If, down the road, you ever need to explain what it was like to live in Maine during the Paul LePage era, you can tell the story of the “nips.”

Somehow, two-terms of his mis-administration got distilled into a tiny little bottle.

The outline goes like this: People were concerned about roadside litter made up of discarded 50-milliliter bottles of hard liquor. A bill went to the Legislature to make nips subject to the 15-cent bottle deposit that’s collected on other liquor bottles, and there was a public hearing in the State House.

Proponents of the bill said it would help keep our roads cleaner. The liquor industry said that it would hurt sales.

So, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, met with both sides and struck a deal: The deposit on nips would be 5 cents, like it is for soda, instead of 15 cents as it is with booze.

In a normal state – like Maine before 2011 – that would have been the end of a very boring story. You might have seen the change listed in a newspaper roundup story about the recent legislative session, and maybe there would be a brief item in a liquor industry trade magazine or the Association of State Governments website. But we’re not in a normal state anymore.

Out of nowhere came an enraged governor, who declared that he was tired of the Legislature’s anti-business attitude (even though the business involved was on board with the compromise) and he wasn’t going to stand for it.

If the Legislature insisted on passing this bill, he thundered, he would veto it. And if they passed it over his veto, he would cast his hand upon the land, and, verily, no nip would be allowed for sale anywhere in his domain!

When the liquor industry said that was not the kind of help they were hoping for, LePage silenced them. It was not their profits he was concerned about, he said, but drivers drinking behind the wheel, which the bill at issue would not address.

And on that point, the governor is 100 percent correct.

It was a littering bill, not a piece of legislation designed to fix all of society’s problems at once. Some people just wanted to make the roadsides more tidy.

But the Legislature defied him and overrode his veto anyway. On Tuesday, the governor made good on his threat and ordered the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to begin the process of banning 50-milliliter bottles of alcohol, ending sales expected to boom to 12 million units this year and pay $4 million to the state coffers. And since the most popular nip out there, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, is bottled in Lewiston, 130 jobs are at risk.

The leader has spoken. His critics defied him and now they have felt his wrath. Oh, and, by the way, he didn’t do a damn thing about drunken driving.

And that is what it’s like to live with a governor who thinks leadership means telling people what to do.

It’s not just with nips. This governor only knows one way to settle a dispute – dominance. If he can get what he wants, fine. If he can’t, but he can stop you from getting what you want, that’s fine too. If nothing gets done, so be it. They should have done it his way in the first place.

And now we are waiting to see if a divided Legislature will avoid a state government shutdown by coming to terms over a budget before June 30 – with no help from the governor. Five months ago, LePage dumped his proposal on lawmakers and walked away.

After months of meetings, negotiators are at an impasse. Senate Republicans have proposed a plan. House Democrats have proposed a plan. House Republicans have laid out their priorities. None of them have the two-thirds support in both chambers that would be needed to pass a budget and to override the governor’s already promised veto.

They may not succeed, but they are going to try, because that’s what they’re in Augusta for – to resolve disputes.

If everyone agreed on everything, you wouldn’t need a government. It takes collective effort to get important things done and that takes working through differences of opinion, which is why smart leaders know that they have to compromise, even when they’re right.

Fortunately, there are members of both parties in Augusta who see it that way and they have a shot at keeping the state in business after the shutdown clock winds down.

And fortunately, Gov. LePage has become so irrelevant he can’t screw up anything more important these days than the sale of nips.

Listen to Press Herald podcasts at www.pressherald.com/podcast.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @gregkesich

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