I used to live and work as a reporter in Maine, at a time when the state Republican Party considered itself to be a true big tent. Generally, that held true for the Democrats as well. Governing in Maine was all about moderation and competence. You may not have agreed with governors like John McKernan (R) or Angus King (I) or John Baldacci (D), but you knew they weren't going to tank the state.
Then, in 2010, Republican Paul LePage won a three-way race for governor with less than 40 percent of the vote. Life under the Tea Party favorite has not gone so great. Today the New York Times -- far from the capital of Augusta -- homes in on Governor LePage's difficulty dealing with the new Democratic majority in the legislature. LePage has refused to meet with Democratic leaders since December. The NYT reports:
The rising tensions over the budget were evident last week when the governor met with three independent House members who do not caucus with either the Democrats or Republicans. When they told Mr. LePage that municipalities could be forced to raise property taxes by hundreds of dollars, the governor grew angry, pounded the table, called them "idiots" and later swore at them, according to The Bangor Daily News.
"He went right through the roof when I asked him the question," Representative Jeff Evangelos told the newspaper. "He flew up like a jack-in-the-box and ran out of the room and slammed the door."
Governor LePage is notably hot-headed, a style that perhaps works better when your state is not suddenly broke after you cut taxes, and when you're not asking working- and middle-class families to pay more, and when even members of your own Republican Party are saying it's time to raise state taxes on the rich. Today Fitch ratings downgraded Maine's credit, citing "an increasingly contentious decision-making environment." Fitch sounds OK with some of LePage's policies, but the rancor with lawmakers is a no go.
LePage is up for re-election in 2014. The other news in Maine today is that the same independent who finished second last time is again thinking of running, making for another three-way race. A new survey from Public Policy Polling (pdf) shows the unpopular LePage winning in that scenario -- which is why the lefties at Daily Kos are trying to game out some way to talk the independent, Eliot Cutler, out of running. "[H]ope is not a plan, and Democrats will have to find a way to deal with Cutler," writes David Nir. "Perhaps they can terrify him into imagining what another four years of LePage would look like. "
Adding: This afternoon, Governor LePage released this statement about the credit downgrade:
"Fitch's recent announcement notes the budget gap in our welfare system, and this comes to no surprise as the major reason why Maine is downgraded. Without flexibility from the federal government, and growing Medicaid expenses, Maine will continue to be plagued by massive shortfalls in its budgets as a direct result of expanded welfare programs."
Background: While Fitch notes Maine’s slow emergence from recession and oldest median age in the nation as contributing factors to uncertainty about future workforce growth, the rating agency recognizes the Governor’s jobs bill which will pump $700 million into Maine’s economy and pay its debt to hospitals.
Among other positive comments, Fitch credits recent pension reforms to improving Maine’s fiscal outlook. However, the Governor has emphasized more of this kind of structural reform is needed to bring long-term financial stability to the State of Maine.