I know why the lame duck quacks.
The sun is setting on Gov. Paul LePage. He is in the twilight of his administration and he’s making plenty of noise to mark the beginning of that end.
When he was elected, there was talk on the right that he would remake the state and remake politics, revitalize the Republican Party like Ed Muskie had done for Democrats.
Paul LePage is no Ed Muskie. Not even close.
But it is true, that at least for a time, LePage has remade politics in the state in his own image: coarse, cheap, fact-adverse and belligerent.
He’s operated on the principle that division is addition. And, for his two elections, it worked.
He won re-election and in a divided government, he and his loyalists – not sure what else to call most of the members of the Republican House caucus – have tied the state and the government in knots.
Instead of the revolution that was promised, they have delivered stasis. Instead of drowning state government in a bathtub, it’s bigger today than it ever was under those “big spenders” John Baldacci and Angus King. In the most recent budget, Democrats won one of the largest increases in education funding ever – and the two-year budget surpassed $7.1 billion.
Some voters may like the governor’s hateful rhetoric and damn-the-torpedoes attitude. But they profoundly don’t like his policies.
With a few exceptions, they have gone to the polls and rejected his biggest ideas, enacting progressive policies such as the minimum wage, increased education funding, ranked-choice voting, progressive taxation on the wealthy and Medicaid expansion. They vetoed his repeal of same-day voter registration and were the first voters in the country to pass a law allowing all loving, committed couples to marry.
Yes, it’s true, with a Maine GOP House in the grasp of his cronies and the power and weight of the executive office, the governor has been able to do some damage to these big wins.
But when voters reject your ideas, your lies and scare tactics that you and your rich friends were selling and instead vote to expand Medicaid – your biggest boogeyman – by almost 20 points, it should be a clear message that your time is nigh.
Meanwhile, the governor’s own initiatives failed to make the ballot, not able to gain the required number of signatures.
I’ve worked on a number of these ballot initiatives, including Medicaid expansion this year, and I worked on US Rep. Mike Michaud’s unsuccessful campaign for governor. I am completely biased against LePage. I won’t even pretend to be a neutral observer.
But the calendar and the vote count don’t lie.
LePage has spent the last seven years trying to take health care away from people. He’s blocked more than 70,000 folks from getting care, despite the fact that the expansion of Medicaid comes with relatively little cost to the state considering its benefits. He’s taken health care away from tens of thousands more.
Now the governor says he will block the implementation of Medicaid expansion. Ultimately, he will be unsuccessful. No governor, not even LePage, is above the law or the Constitution. He simply does not have the power to pick and choose which laws he will enforce.
The truth, however, is that he might be able to delay implementation by forcing a court fight.
But the delay will be short lived.
With the majority of Republican leadership in the House and Senate seeking higher office, their attention has already turned to their own electoral future. With every day, they become less concerned with the flapping of a lame duck governor.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that they’ll all of a sudden come to their senses and be reasonable, compassionate leaders. Fat chance of that.
But they are going to have to start separating themselves from one another. And while some of them will surely break hard to the right to capture the Trump-LePage vote in the primary, there might open up a lane for a Republican who decides to be merely conservative instead of radical, bigoted and crazy.
The media is fixated on the Trumpians and their power. But again, math prevails. If too many Republicans slice away at the right-wing pie, maybe, just maybe, mainstream Republicans will have a chance.
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking. Government works best when the two major political parties are at least functional. Right now, the Republicans seem tugged between reason and a high fever of resentment. Who knows if that fever will break or if the entire Republican Party will succumb?
Regardless of the future of the Republican Party, the shadow of LePage will only grow more faint.
Very soon, Republicans are going to have to make a choice about the future of their party, one without LePage as governor.
Of course, that, in and of itself, isn’t enough to ensure that Democrats will be successful. We seem to be perfectly content to form a circular firing squad.
Today, I’m just going to celebrate the fact that the governor’s lies and distortions didn’t work in last week’s election and that voters made clear that they want more health care, not less.