Governor Game of Chicken plays kick the can

Trying to blog through the ever shifting sands of the recent budget negotiations was no easy feat. I relied heavily on information flowing on the Bangor Daily News Live Maine Shutdown blog. Even though the crisis has passed, I’d encourage readers to check it out anyway.

It offers a chronology that can give context to all the partisan soundbites we’ll be hearing this week about which faction was more victorious/which faction was more problematic. Near as I can tell, the only leadership to earn serious bragging rights is the one from whom we’ve heard the least: Senate President Mike Thibodeau.

He’s had his chamber operating in near unanimity since before the shutdown and unanimity since.

House Speaker Sarah Gideon may not have garnered as much cohesiveness in her much larger chamber, but she gets props from me anyways. My understanding — I’m still reviewing the documentation I received late Monday evening and talking to people close to the negotiations — is Gideon and others managed to prevent some potentially dangerous cuts to social service programming, like MaineCare.  

If Gideon was going to hold one line without fail, I am grateful it was the line she drew on behalf of Maine’s most vulnerable.

Our governor, and his LePage-ites in the House, definitely took the prize in playing chicken and in playing kick the can. Cue the celebrations.

I’ve found this budget cycle frustrating for many reasons, not the least of which being our lawmakers should have never got to the point of a shutdown in the first place. I’m also frustrated because I couldn’t keep up. I’ve typed two different posts since I last left off mocking the idea of Governor LePage bragging about his mad chicken skills.

Before I could get them all the way through the process, the sands in our lawmakers’ sandbox would shift again and my words lost relevance. Which was a bummer because I had some good ones.

Like the post that was supposed to be called, Is it Governor Game of Chicken or Governor Chicken n Waffle. In it I talked about LePage waffling on the idea of an increase in the lodging tax as a good revenue source. Apparently, it’s only a good idea if he proposes it.

Then I dropped the words game and waffle to write about the way Governor LePage did all his communicating with the public during the shutdown via Facebook videos. Meanwhile the legislators were owning their mess, walking through the protesters and lobbyists every day of the shutdown.

And now I get to write about how the governor bullied the legislature into playing kick the can with him. So pathetically typical on the part of our governor and our broken two party system. Out of the sandbox and into the street to kick the can down the road.

Don’t get me wrong — there are things, especially when it comes to Maine’s most vulnerable — in the budget that I like. However, there’s no avoiding the fact that the budget includes increases in overall spending.

The Democrats were the fiscally responsible party acknowledging this fact and seeking a balancing revenue source, going so far as use a revenue source Republicans had already suggested. The Republicans in the House rejected their own idea and voted for increased spending without increased revenue, which some could argue is completely fiscally irresponsible.

This whole debacle should teach us voters a few things. First, the two party system is completely broken and polarization over policy is the new norm. Second, it might be time to think about downsizing the Maine House of Representatives.

Third, the sands measuring the final days of LePage’s administration can’t shift and settle fast enough.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.