signature? — is anyone’s guess. The placement of a uniformed state police trooper outside LePage’s office only deepens the sense of impending drama.

But if you’re looking for an easy way to keep score in the days and weeks ahead, just go to Google and click on “News.”

Punch the name “Scott Walker” into the search box and you get (as of Thursday afternoon) a whopping 20,300 hits.

Punch in “Paul LePage” and the headline count tops out at a paltry 693.

Stay tuned.

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

[email protected]