Gov. Paul LePage, from his first days in office, has shown a reckless disregard for good government.
He has thumbed his nose at the Legislature – which, of course, is an easy target. He’s called people names; he’s bullied and blustered; and he’s stretched the truth, which is a kind way of saying he’s told a few lies.
But now, in a confusing display of governance, he has thrown down the gauntlet to voters.
Last week, LePage vetoed one of five bond proposals, while letting four continue on to the ballot without his signature.
The bonds where approved by more than two-thirds of the Legislature, which will return on Thursday to consider a veto override.
Regardless of whether or not the Legislature overrides the governor’s veto, at least four bonds will appear on the ballot in November.
The governor – blinded by ideology and without regard for the jobs that would be created – said that even if voters approve the bonds, he would use his authority as governor to make sure none of the money is used on things like roads and bridges.
The governor could have vetoed all the bonds or any combination. But if he had gone that far, the Legislature may well have handed him his political hat, with his head still attached.
The five bonds, taken together, would have made important investments that would help the economy today and into the future.
The four bonds that the governor has threatened to ignore would provide $51 million for transportation; $11.3 million for the University of Maine System, the state’s community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy; $8 million for clean water projects; and $5 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program, which focuses on land conservation.
The governor vetoed a bond that would have invested $20 million in innovation, helping to directly create jobs and support entrepreneurs building new businesses in the state.
Voters have a history of supporting such investments.
And why shouldn’t they? Maine has a low debt burden, pays its bonds back more quickly than most other states and interest rates are so low that there’s little downside to the investment.
Polls across the country show that voters remain skeptical of government spending, though such sentiment is contradicted at the ballot box when people go to vote. An attack on spending is red meat to the GOP faithful, but when it comes to rutted roads and better jobs, feelings are a bit more muddled.
One trip down some of Maine’s secondary roads and it’s clear that our state needs to put some money into transportation.
A walk around our college campuses shows that there’s much to be gained from smart investments there.
Land conservation and clean water, which pay substantial dividends for even modest investments, are critical not only to our state’s quality of life, but also to improve our economy.
And even as the rest of the world rushes to invest in the cutting edge companies and technologies that can help to create new jobs and opportunities, our governor prefers a governing philosophy that disparages a college education, focuses on political vendetta and puts special interests ahead of the real people.
While the governor is pushing an agenda that gives tax breaks to wealthy, out-of-state interests, he’s ignoring strategies that would put people to work in Maine and strengthen our economy.
The governor has made dividing people into little groups against one another a hallmark of his administration.
But this time, he might have picked the wrong group to target: “Even with voters’ authorization to borrow this money, my Administration will not spend it until we’ve lowered our debt significantly,” the governor said in a press release.
With an open threat to void the will of the voters, to ignore the law and to abuse his power, LePage has drawn a line in the sand.
On one side, he stands with the most ideological of Republicans, the few who would throw good governance, good schools and good roads away to prove a political point.
On the other side?
Voters who drive on crumbling roads, wish for a quality education for their children, trust they’ll have clean water, and hope for a robust economy that will allow them to get a good job with benefits and provide the opportunities that will give their kids a chance for prosperity.
Through his policies, the governor has demonstrated that he will ignore voters. Now he’s made it explicit. He’ll do what he wants, regardless of the impact on the economy or the will of the people.
David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.