Maine Republicans are embarrassing themselves
By David Farmer
Many Republicans seem to believe that the greatest threats to Maine are transgender student athletes, prudent budgeting, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Gov. Janet Mills.
They’re wrong on all counts — and embarrass themselves along the way.
Let’s take these issues one at a time.
While she denies that she’s joining a national conservative push to target transgender kids with discriminatory restrictions on health care and athletic participation, the evidence is clear. At least 26 states are considering similar bills.
On Tuesday, Republicans in the Maine State House also put on a fine show, deploring a move by Democrats to pass a baseline two-year budget and remove the possibility of a government shutdown later in the year — during a global pandemic.
Republicans extolled the virtue of bipartisanship and negotiations. But for some of us, we remember clearly how when Republicans were in the majority they passed partisan bills to raise health care costs for older Mainers, strip away voting rights and a budget to reduce spending on Medicaid.
Meanwhile, as Republicans harken back to the good old days of bipartisanship and negotiations, the state Republican Party has a new website called stopmills.com.
“Sign now to join the growing movement to stop Gov. Janet Mills’ destructive policies,” the website reads. “From her ever-changing anti-business policies to wasteful spending and extreme liberal agenda, the people of Maine must band together to say enough is enough!”
“Stop Mills!” is an unusual opening position for Republicans who are committed to good-faith negotiations on the state budget. Seems like their intention is to stop, not negotiate.
Democrats, reading the writing on the walls (and maybe on the web), recognized the danger of empowering Republicans with the ability to shut down state government as the state tries to recover from COVID-19 and its fallout. They passed a reasonable and, dare I say, conservative budget on Tuesday.
The next step will be for the Legislature to consider additional budgetary matters. For those keeping score at home, at any time Democrats and Republicans can pass a budget with two-thirds support to replace the budget passed on Tuesday — if they can reach an agreement.
Tuesday’s action just ensures that come July 1, Republicans won’t — once again — shutdown the government.
Over the weekend, Maine Republican Party leadership showed good sense and rejected an effort to censure their most powerful and popular member of their party, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
As the Bangor Daily News reported, the state party committee voted 41-19 to reject the idea. Common sense prevailed.
For about two days.
Then a band of Republicans from Aroostook County, Collins’ place of origin, decided that wasn’t good enough. On Tuesday — as Republicans in Augusta were doing their best to burnish their bipartisan bona fides — former Caribou legislator John DeVeau announced that about 25 members of the party were forming their own caucus in protest.
The group’s press release, posted on Facebook, says that the new break-away caucus includes at least six county chairs, several sitting legislators and state committee members.
As Newscenter Maine reported, DeVeau says they want to hold Collins accountable and they want to work with Republican legislators in Augusta in part to hold Mills accountable for her COVID-19 policies.
Highly critical of Mills and her administration’s efforts to curtail Covid-19, Republicans also pushed several bills to limit the governor’s authority in an emergency. Those efforts failed, too. Lawmakers, like most Mainers, recognize that Mills’ steady leadership has kept a worse catastrophe at bay.
There are reasonable, thoughtful Republicans in the state party and in the Legislature. They work to find compromise with Democrats in places where they might agree. They don’t take up the pitchforks of the culture wars. And while they are conservative, they have shown that they can be trusted to negotiate in good faith with Democrats who have much different priorities.
What they haven’t shown is that they can bring enough of their fellow party members along to pass a budget or bonds with two-thirds support.
Democrats did the right thing. Maine government won’t be held hostage this summer. Republicans — if they want — can still negotiate a new budget.
Of course, that wouldn’t “Stop Mills.” When people tell you what they want to do, believe them.
David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.