Attacking the messenger

Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta is an honorable man trying to do the right thing. At a news conference earlier this month, Katz unveiled proposed legislation to resolve an ongoing controversy and prevent Governor Paul LePage, or any future Maine governor, from holding hostage bonds that have been approved at the ballot box by Maine voters.

He has the backing of several Republican Senate colleagues, including Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth, who represents Mount Desert Island. But the Augusta senator’s stance didn’t sit well with Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette. At his own news conference, Fredette put partisanship before statesmanship, sharply criticizing Katz for not toeing the party line and “always criticizing conservative Republicans who simply want to move Maine forward.”

To Fredette, it’s more important to back the governor, even when he may be wrong, than to do the right thing. And that epitomizes what is wrong with politics today both at the state and federal levels.

Katz is widely regarded as a moderate in an era when the Republican Party leans more to the conservative right. He recently took a stand criticizing the governor’s refusal to release Land for Maine’s Future bonds, approved by voters in 2010 and 2012, until or unless the Legislature approves his bill to help fund home heating subsidies for low-income Mainers, by expanding logging on state-owned land.

“No Republican, including myself, likes being in this situation,” said Katz at the news conference. “We don’t like being in the position of being opposed to something the governor is doing, but the basic premise is clear here: No one, including a governor, ought to have the right to be able to veto what the citizens of Maine do at the ballot box.”

The bond issues in question have nothing to do with harvesting timber on state lands. Holding up their release clearly is a strong-arm tactic by LePage to force legislative approval of his bill – a tactic Fredette refused to acknowledge. But that didn’t restrain the House leader from his partisan rant. “Sen. Katz’s proposal against the governor is consistent with aspects of what he’s done in the past, which is he wants to fight with the governor,” said Fredette. “We want those bonds to be released. But it’s also important that people be warm in the winter. That’s what the governor cares about. He doesn’t care about scoring political points, like Sen. Katz.”

If anyone is seeking to score political points, it’s Fredette. The governor’s timber harvesting bill should succeed or fail on its own merits. Both Fredette and the governor know that. But so often in politics, if you don’t like the message, the answer is to attack the messenger.

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