Let’s consider the unimaginable. Let’s pretend Republican Gov. Paul LePage is a rational human being with some semblance of political skill.
Also, fairies are real, Tim Tebow is a decent baseball player and the paper industry will be returning to East Millinocket next month with even more high-paying jobs.
Alas, none of that is true, particularly with regard to LePage, who regularly torpedoes his own agenda by acting like a petulant child. Ironically, these outbursts are far more effective at killing his proposals than are the dithering Democrats.
Take taxes for example. The governor has long advocated eliminating the state income tax and balancing the budget with spending cuts and an expanded sales tax. That’s not a ridiculous idea. Such a plan would shift a significant portion of the tax bite onto tourists. It would encourage retirees to remain in Maine. And while such a tax realignment would place a burden on the poor, there are plenty of ways that could be mitigated. With a little negotiating, there’s no reason at least some of LePage’s vision couldn’t be realized.
Except for LePage himself, who’s never been willing to settle for partial victory. He’d rather endure a total loss than be perceived as settling for less than he demanded. “If you want to play chicken,” he said in a radio interview just prior to the state-shutdown deadline, “let’s play chicken.”
He actually vetoed two budgets that contained income-tax cuts, because they weren’t as large as he wanted. If not for his hardline stance, it’s likely the tax bill in Maine would be smaller than it is.
Education reform? With a little give and take, an imaginary LePage could have adroitly persuaded a dozen or so House Democrats to give a statewide teacher contract a tentative try, thereby fulfilling a major campaign promise.
Mining regulation? A fantasy governor might have fully engaged in the two-year-long debate, subtly edging the rules in a direction more favorable to industry. LePage merely sulked, and the enviros took control.
Drug abuse? The best the guv has been able to do is successfully veto an occasional bill designed to combat the opioid epidemic. A magic chief executive would have perceived how easy it would be to increase law-enforcement spending if he also agreed to at least some expanded treatment options.
Welfare? Only a troll would use asylum seekers as punching bags. Only an ogre would vilify immigrants with dark skins. Only a boogeyman refuses to acknowledge that the problem with public assistance is not the vast majority of the people who receive it, but rather the system that provides it so ineptly. Sir Paul the Virtuous and Intelligent would rally bipartisan troops to slay that dragon and replace it with aid for the truly needy.
In all these cases, it’s important to remember that Lord LePage the Tempestuous and Intemperate isn’t necessarily wrong in his proposals for solving problems. School costs do need to be brought under control. Environmental regulations do need to allow job creators to function. Drug dealers do need to be arrested and imprisoned. And public assistance does need to focus on helping low-income people break the cycle of poverty.
It’s not what the governor stands for that’s wrong. It’s his refusal to stand down from unnecessary confrontation.
If LePage had any grasp of how the political process works, he’d have laid the groundwork for his platform by consulting with both friends and foes before crafting solutions. This would’ve allowed him to determine if there were areas where all parties agreed or if there were items on which some compromise might be possible. Then, rather than driving his sword into a stone and swearing to never give ground, he could offer up measures that had a reasonable chance of passage, although possibly in amended form.
He’d get some of what he wanted, instead of almost none. And it would be easier on his sword.
But LePage believes in absolute monarchy, a system of government that has worked out only slightly better for him then it did for Macbeth.
Or as Shakespeare put it, “Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious / Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man.”
That character is fictional. If only LePage were, too.