Times Record: Tea party D-day in Maine (June 26, 2013)

While comments that include the words “Vaseline” and “kiss my butt” earn headlines for their astonishing insensitivity, the real stunner is that Maine may be about to let a tea party governor shut down their state government.

While we gnashed our teeth over his latest outragous commentary, Republican Gov. Paul LePage was busy ringing up his 40th veto of legislation passed by solid majorities. He’s now vetoed more bills than any Maine governor in a single session in almost 40 years.

Maine’s $6.3 billion state budget is the biggest one. But the list also includes a bill directing the state to study the effects of climate change, a bill requiring employers to provide accommodations for nursing mothers, a sweeping, bipartisan bill that would keep Maine in the front of the pack of innovation on energy, and a bill that would update requirements for training in CPR.

Could Gov. LePage really be against breast feeding and CPR?

In much the same way minority Republicans in the U.S. Senate are using the filibuster to scuttle progressive legislation, Maine Republicans have upheld all of Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes this session, and GOP minorities in the Senate and House have been able to kill bills favored by legislative majorities by using the two-thirds votes needed in both chambers to override.

That conservatives are engaged in a tyranny of the minority — in Washington and in Augusta — doesn’t surprise anyone these days. Since when did a majority need 67 votes out of 100 to win a policy fight?

Today is D-Day for Maine Republicans. While passage of a budget is one (big) thing, also hanging in the political balance is an energy bill — favored in the House by a whopping 121-11 vote — that encourages natural gas buildout, funds energy efficiency projects and allocates money for heating system conversions.

Lawmakers also have the chance to override the vetoes of a breastfeeding bill (LD 777), tighter campaign finance rules (LD 1023 and LD 1271), a bid to study cancer rates (LD 1032) and a two-year study centered on what steps the state should take in response to climate change (LD 825).

With the exception of the climate change bill, all of these passed with wide, bipartisan majorities.

Democrats hope Republicans will join them in voting to override many of the vetoes.

But in today’s world of obstructionist conservatism, that’s not necessarily going to happen.

LePage says many of the vetoed bills “together … create a significant drain on valuable state resources.” Democrats say the veto spree is standing in the way of hard-won progress earned after hard bargaining in committees among lawmakers of both parties.

If the Legislature fails to override the governor’s budget veto today, the state faces the first government shutdown since 1991 — a prospect every Mainer not affiliated with the tea party should find unacceptable.

State workers won’t be paid. Potholes won’t get filled. Health care services will be denied the most needy. Parks will close.

It sounds like dysfunctional government, yet this is precisely the vision of the tea party minority that is strangling the nation’s politics.

Nowhere will the tea party’s willful obstruction be clearer than in today’s votes in Augusta — on the budget and so many other dinner-table issues.

Will the Maine Republican Party find the courage to repudiate an ideological governor and work together to move Maine forward? Or will they lock up the doors of government and call it a day ?

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