In times of great stress, journalists should be very careful about the words they use.

For instance, over the last week some of my colleagues have used the term “hostage taking” to describe the way Gov. LePage engineered a government shutdown so he could force lawmakers to accept his demands.

But what LePage did last Friday does not fit that description at all, because, according to the FBI, hostage takers are rational and the governor is not.

What LePage did with the budget sounds more like what’s known as a “barricade with victims” event.

“In these situations, the person is not making substantive demands or asking for anything from the police because they do not need anything from the police,” according to an FBI training bulletin. “Rather, they are in crisis, meaning that their normal coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s day-to-day challenges have been overwhelmed. Their emotion level is high while their rational ability is low.”

That sounds more like it.

During the three-day government shutdown, LePage revealed himself to be one of the most frustrating kinds of negotiators – the guy who doesn’t want anything.

His demands lack substance. He is not interested in making a deal. Those who try to bargain with him ends up bargaining against themselves.

By the time he got involved, the Democrats had already surrendered.

Their negotiators agreed to repeal the 3 percent surtax on high incomes that had been passed by the voters in a 2016 referendum. Republicans could have gone home winners, and Democrats would have had a lot of explaining to do.

But instead, LePage’s allies in the House scuttled a bipartisan compromise Friday night, and word started circulating that the governor was going to unveil his own budget plan. As the clock ticked toward the statutory deadline, legislative leaders went to his office and saw – well, not much, really.

The governor said he wanted a pilot program for a state-wide teacher contract.

He wanted studies of the property tax implications of the tree growth program and conservation land trusts.

He wanted to eliminate a 1.5 percent increase in the lodging tax that he had recommended in January, and he wanted to increase the amount of pension income that’s tax free.

The list was shocking for its lack of ambition. When he first took office, LePage had big plans to change Maine. He wanted to replace public schools with online charters, eliminate the income tax and revive manufacturing by bringing in low-cost hydro-power from Quebec and a natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania.

This year, LePage engineered a government shutdown, complicated the lives of thousands of state workers and opened the door to real-world harm for people who depend on government services, and for what exactly? Tree growth?

The demands kept shifting throughout the day Saturday but didn’t get any more substantial. The governor dropped a couple of very strange video messages through social media, where he repeated his threat that he might sit on a budget for 10 days, keeping the government in shutdown, unless he got what he wanted – whatever that turned out to be. In the end, his price was the elimination of the lodging tax hike, an offer he had rejected on Friday when it was made by Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson.

It’s much easier to figure out what didn’t cause the shutdown than what did.

It was not about money: The budget that the Legislature voted on Friday and all subsequent versions including the one that passed Tuesday are within a fraction of a percentage point apart.

It was not about ideology: Ideology is a coherent theory of how the world works based on information. There’s nothing coherent about saying that all of state government was worth less than a $3 tax break on a tourist’s $200-a-night hotel bill.

It was not about principle: Every single Democrat in both houses of the Legislature voted to accede to the Republican principle that taxes on the rich should not be increased. The Democrats decided that they would rather have a functioning government than a shutdown. LePage and House Republicans said “no” after they had already won on principle.

Why did he do it? Maybe LePage resented being sidelined in the budget negotiations.

Maybe he wanted to punish his critics in the Legislature and make them sit inside on a beautiful summer weekend.

Maybe he just wanted to be the center of attention for a little while longer. He succeeded there, but it won’t last.

A Democratic lawmaker said last weekend that he hated the budget but would vote for it anyway because it was a “bridge out of the LePage era.”

He’s right. We’re almost free. That’s why LePage needed to keep the state barricaded for as long as he could.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: gregkesich

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