Maine’s Sensible Republicans

Tea-party backed Governor Paul Le Page has sure grabbed headlines since taking office.   He recently made the Colbert Report and Daily Show (not his first mentions on either) for the removal of a “pro-labor” mural from the Department of Labor.  “Where are the bosses?”  he asked, claiming that “both sides” should be honored by a mural.   When told there may be protesters he said he’d “laugh at the idiots.”    Now it appears Maine might have to repay $60,000 of federal funds used for the mural if it isn’t displayed; is this the best way to spend Maine’s tax dollars?

Le Page has made some solid arguments about the problems facing Maine, and a switch of the Governorship and legislature to the GOP is not a bad thing.   Good democratic governance requires transfers of power to keep ideas fresh, leaders on their toes, and assure accountability.

Le Page’s comments and his brusque anti-labor pro-business approach to regulations, the environment and taxes had already aroused Maine’s democratic base.   Yet the Republicans have a chance to show they can govern and make reforms the Democrats had been unable to make.   Fearing that the Governor’s rhetoric and attitude threaten that, some of Maine’s top Republican lawmakers co-signed an op-ed entitled “Tired of Diversions from Government by disrespect.” In the piece they criticize Governor Le Page and call for a more civil dialogue.

They are careful to note that they are not opposed to Le Page’s policies.   I saw him speak on campus last week, a guest of adjunct professor Tom Saviello, a Republican State Senator and one of the co-signatories on the op-ed.   The governor defended his positions in a rational manner, using humor (often self-deprecating) well.   There were numerous points I disagreed with, but I also found he made sense on others.   He refrained from the kind of outburst that makes the news, and even looked rather dignified when a protester — an older woman, obviously not a UMF student — snuck in (it was not an open event) and yelled “tax the rich!”   She was removed, and in contrast students asked polite but often very critical questions about Le Page’s policies.    Political discourse as it should be.

The letter displays a desire to keep the Maine tradition of respectful disagreement.  It condemns the idea that opponents should be belittled, ridiculed or mocked.   That isn’t the tradition of Maine politics, nor does it reflect how the two parties have done business over the years.     People of diverse opinions should be given respect; politics is about debate and compromise.   The Governor’s outbursts give red meat to the tea partiers, which may be fine in an election, but actually undermine his position when he’s governing a state.  He won the election with 39% of the vote as the opposition was divided (both to his left), the politics of governing require more than appeasing the base.

Le Page is also not a career politician, he’s been a ‘boss,’ meaning he’s used to being able to say what he wants and not worrying much about the consequences.     While some think it’s refreshing to hear such blunt ‘off the cuff’ language, many Republicans believe it is pushing independents into the Democratic camp and risking a severe backlash in 2012.   Le Page isn’t up for re-election then, but many Republicans fear losing their legislative majorities (just won last year).   Moreover, I think they are motivated by a personal desire to see civility in state government.    Let Wisconsin have the legacy of Joe McCarthy, Maine has Margaret Chase Smith (the first Republican Senator to actively denounce McCarthy).

The state of Maine isn’t in crisis, but as an aging state with recession induced budget shortfalls and too much debt, there are challenges.    Each party has policies reflecting not just ideas but also interests.  The Republicans and Democrats both have to avoid angering groups that support them.   That’s what makes compromise so important, it’s a way for the two sides to break with core interest groups but with cover — ‘we’d have liked to do more but this is the best we could do.’

In the rest of the country it appears a kind of political pathology has overcome people – it is seen as somehow virtuous and “principled” to refuse to compromise and to see politics as a kind of ideological jihad rather than a way to solve problems by considering a variety of opinions.   Compromise is derided as weak, moderates are seen as “unable to decide.”   Such a position is a perversion of politics, one dangerous to democracy.   It’s emotion trumping reason, with people often taking their positions on issues via cues from the political media.

Maine has stood out with leaders both in Washington and at home who defy that attitude with a pragmatic common sense disregard for rigid ideology.    This has been due to people on both sides of the aisle showing respect and recognizing they all want what’s best for the state and their communities.   Governor Le Page’s style has put that in jeopardy.    The Republican op-ed ends with confidence that Le Page will shift tone and move forward.    He and the Republicans have an opportunity to show Maine what their ideas might mean for the state.  The Governor will only hurt himself and his party if he can’t find a way to adjust to the demands of his office.

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  1. #1 by Josh on April 4, 2011 - 22:50

    I agree about LePage. I voted for him, but he needs to have more respect for those he disagrees with.

  2. #2 by brucetheeconomist on April 5, 2011 - 17:30

    It seems like this also illustrates making a symbolic issue a major bone of contention while real substantial issues are not dealt with.

    A good pol makes concession on symbols to achieve substance. This seems like stirring up a controversy for sake of controversy and maybe ultimately losing on substance.

    • #3 by Scott Erb on April 5, 2011 - 19:36

      Exactly! He got nothing “real” from this, but it’s mobilized state Democrats, hurt his popularity and may cost the state $60,000 to remove. It was politically inept.

  3. #4 by classicliberal2 on April 5, 2011 - 19:23

    I have no use at all for the worship of “moderation” offered in institutions like the corporate press, and I don’t see any connection between it and pragmatism. People disagree, often strongly, and the only time a nations’ politics don’t reflect this is under authoritarian rule. I’m considered a raving lefty, and I don’t dispute the characterization, but I’m not the liberal counterpart to some teabagger loon. I’m not trapped in any sort of ideological vice–I’m a pragmatist. Pragmatism isn’t about trying to get along. It’s about finding what works.

    On the matter of health care, to use a much-discussed example, a single-payer approach works. It delivers better service and at a lower cost. It is a pragmatic solution. Obama’s approach, on the other hand, was to adopt an industry-friendly Republican plan that doesn’t fix a single problem in existing health care, makes many of them much worse, and has extraordinarily negative effects. Among the latter, it puts the entrenched interests–those who have made such a mess of health care in the first place–on the public dole. It makes them invincible. If it’s allowed to stand, there will have to be a complete collapse of health care before any further effort at reform will even be possible. It kept the industry from fighting the legislation, as Obama hoped, but the industry was the problem–if they’re not fighting the solution, it isn’t a solution at all. Republican support failed to materialize, as everyone–except, apparently, Obama–knew would happen, because it’s more politically advantageous to Republicans to oppose everything he does.

    There’s no “pragmatism” in any of this. It is, in fact, anti-pragmatic. Democrats had to pass it without a single Republican vote, and could have just as easily have passed single-payer the same way.

    I don’t mind rough-and-tumble politics, so I’m not as big on “respectful disagreement” as I am on genuine disagreement. I refuse to see passion in politics as a problem. Where we go into the ditch over and over again is with Bubble People thinking–the idea that everyone is entitled to their own facts, rather than merely their own opinion. This “thinking” is a problem everywhere it crops up, but it is all but omnipresent on the political right, today (rather than being the marginal problem it was in the past) and, as a consequence, I consider it to be one of the major problems facing our democracy. It has made genuine disagreement almost impossible. I can say I strongly disagree with Barack Obama, and I can expound at length on all the reasons why. A righty loon just as strongly disagrees, but when he starts listing why, it’s because he thinks Obama is a rage-filled Kenyan Muslim Bolshevik with an anti-colonial attitude he genetically inherited from his father, and who hates America, is trying to destroy capitalism, has raised taxes through the roof, goes on lavish vacations abroad that cost a big chunk of the GDP, and wants to use government death-panels to kill old people. And on and on. It’s a tidal-wave of complete bullshit that makes the literal wave that hit Japan look tame by comparison. Any legitimate, real-world grounds for disagreement found churning around in it are entirely coincidental. Utter contempt is the healthy reaction to this by any healthy mind of any political persuasion, and belittling, ridiculing, and mocking it is not only entirely appropriate, but, indeed, essential. A responsible citizen can’t sit idly by while essential public policy is made by people with no grasp of reality.

    So I guess I’m not really disagreeing with what you’ve written so much as I’m adding caveats to it.

    • #5 by Scott Erb on April 5, 2011 - 19:33

      I’d also point out that we’re talking Maine state politics here, which has had a history of the two parties working together and avoiding extremes. For the most part Maine state politics has not fallen to the level of national (or Wisconsin) politics, in large part because our Republicans are usually not the kind you describe.

      • #6 by classicliberal2 on April 6, 2011 - 18:07

        I don’t know how Le Page is playing inside the state, but from the outside, he’s coming across as a complete buffoon, and perfectly representative of the national politics–a guy who hires his own daughter, who had no real experience, for a government job that gives her nearly $70,000/year; makes a big, public show of refusing to attend MLK Day and of telling his black constituents “they can kiss my butt”; who doesn’t just take down that mural you’re talking about, but renames all of the conference rooms named after famous labor leaders (and the one named after a woman). Looking at his big “victory” (he “won” by losing over 60% of the vote), I would say Maine badly needs a run-off system. And a sewage treatment plant leading up to the governor’s mansion.

  4. #7 by Scott Erb on April 7, 2011 - 02:15

    LePage is turning people off left and right (literally) in Maine. He not only won the election because the opposition was split, but he was a long shot in the GOP primary. He won that with less than 40% because he got the hard core conservative base in his camp while the rest of the GOP split their vote between a number of other candidates. It was a shocker to the Maine Republican party. Now he’s finding that they aren’t going to roll over and let him “lead” them. I think the GOP here is worried that they have their first chance in decades to govern — and prove to the state they are reasonable — and Le Page threatens to ruin that. He certainly has motivated Democrats!

  1. Symbols over Substance is a bad idea | Brucetheeconomist's Blog

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