On Maine Politics

May 26, 2013

House GOP approves LePage's vetoes, without fail

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

and Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

Republicans in the Maine House of Representatives have held to a trend so far this legislative session: They've sustained Gov. Paul LePage's vetoes, even if it has meant defeating measures they've previously supported, in some cases unanimously.

It happened again Wednesday, when House Republicans backed the governor's rejection of a bill that would study how the state addresses the housing needs of developmentally disabled residents.

A legislative committee endorsed it in a unanimous vote. It passed the Legislature without dissent. All 55 Republicans in the House voted for it, but they all flipped to sustain LePage's veto.

As a result, Democrats have attacked their political courage. In a statement, Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the bill's sponsor said, "The flip-flop we just witnessed was disgraceful."

In the past, legislative Republicans have stood up to LePage in veto overrides. Notably, at the end of the 2012 legislative session, the Republican-led Legislature overrode his veto of a teacher-training bill.

The same day lawmakers sustained the governor's vetoes of three other bills, including a research and development bond package. But in the House, 20 Republicans voted to override that proposal.

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said he wouldn't question Republicans' courage, but "what you can't question is who's in control of the Maine GOP" — LePage, up for reelection next year.

"That serves the governor's interests really well, but you've got to question how it will impact these legislators," Brewer said. "They've got to come up for re-election in 2014, too."

Who is press?

A reporter working for an alternative news website was asked to leave the floor of the House during floor debate on the hospital repayment-Medicaid expansion bill Tuesday.

Andi Parkinson of the New Maine Times, a Bath-based alternative news site, was asked to leave by House leadership after House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, complained of her presence, according to the site, which said he cited her past writing for a liberal blog.

House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, complied and asked Parkinson to go to the gallery, the site said. But after the vote, Berry and Eves apologized to the New Maine Times. Eves told the site that "clearly this was not our finest hour," assuring that it wouldn't happen again.

The press is part of an exclusive group — composed mostly of members and staffers — allowed on the House floor during debate. Jodi Quintero, a spokeswoman for Eves, said the speaker is the one who interprets the House rules.

From now on, she said Eves will allow representatives of most online-only news sites to be on the floor, regardless of their partisan bent.

"We want to err on the side of transparency," Quintero said.

Running, 'but not really'

A new candidate declared for the 2014 Maine governor's race earlier this month. His motto? "I'm running for governor, but not really."

The hopeful — 57-year-old independent Lee Schultheis of Freeport — is running a particularly tongue-in-cheek campaign for the Blaine House.

Schultheis' campaign website says the "but not really" piece "is about realistically not expecting to win, but rather wanting to focus on improving the dialogue of our broken political process."

"His primary focus is not on winning the election," a campaign press release said. "In fact, he's really not looking for your vote next November at all."

According to the release, Schultheis has lived in Maine for 22 years after a career in the mutual fund industry and is running an entirely self-financed race on an "interactive campaign model" aimed at getting voters out of "common ideological foxholes."

During the campaign, the release said, Schultheis' "sleek 1968 black cherry Camaro" will take him statewide "to harness the momentum of recent grassroots movements."

Tax talk

One of the most important debates of the session could be settled this week: whether legislators will recommend that Maine completely change its tax system.

A Democrat-led proposal and one from the bipartisan "Gang of 11" are still before the Taxation Committee. Both would be hard-pressed to pass.

Democrats should be mostly behind a plan from House Majority Leader Berry that seeks to equalize tax rates between low-, middle- and high-income taxpayers. Republicans assuredly won't go for it. One has to presume that LePage would much less sign it.

The Gang of 11 plan is sweeping. It would create a lower, flat income tax, broaden the sales tax base to include nearly every good and service and provide property tax relief, while aiming to raise more tax revenue from out-of-staters. The group says Mainers would pay less.

But it's been derided by many across the political spectrum. In a TV appearance Friday on WCSH, Eves and Fredette said they wouldn't support it as it stands. Hard-line Republicans say it's a tax hike. Hard-line Democrats say it's terribly regressive. It may end up being neither.

A better answer is expected later this week, when the plan's sponsor, Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, said Maine Revenue Services will provide its first estimates of the plan's sales-, property- and income-tax impact on state taxpayers.

On Friday, Knight expected the gang's assumptions of positive impact on Mainers to be borne out.

If not, "the whole thing falls flat," he said. "I'm guardedly optimistic."

The State House Notebook is reported by Michael Shepherd. Steve Mistler of the State House Bureau contributed.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
mshepherd@mainetoday.com
Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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