This intense winter has been a bonding experience for Mainers. We have talked of little else but snow, whether we will get more snow, and where we are going to put snow. Then, just in the nick of time, the basketball tournament started.
Suddenly we could forget the weather, even though the tournament schedule had to be revised when teams couldn’t safely get to their venues – because of snow. But we all simply followed the shifts. When the team bus pulled out there was a comet’s tail of students, parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors following along. Up popped the perennial MDI sign: “Last one off the island turn out the lights.”
Some devoted fans care not who is competing, they go just for the sheer pleasure of watching our talented and determined youth give it their all. If there is a gender preference, it is the girls who have the edge. There is no prouder parent than a Maine dad with a daughter on the basketball court.
Plenty of Mainers can recite not just team results but the stats of the star players as well. The stand-outs of yesteryear are called to mind, or identified in the crowd and given their due. The stands are painted in vast blocks of team colors, switching hues as games begin and end.
For two weeks, there is a reprieve from winter. Between games, restaurants fill up, and the Bangor Mall is overrun as far-flung Mainers make the most of their road trips. It’s all good.
Except for ritual exchanges of taunts by legislators who make a show of backing their teams, the mood in Augusta is not all that improved at tournament time. Augusta is holding a tournament of its own, and it is not nearly as entertaining.
Front and center is Governor Paul LePage versus Attorney General Janet Mills. She has the better jump shot – he’s pretty good with the elbows. They are sparring over the governor’s authority to hire outside legal counsel when Mills deems a gubernatorial complaint not worthy of court time.
Another difference of opinion between the two is over a Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) investigation into a discrimination case involving the iconic Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro. In an unusual if not unprecedented move, LePage decided to step in.
The governor contends he is doing no more than assuring that the considerations are fair. Maybe so, but a governor brings a particularly large knife and fork to the table in a dispute of this sort.
According to an internal memo, he threatened to go to court to slow down deliberations if the MHRC did not do so voluntarily. MHRC Executive Director Amy Sneirson opted to proceed as planned. Sneirson describes herself as willing to meet with the governor to discuss process, but not the details of the case currently before the commission. That’s not allowed.
LePage suggested the possibility of an executive order directing an investigation of his own, but later opted to refer the matter to an attorney in his office for review. On the heels of the whole brouhaha, a routine financial request from MHRC to the governor’s office was rejected.
When Sneirson radioed the attorney general’s office for back-up, she was told the governor “had no authority to review the case…” That left the governor and attorney general toe to toe again.
LePage held that he was not interfering in the MHRC case; he just wanted to be sure there was no “ethical breach” in the proceedings. Refusing to issue routine financing for the commission seems a rather heavy-handed way to get such assurance.
There has been considerable discussion of the governor’s tactics ever since. Were they reasonable? Legal? Constitutional? While those questions are important, there is a bigger one to ask. Why on earth is the governor leaping into this particular frying pan when he is faced with a four-alarm structure fire over his tax reform proposal?
LePage began his second term in office with a new game plan. Last term, he was likely to throw down a proposal like a gauntlet, cry “Make it so!” and wait for it to be adopted. This year, he has gotten more strategic, with a political game plan that includes appearances across the state to explain and defend his major budget proposals, just as a governor should.
But instead of staying focused on the end game, he has reverted to the no-job-too-small philosophy of his first term and jumped into a you-know-what contest over a side issue that may be a matter of principle to him but spends political capital and in no way advances his big goals.
The governor is off to vacation in warmer climes, a habit that used to give us major heartburn – What governor goes on vacation during a legislative session? – but now passes almost unremarked. It goes to show how much we have adapted to our governor’s unique style. Perhaps he will renew his grip on the big picture while he is gone and come home ready to pursue his carefully planned agenda rather than every little grievance a citizen lays at his door.