No heroes in pitiful, unnecessary shutdown

There are no heroes in a government shutdown.

No bravery involved. No courage.

The pitiful display we saw this weekend may have been cloaked in the language of a virtuous stand, but the men and women who talked of themselves like they are heroes for shutting down state government surely aren’t.

Early in the morning on July 4, the governor finally signed a budget, ending the shutdown, which began after midnight on Saturday.

The turmoil that had been created was purposeful and vindictive. It was not about building our state up or improving the lives of its people. It was about beating a political foe and exacting some level of vengeance for hurt feelings.

It was about a picture with the governor, late at night, declaring victory. Little else.

Truth be told, the Republicans had achieved their highest priority in negotiations before the shutdown. They had successfully rolled back taxes on the state’s wealthiest. They had already won the biggest fight.

On her Facebook page, Republican Rep. Paula Sutton made clear the delusion.

“When no one else is defending the sleeping, unsuspecting taxpayer … when no one else stands up for those that languish on social service waitlists … when no one else is willing to stand their ground …”

And on and on and on she went, apparently bemused by her own rhetoric and misplaced sense of bravery and valor. Her language: defending against union bosses; the enemy who “give a damn.”

Near the end: “We, alone, have the courage and the determination to do right by those who are defenseless, if not for us.”

Rep. Aaron Frey, D-Bangor, listens to debate over the budget bill in the Maine House of Representatives on Monday afternoon. Gabor Degre | BDN

Are you kidding me? House Republicans weren’t fighting for the defenseless. They were fighting for people who make more than $200,000 a year and who stay in hotels.

The budget stand off – at least on paper – was a fight over tax policy. Initially, the standoff was about repealing the voter-approved surcharge on annual income over $200,000, which would have generated more than $300 million for schools over the next two years.

Then it shifted to a fight over a small increase in the lodging tax. State government was shut down by House Republican Leader Ken Fredette and Gov. Paul LePage over a small tax that is mostly paid by tourists.

A tax that Sen. Troy Jackson offered to eliminate on Friday, before the shutdown.

A tax that the governor had supported as recently as January, when he proposed a similar increase.

The entire ordeal was unnecessary. In Sutton’s own words, it was about showing that House Republicans “are relevant … and that the Governor matters.”

In his press release about the ultimate budget deal, LePage thanked House Republicans for “standing strong.”

Real leaders don’t so willingly sacrifice the well-being of others.

By coincidence of timing, the rhetoric of House Republicans on the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, is just too much to take.

During the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, soldiers from the 20th Maine, under the command of Col. Joshua Chamberlain, were ordered to hold the Union Army’s left flank. Their gallantry saved the battle and likely the Union itself.

Leading up to the fight, the remnants of the 2nd Maine were assigned to Chamberlain’s command. The 2nd Maine had splintered. Part of the unit had been allowed to go home after two years of fighting. Others were required to serve an additional year.

According to the Civil War Trust’s account, the men from the 2nd were refusing to fight, and Chamberlain had orders to shoot them if their mutiny continued.

A Brewer boy unwilling to turn his fire on his fellow Mainers, Chamberlain instead found a way to integrate the battle-hardened men into the 20th, promoting one to color sergeant, a position of honor responsible for carrying the flag into battle.

Color Sgt. Andrew J. Tozier of the 2nd Maine may have single-handedly saved the battle and prevented the collapse of the Union lines.

Under withering fire and an attack from Confederate soldiers from Alabama, Tozier stood upright and strong in the middle of line, bullets flying all around, rallying soldiers to hold. The line held.

Tozier was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry. Without his willingness to stand upright in the line of fire, Chamberlain might never have had the chance to give his famous order, “Bayonets.”

One hundred and fifty-four years after the Battle of Gettysburg, we still remember and honor the names of the men of the 20th Maine. They truly stood as the last line of defense, a few charged to protect the fate of many at all costs.

House Republicans and the governor will be remembered for shutting down the state government for a penny and a half increase on the lodging tax, if they are remembered at all.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at