Seeing the big picture

To the Editor:

As Islander readers probably know, two unprecedented proposals came before the Maine House last week for our consideration, a Resolution to affirm our state’s values and principles, which I voted for, and which passed by a vote of 81-65, and an order to create a committee to investigate impeachment, which I voted against and which failed by a vote of 52-96.

Both initiatives came forward in response to rising public concern about the statements and actions of Governor Paul LePage, whose pattern of behavior seems increasingly abhorrent to what many see as Maine’s temperate values.

He was re-elected in 2014 with the support of nearly 300,000 Maine voters – who presumably understood this governor’s temperament and disposition. This same behavior also has prompted more than 20,000 Mainers to sign a petition asking the governor to resign.

Clearly, the governor is content to be a polarizing political figure. Further, he has made plain his disinterest in working collaboratively with the legislative branch of government. The evidence suggests that an agenda to constrain public services capitalizes on the governor’s provoking the legislature towards partisan gridlock.

From national politics, we know where this strategy leads. I am confident that a majority of Maine citizens have a different vision for the public sphere in this state.

In their collective wisdom, Maine voters elected a polarizing governor, a Senate with a Republican majority, and a House with a Democratic majority.

Intended or not, this means that the legislature can act only with painstaking respect for differing values and concerns.

In this structure, it should be no surprise that, with his disdain for negotiation, the governor has had no real success with any legislative policy initiatives for the past three years. Every budget and essentially every successful bill now is enacted via hard-earned bipartisan coalitions overriding the governor’s veto.

At the culmination of this past year’s session, bipartisan support in the legislature enacted 191 bills and 141 budget lines over the objections of the governor.

As cooler heads prevail for the stability of the state, the governor’s frustration regularly boils over in increasingly rash acts and ill-tempered characterizations.

In such circumstance, surely the responding public anger is understandable, and discussion becomes inevitable about what the legal threshold should be for the governor’s removal.

Not surprisingly, especially in an election year, Democrats and Republicans view this threshold very differently, and neither harangue nor sermon is likely to alter that condition.

Short of incontrovertible crime, the Republican minority in the House will never find reasonable grounds to impeach and the Republican majority in the Senate will never find sufficient justification to remove the governor from office.

Therefore any effort at impeachment in the face of this certain opposition will inevitably be characterized by the governor and his loyal base as driven by political enemies seeking partisan advantage.

Moreover, this sort of battle is a narrative frame which the governor relishes and believes confers him the greatest authority. In short, the governor seems most sure of himself when he is in a scrap.

So, given the practical futility of any legislative effort to remove the governor from office, the question is what course of action is likely to produce the best result for the state.

Advocates for impeachment argue that without condemnation, the governor’s behavior will only worsen and cause greater embarrassment to the state.

But I believe that the governor is wholly comfortable with Democratic condemnation and indeed defines himself by it at any opportunity.

Further, I believe that the governor would welcome the division inherent in impeachment as an opportunity to repair his relations with Republican legislators damaged over the past year and to stall any remaining initiatives for collaborative improvements of public policy.

Having effectively marginalized himself through his own intransigence in the legislative process, I believe the governor now would find substantial satisfaction in fracturing the two legislative bodies into equivalent mutual irrelevance. That would mire Maine in the same political dysfunction that currently marks national politics.

Any categorically futile effort to remove the governor from office will only embolden him and empower long-term legislative divisions.

That outcome might serve the governor’s agenda but I believe it risks great harm to Maine.

Difficult as the current circumstance is, I believe the state is better served with the governor remaining marginalized while an undistracted legislature reengages in the difficult work of building a common ground to move the state forward for the greater prosperity for all.

Understanding that not everyone will agree, I wanted to explain the reasoning that led me to my votes last week.

Rep. Brian Hubbell

Bar Harbor


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