The protracted, embarrassing intra-party fight among Republicans over the speaker’s gavel of the U.S. House raises an interesting question: Could such a drama unfold in Maine, and, if so, under what circumstances? First, it wouldn’t necessarily have the immediate impact that the lengthy fight in Washington did. Under Maine’s constitution, a speaker isn’t necessary for individual legislators to be sworn in – the same is true of the president of the Senate. Instead, the Maine Constitution specifies that legislators take office on a particular date: the first Wednesday in December after an election, period. Further, the Maine Constitution doesn’t set many particular powers for either the speaker or the Senate president; instead, those are largely defined by statutes and legislative rules, giving the state slightly more flexibility in this area.

In Maine, as in most other states, the majority party typically settles on a nominee and then they become the speaker or Senate president in a pro forma vote. In other states, though, that hasn’t always been the case: This year, the Pennsylvania House elected a moderate Democrat as speaker.

Now, while this sort of rebellion isn’t exactly commonplace in those states, either, it’s even less likely to play out in Maine. For one, the chamber would have to be very closely divided, far more closely than it was after last year’s elections. In the Maine House, for instance, it’s hard to imagine nine Democrats voting for a Republican for speaker, no matter who they might be, let alone the entire caucus abandoning their own candidate and coalescing behind one. Maine legislators might frequently be willing and able to work together in a bipartisan way on legislation, but neither party is willing to elevate the other to leadership. Instead, if Maine Republicans got the majority and nominated someone from the far right for speaker, Maine Democrats would follow the lead of their D.C. counterparts, staying united and watching the chaos unfold.

So, if Democrats wouldn’t help elect a Republican speaker, could the reverse situation unfold? If Republicans got the majority, might some of them rebel against their own party and help the Democrats retain the gavel? Well, as in Washington, that scenario seems slightly more likely, if only because Maine Republicans seem to consistently delight in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Maine Republican Party seems likely to reelect their current party chair, for instance, even though they’ve consistently lost year after year with her at the helm. Throwing away the speaker’s gavel and a chance to control the chamber despite winning a majority is exactly the kind of thing Maine Republicans would wind up doing, but, here again, their ineptitude would likely be stymied by Democratic unity and ideological cohesion.

Even if there were enough moderate Republicans in the House to thwart their own party, finding a willing and able Democratic partner might be difficult. There would have to be a moderate Democrat willing to become speaker with Republican support who could also rally their own caucus behind them. Right now, it’s hard to see anyone fitting that bill, but there might be in the future.

It’s slightly more likely in the Maine Senate, since the chamber has fewer members and is therefore more freewheeling and individualistic. We saw that difference on display this session when the heating aid bill was delayed by a few renegade senators, but it’s hard to see that dynamic happening in a leadership race; indeed, it rarely happens with major legislation, either. When legislation is derailed, it’s because one party is united in opposing it, not because of internal divisions.

What’s slightly more plausible is that enough unenrolled candidates get elected in either chamber that they determine the balance of power. We’ve seen that happen before, and it resulted in a negotiated settlement with the two parties sharing power. Today, though, with Maine politics becoming more polarized – just like in the rest of the country – it might be nearly impossible to negotiate the same sort of arrangement. Then the leadership elections could drag on for days or even weeks, with each party floating different names and trying to curry favor with the independents. Though this may be the most likely scenario for chaotic leadership elections in Augusta, it’s still highly unlikely, given the haphazardness with which non-party candidates win legislative races – even in an independent-minded state like Maine.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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