June 17, 2011

BILL NEMITZ: Dear Governor: Get 'er done

Signing The

Dear Gov. LePage,

Some people have suggested I not bother you right now, seeing as the Legislature just dropped its $6 billion biennial budget on your desk and the whole state is waiting breathlessly to see how you're going to handle your first truly pivotal moment as Maine's chief executive.

But as you peruse the spending package approved Thursday by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate and decide whether to veto all of it, parts of it or simply get out your ceremonial pen and sign the darned thing, I thought I might reach out to you with a few words of inspiration from an oft-quoted American cultural icon.

No, I'm not talking about the venerable Mark Twain, although he did once say, "Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

Nor am I invoking your fellow Republican Abraham Lincoln, who once mused, "Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?"

No, Governor, I'm talking about Larry the Cable Guy.

That's right, at this ever-so-delicate moment, we turn to the modern-day everyman who's endeared himself to millions of Americans (including more than a few Mainers) with his ever-so-simple secret to success: "Get 'er done!"

I've got to tell you, Governor, that phrase has been rattling around my head ever since I sat in on two telephone chats this week between this newspaper's editorial board and legislative leaders -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- to hear how our lawmakers managed to pass this budget without the political meltdown many had feared.

Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the often-passionate House minority leader, admitted that her caucus still "hates" the budget's $153 million in tax cuts because it considers the cuts too weighted toward the wealthy. That said, 52 of the House's 71 Democrats, in the end, took a deep breath and lined up behind it.

"At the end of the day, there's no question that (Democrats') mark was on this budget," said Cain. "This budget has really become the Legislature's budget. I'd say it's a pretty fair balance of both sides of the political aisle."

Over on the Republican side, Rep. Patrick Flood of Winthrop -- who gets my vote as the Legislature's MVP this season for his conscientious co-chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee -- said the panel's unanimous votes on virtually all matters budgetary were, from the very beginning, by design.

"My belief was you can only do this if you trust one another," said Flood. The budget process, he added, was "not so much pitting one thing against another -- it was, 'How can we help each other?'"

Hear that, Governor? R's and D's working together, day after exhausting day, to find common ground.

How's that for gettin 'er done?

Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry spoke at length about how the Republicans, having suffered in the minority so long, resolved early on that "we'd treat our Democratic counterparts with respect and have an inclusive budget process."

No argument there from Sen. Dawn Hill of York, the only Democratic senator on the Appropriations Committee.

The Republican majority, Hill noted, "really wanted to hear what we had to say. They really brought us to the table as full partners -- and I think that was an important role."

Make that a critical role. Without the determination by leaders on both sides to insulate this budget from the partisan skirmishes that have punctuated this session (health insurance reform, voter rights, vernal pools, to name but a few), the two-year spending package would never have sailed to enactment on votes of 123-19 by the House and 29-5 by the Senate.

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