Do they know something we don’t know? Last week, prior to any public word from Sen. Susan Collins about a bid for the Blaine House, two Republican legislative leaders entered the race.
The first was state Sen. Garret Mason, Senate majority leader from Lisbon Falls. Tragically, no sooner had he announced than his mother, state Rep. Gina Mason, passed away unexpectedly. The election is more than a year away. Mason should take the time he needs to grieve and recover. Campaign season will be there when he is ready. In the meantime, our thoughts are with him.
The other entrant was House minority leader Republican Ken Fredette. Serving his fourth and final term now, he has been leader of the LePage caucus in the legislature, the backstop to every LePage initiative.
The other three caucuses have worked quite well together. Senate President Mike Thibodeau set the tone at his end of the hall, treating minority Democrats with dignity and respect. Think that’s routine? Not so much. Though the rules of the legislative chambers mean public civility, it is often the law of the jungle behind closed doors.
Not so with Thibodeau. He paddled steadily along, avoiding rocks, turbulent water and tree limbs sticking out from the shore. He created an atmosphere of trust that made it possible for the Senate to work well together in the face of a barrage of criticism and vituperation, insult and injury from the governor’s office on the second floor.
House Democrats established a good working relationship with the Senate as well. Speaker Sara Gideon was in tune with Thibodeau’s collegial style. Gideon and Thibodeau worked together to develop a compromise budget to try to avoid a state shutdown.
Then there were the House Republicans. Under Rep. Fredette’s leadership, they stood by Gov. LePage through thick and thin, fingers in the dike, backing him up at every turn. Time after time, they made abrupt, collective U-turns, sustaining gubernatorial vetoes on bills they had supported in enactment votes. They were even willing to hold out on a bipartisan budget deal, resulting in a brief state government shutdown in July.
So Fredette can expect the governor to return the favor and endorse his campaign for governor, right? Um, er … the governor has not been shy about his contempt for the legislature and all those that dwell therein. Though Fredette has positioned himself well to inherit the governor’s base, there is someone who may be in line ahead of him.
That someone is, of course, Mary Mayhew, recently departed commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. If Fredette is a sergeant in the LePage army, Mayhew is a four-star general.
When Mayhew announced her departure from the DHHS last May, the governor described her as having “the fortitude and the competence to finally bring accountability and fiscal responsibility to Maine’s formerly out-of-control welfare system.” Not all that long ago, Mayhew was a Democrat. She has said that she inherited her party affiliation from her father, but it took her until 2014 to shed the label and turn Republican at the age of 49.
Now she is a fiscal hawk of the first order, a posture that has put her in good standing with Maine’s conservative governor but has made her the poster child for Democrats who portray her as a heartless bureaucrat ready to throw the helpless, poor and vulnerable off welfare rolls for the sake of the bottom line.
LePage is not likely to be up all night worrying about any loyalty he may owe Fredette. He has not yet commented on Fredette’s candidacy, but if you are betting that his needle is hovering way over toward the Mayhew side of the dial, you are probably about to win some money. She describes her motivation to run as a desire to protect LePage administration priorities, shielding Mainers from those who want to “tax you and take your hard-earned money to pay for the cost of growing government.”
She has been deeply and consistently in LePage’s wheelhouse, and her campaign is guaranteed to reflect that. She is the rightful heir to LePage voters. But at the risk of seeming indelicate, one must ponder whether Mayhew will be at all hampered by her gender. Maine has not yet had a woman governor, though we have had ample opportunity to see just what a woman can do in high office.
Margaret Chase Smith, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, they are titans in Maine political annals, serving our state and the nation in Congress. But we have yet to have a woman in the Blaine House. Do we care? Would anyone vote on that one factor alone? If they would, the edge goes to Fredette. On all other criteria, he’s toast.
A spreadsheet of possible gubernatorial contenders now includes 37. Those already declared number 16. It will be an election festival of unprecedented variety. Blood pressures will rise. Mud will be slung. The winter will fly by. What could be more fun?