The LePage Doctrine

Gov. Paul LePage is now the proud owner of a unique record in Maine politics: most bills signed with a veto pen in a single session.

LePage beat the previous record holder, independent Gov. James Longley, by a healthy margin. He even managed to bring some flair to the very notion of the veto, by nixing roughly 30 bills all in rapid succession in what people seem to have begun calling, “veto rampage.”

I’m not so sure LePage was angry at the pieces of paper as he “rampaged” through them, but if it helps Democrats to view the governor red faced, stabbing bills with the sharp end of a red pen, so be it.

For some reason, though, the Maine media seem obsessed with one question: Why so many?

To the guardians of Maine political culture, the idea seems offensive. How dare the governor disagree with the Legislature! It must be political. After all, the Democratic majority in the Legislature would never act politically.

They are used to unassuming, genial politicians occupying the Blaine House. Go-along-to-get-along nice guys, who prefer making friends and making deals with a smile on their face.

LePage has never been that person, and it confounds them and is the source of their dislike for him. He simply isn’t playing the role they believe he should be playing, and they can’t get over that.

The governor made clear his philosophy on governance in a recent statement, quoting President Calvin Coolidge, who said, “It is better to block a bad law than sign a good one.”

That is not at all what the political elite of Maine like to hear. But it is a long overdue point of view in the Blaine House.

You see, undoing a law once it is on the books, much like trying to disassemble a government spending program, is a virtual impossibility. Preventing bad laws that will persist for generations is an important function and is why the veto exists at all.

Partisan Democrats in Augusta sent the governor partisan bills that they knew he would object to and dared him to veto. That makes them culpable, because rather than seeking consensus, they played politics.

LePage is not the first governor to be faced with a hostile Legislature, intent on shoving political bills down his throat, but he is the first since Longley to return the volley.

I personally may have even disagreed with a few of his vetoes (two bills on wiretapping and drones, for instance), but most of the governor’s vetoes were justified and rightfully upheld.

LePage believes something simple, which I am dubbing The LePage Doctrine: You can’t win if you don’t fight, and fighting and losing is preferable to never having fought at all.

In his famous “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, Teddy Roosevelt, our most famously confrontational president, laid out a very similar philosophy:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

LePage’s critics may dismiss this attitude as contrary to the spirit of Maine, and they may believe that it will be responsible for his defeat in 2014.

But that belief misses the fact that he may very well be re-elected because of that attitude.

For every Mainer that is tired of a combative, aggressive governor who isn’t playing nice like he is supposed to, there is a Mainer who believes that the career politicians who were playing nice all that time were abdicating their responsibilities to the people who elected them.

You may not agree with those people, but they exist, and that point of view crosses all political stripes.  If the governor wins his re-election, it will be because of them.

And if he loses, at least he will not be counting himself among those cold and timid souls who never knew victory nor defeat.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.