Politics & Other Mistakes: Lonely at the top

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The refusal to negotiate. The opposition to seemingly noncontroversial ideas. The snubs of anyone perceived to be in disagreement.

It’s almost as if Paul LePage is still governor of Maine.

Republican LePage, who served as the state’s chief executive from 2011 to 2019 (and ran unsuccessfully for another term in 2022), has been exiled to Florida or some other place where irrationality is in fashion. The governor currently ensconced in the Blaine House with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door is actually Democrat Janet Mills.

There are increasing signs Mills must have been exposed to the crazy cooties LePage left behind. When it comes to dealing with issues affecting Wabanaki people in Maine, she’s been performing a stunning imitation of her predecessor.

Al DiamonIn early March, Mills sent one of her minions to a legislative committee hearing on a bill to restore language to the printed version of the state Constitution concerning treaties with Indigenous People. Those sections were part of the document from statehood in 1820 until a constitutional convention in 1876, when they were removed for reasons nobody claims to know.

Best guess: The white guys running the state hated Indians.

The move to return the wording to the Constitution was mostly symbolic, since the deleted paragraphs have remained part of the law. Putting them back in print wouldn’t change the relationship between the tribes and the state in any way. But it would have been a small show of respect.

Inexplicably, the Mills administration argued that act would be “a misguided attempt to right a historical wrong that never occurred.”

Except it did occur, and only someone infected with LePage Derangement Syndrome could think otherwise. Mills’ action was pointlessly provocative.

The feverish governor wasn’t close to done with that approach. A week later, she announced she wouldn’t be attending the State of the Tribes Address before the Legislature, only the second time in history the Wabanaki tribes had been afforded that opportunity. Mills said she had a scheduling conflict, possibly seeking inspiration by delving into LePage’s long history of insults to minorities.

Unlike Mills, the tribal representatives were respectful in their speeches, although they were clear they wanted the state to grant them the full sovereignty that all other tribes in the United States enjoy. Last year, Mills had used strong-arm tactics to derail a bill that would have done that.

At this point, Rachel Talbot Ross, the sponsor of the sovereignty bill and now the Democratic speaker of the House, had had enough. Previous efforts to right the wrongs done to tribes in Maine had involved extensive negotiations with the governor in order to avoid a veto. Now, the dynamic had changed.

Talbot Ross had given up on the possibility of convincing Mills to support major changes to the 1980 Indian Land Claims Settlement Act that rendered the tribes something akin to municipalities, entities with only minimal control over their economies and environments. Instead, she began to court Republicans in an effort to pass a sovereignty measure with enough votes to override a veto.

To accomplish that, Talbot Ross will have to tempt at least 17 GOP House members to help embarrass the Democratic governor by setting aside their party’s traditional animosity toward increasing Indigenous rights. House Republican Leader William Robert Faulkingham (who inexplicably prefers to be called “Billy Bob”) seems to think that’s possible.

Faulkingham told the Bangor Daily News, “If we get a good bill out of this that corrects the things that were wrong about the 1980 settlement act, we don’t really see why there would be any opposition to it.”

At this writing, details of the reimagined sovereignty bill had yet to be released, but what’s clear is legislators of both parties and the tribes are trying to work out an agreement without involving somebody who has heretofore been central to the debate, namely Mills.

Legislative insiders say there’s a reasonable chance of veto-proof House support, but the Senate is a couple votes short. Mills is expected to bring intense pressure to prevent an override.

If that doesn’t work, the governor will find herself alone in her state-owned mansion with nothing to comfort her but the lingering stench of LePage’s nasty legacy.

You have a sovereign right to email me at [email protected].

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