I’d like to think Paul LePage is a rational person.
I’d also like to think every shot of booze I drink counts as a helping of vegetables.
Sadly, evidence indicates neither of these is true.
Nevertheless, LePage, Maine’s carnival freak show of a governor, continues to say stuff that doesn’t make sense. And I continue to drink. Coincidentally, the latest examples of both those activities have intersected at the convenience store counter where they sell nip bottles.
Nips are those little 50-milliliter plastic containers of liquor, of which Mainers bought nearly 8.5 million last fiscal year and managed to dispose of most of them by littering the state’s roads. More than 40 percent of those improperly discarded nips were originally filled with Fireball, a cinnamon-flavored pesticide favored by people who want to get drunk but don’t like the taste of alcohol. Fireball is bottled in Lewiston at a plant owned by Louisiana-based Sazerac.
The Legislature decided to do something about this problem of illegal disposal. After laborious negotiations, it drafted a bill that brought nips under Maine’s bottle redemption law by placing a five-cent deposit on each undersized container. The idea is that the lowlifes who toss them from their vehicles will instead save and redeem them for more booze.
Republicans supported this plan. Democrats backed it. The Sazerac people were on board, too. Even the lowlifes voiced no objections. The measure seemed certain to pass. Except for one last-minute problem:
The GOP governor released a statement after the bill had won overwhelming initial approval in both the state House and Senate claiming it was being financed by a “kind of secretive backroom deal that burdens the taxpayer” to the tune of a million bucks a year. As with so many of LePage’s proclamations, that one isn’t exactly true. While the proposed law carries administrative costs of a little over $1 million, that amount would be covered by surplus funds already collected from companies that sell alcohol. No taxpayer money needed.
Heedless of his lack of a sensible reason for opposing the bill, LePage went even further. If the measure passed, he promised to veto it. If, as seems likely, his veto is overridden, he’ll move to ban the sale of nips in the state. If it turns out he has no authority to do that (and it turns out he doesn’t), he’ll do something else equally spiteful. Wait and see.
A day later, after somebody gently indicated to LePage that his argument might be more compelling if he had a real reason for opposing the bill, he went on the radio and announced, “The issue is drinking and driving.”
In a rare intersection of the governor and reality, LePage is correct. Nip bottles do contribute to drunk driving. If people weren’t shooting them down while they were in cars, the empties wouldn’t end up messing up roadsides. But that’s always been true. Why is LePage suddenly so concerned? And if his concern is legitimate, why is he only threatening to ban nips if the deposit bill becomes law? If they’re so bad, why not outlaw them regardless?
LePage’s epiphany that small bottles of booze are major contributors to operating-under-the-influence cases has the air of being something hastily manufactured to cover up the guv’s real reason for opposing the bill. Which is that he strongly dislikes the measure’s sponsor, state Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton. Saviello is a Republican, but not the sort that LePage prefers, namely mindless clones of House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, programmed to uphold LePage’s position even when there’s no rational basis for it. Saviello has bucked the governor on numerous occasions, most notably by trying to craft a compromise on Medicaid expansion.
This battle over tiny bottles isn’t the most important conflict to arise this legislative session, but it is indicative of LePage’s preferred method of governing, involving hefty doses of pettiness and stupidity. If you think that’s excessive, keep in mind that LePage’s threat to outlaw nips just to spite Saviello would eliminate 15 percent of all liquor sales and cost the state $3 million per year in liquor taxes.
I’m going to need a much bigger drink than just one of those little things.