Court settles question, issues remain

The Maine Supreme Court made short work of rendering an opinion on the fate of the disputed bills Governor Paul LePage had hoped to veto. The Legislature was right, the governor was wrong, and the bills are now law.

The governor thanked the judicial branch for a “fast and fair resolution… .” “We look forward to moving on and continuing to work for the Maine people,” said the governor.

Speaker of the House Mark Eves was less sanguine about the matter, referring to the governor’s complaint as “legal gymnastics.” He called the court opinion a “huge victory” for those who will benefit from the passage of the disputed bills.

Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau also made a statement. He took the high road. He acknowledged disappointment that some of those bills are now law, but declared himself pleased that the court opinion “reaffirms the longstanding, 195-year-old practice of dealing with vetoes that is in the Constitution.”

In an eloquent call to Augusta’s better angels, the senator urged both the Legislature and the chief executive to “use this as an opportunity to change the tone in Augusta.”

He continued: “The executive and legislative branches must work together. I encourage the administration to reset their relationship with the Legislature to foster an environment of engagement and collaboration. Effective leadership requires instilling confidence both in our colleagues in Augusta and constituents back home. When that confidence is shaken, we should not be surprised when we are unable to accomplish our goals.”

Sadly, if there is relationship resetting to be done, it is not likely to begin in the House of Representatives. LePage’s proposal for a drug abuse summit was met with an unusually vituperative letter to the governor from Eves.

It seems unfair to criticize the speaker for letting his ire leak out in public given the deal that went down between the governor and the speaker’s prospective employer, Good Will-Hinckley. But the presiding officers have been the grown-ups in the room until now. If the speaker can compartmentalize his lawsuit during his final year in office, it would be to the state’s advantage. But that’s a tall order.

Citing a laundry list of shortcomings in the governor’s approach to drug abuse prevention, the speaker went on to allege that the progress that has been made in providing resources for the drug addicted has been made over the governor’s objections.

The governor’s response, also by letter, defended the “substantial resources my administration has poured into the treatment side of this problem.” None of this seems headed toward a reset of Statehouse relationships. Guys! You’re both in Augusta! Letters?

Again, Thibodeau stepped into the breach. He addressed the hot buttons for each side of this debate, acknowledging the need for both effective treatment and law enforcement, and in reference to the governor’s proposed drug abuse summit, commended the governor for his “work to bring people together for this purpose.”

Democrats should not be too quick to celebrate the schism between House and Senate Republicans, nor the governor’s assault on Senate Republican leaders, as favorable to their own political interests. Many voters were ready for a mid-course correction and opted for the cage-rattling LePage over more of the same from the Democrats.

A Republican conservative in values but rational in style could appeal to Democratic fiscal conservatives and Republicans tending toward the center, creating a coalition of middle-grounders that would have the numbers to open a path to victory. Even if that someone lost a lot of the LePage base, that still leaves more than half the voters up for grabs.

If they hold on to the senate in the 2016 election, another two years of Thibodeau’s measured performance at the podium would give Mainers a chance to decide if he could be “the one,” teeing him up nicely for the 2018 gubernatorial election. If Democrats come out with “candidate same old, same old,” Republican leadership could prove to be more than a passing fancy.

Perhaps Maine only went to the extreme in LePage because the Democrats have not found a leader willing to walk the middle ground and reassure voters that their fiscal chops are sufficiently conservative to stave off increased state spending.

The unusual proceedings in Augusta are taking their toll. Even with the Supreme Court opinion behind us, the speaker’s lawsuit will keep the waters roiling – not that he didn’t have every reason to bring it. Compared to the Supreme Court’s lightning-like speed, it will go on and on. And on. And be a lot more personal.

Thanks to Chief Justice Leigh Saufley and her court for the swift dispatch of duty. There was one flash of merriment in the otherwise solemn event. In a footnote in the Supreme Court’s opinion regarding the oft-debated pronunciation of “sine die,” the Latin phrase for a Legislature’s final adjournment, the court offered instruction in how “Latin scholars” would pronounce the term, as well as how it has been “historically pronounced” by the legislature. The court then solemnly added: “We do not opine on the correct pronunciation.”


Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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