The Universal Notebook: A dictatorship of the Republican minority

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There has been a lot of finger-pointing lately by Republicans seeking to blame Democrats for the fact that the state Legislature left a lot of work on the table when it adjourned May 2. Gov. Paul LePage and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, both wrote guest editorials blaming Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, for the Legislature’s failure.

“I don’t feel the need to defend myself against false accusations,” Gideon said when I talked to her last week about the unfinished business in Augusta.

Well, I do.

The attacks on Gideon by LePage and Fredette are textbook examples of the third grade “I know you are but what am I?” rhetoric of the new right. Whatever Republicans are guilty of, they accuse Democrats of: failure of leadership, failure to fund essential services, failure to extend the session or call a special session are all things Republicans blame Gideon for – yet they themselves are to blame.

Typically, appropriations bills get voted on at the very end of a legislative session, and in recent years that has often meant in an extended session. This year, Republicans in the house refused to support an extension and then tried to blame Gideon.

LePage tried to make the lame argument that the Legislature wouldn’t have had to extend the session if Gideon hadn’t had lawmakers in session for less than two hours at times. That’s a cynical ruse. LePage knows that early in a legislative session there is little for representatives to do until bills are referred to committees. The short workdays he refers to took place in January and February as bills were being referred to committee, where the real work began.

LePage and Fredette both know this very well, but they claimed that Gideon was playing games with the schedule. In fact, it was LePage and Fredette playing power games that kept the Legislature from completing its work.

What we are seeing in Maine is a new dictatorship of the Republican house minority. They refused to extend the session to complete their work as a way of extracting concessions from Democrats. Republicans refused to vote to extend the session and conclude the appropriations work, because LePage and Fredette figured out that holding the Legislature and the people of Maine hostage was a way for the minority to achieve equality with the majority.

No one ever said Republicans weren’t devious.

Then LePage and Fredette tried to thwart the will of the Maine people by saying they would only support the Medicaid expansion that Maine voters approved if Democrats slowed down the increases in the minimum wage that Maine voters also approved.

Medicaid expansion is the law of the land in Maine, but LePage keeps saying, “Show me the money.” He refuses to act on providing health insurance to 70,000 Maine citizens until the Legislature tells him how to fund expansion without raising taxes. That’s not his call. But that money is already in the biennial budget enacted in 2017.

“We don’t need to appropriate any new funds until June 2019,” Gideon said.

LePage’s most outrageous charge is that “Speaker Gideon would rather throw the elderly out on the street and raise taxes on hard-working Mainers than give a Republican-backed bill a win.”

This hypocritical nonsense comes from a man who is personally responsible for the state mental hospital losing federal funding, for 70,000 Mainers going without health insurance, and for hundreds of people dying of opioid overdoses while he held up making life-saving antidote drugs more widely available.

Both LePage and Fredette made disingenuous demands for Gideon to call a special session and get the Legislature back to work. But they know darn well if she couldn’t get 31 Republican votes to go into an extended session, there’s no way she is going to get the 35 Republican votes necessary to go into a special session.

My guess is that Gideon and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, will find a way to get a special session approved, but it will necessarily involve some concessions to the GOP obstructionists.

Minority Republicans are playing games with the lives of Maine people. The truth is that the Legislature did not complete its business, leaving schools, hospitals, nursing homes, jails, Medicaid expansion and transportation bonds hanging, because Republicans oppose the will of the Maine people to expand Medicaid coverage and raise the minimum wage. A refusal to go into an extended session is the leverage they are using to try to get their own way.

And the architects of this dictatorship of the minority are a pair of self-important bully boys named Paul LePage and Ken Fredette.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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