294,533. That’s the number of votes Gov. Paul LePage received in 2014. That’s 48.2 percent of the vote. Republicans might see this figure as a mandate to push a conservative agenda because LePage campaigned on issues like tax reform and welfare reform. Democrats might see this figure as evidence that our state is divided and that voters gave LePage and conservatives anything but a sweeping mandate.
LePage-ites — the third party that emerged this session as Republicans split from other members of their caucus to stay aligned with LePage — interpret the 48.2 percent as divine authority that empowers the governor to do anything he wants, from dictating the budget, to threats and name-calling, to withholding bonds, to a ridiculous stream of time-wasting vetoes.
Whatever leverage 48.2 percent of the vote gave LePage, he squandered it quickly with the aforementioned antics. Squandering his leverage won him a sideline seat for budget negotiations and maximized the leverage of, as I’ll explain, the 4 percent.
25,233. That’s 4 percent of 616,996 votes cast in 2014. They were cast, collectively, for Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland. 2084, 9109, 2654 and 11,376 respectively.
These four gentleman then used their approximately 4-percent mandate to craft significant areas of a budget for 1.33 million Mainers in private. They did not include the full Appropriations Committee or reporters. They did not record their negotiations. They did not even give their colleagues an opportunity to view details until the budget was up for debate and vote with little time to spare to avoid a government shutdown.
And the four called this budget a compromise — four members of a 189 member legislative body.
Members of the press corps called the process something else entirely, and voters of all persuasions should heed their concerns. As mentioned in the previous link, the private, unrecorded meetings prompted veteran MPBN reporter Mal Leary to resign from the Legislature’s Right-to-Know Citizen’s Advisory Committee.
John Christie of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting also called attention to the secretive budget process. The BDN’s Mario Moretto referred to a press corp that was “up in arms” over lack of public access. Voters should be up at arms, too. As all the links show, part of what brought these budget negotiations down to the wire was all the public drama from the various factions when negotiations were theoretical.
When it came to having the courage of their convictions at the negotiating table, including having the courage to negotiate away portions of their convictions at that table, Mainers got silence. A silence made more disturbing by the hullaballoo that preceded it.
Like most Mainers, I have mixed feelings about the budget itself. The process that produced it, though, inspired a future cost-savings idea for legislators to consider in the second session. Let’s cut the House and Senate down to just two members each. Apparently that’s all that’s needed for major decisions.