The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.
Phil: Nice to see Gov. Janet Mills channeling her inner Gov. Paul LePage with all these recent vetoes.
Ethan: Well, she’s a long way from hitting LePage’s record of 642, but this is getting pretty frustrating. Many of the 26 bills she has vetoed so far are longtime Democratic priorities that a majority of Mainers support: campaign finance reform, taxing the rich, banning pesticides, Native American sovereignty, cutting prescription drug prices and criminal justice reform.
Phil: At least when LePage was vetoing bills, it was mostly in response to a divided Legislature. You can understand him feeling that Democrats had leveraged too much in negotiations and his wanting to help Republicans trim those sails.
Ethan: Not to mention when LePage vetoed bills, he often made clear that the veto was coming, especially on the big stuff, before the Legislature completed its deliberations. Mills is vetoing stuff after months and months of hard work by committees, and without clear direction on what she needed to see in order for her to sign it. That’s bad leadership.
Phil: That’s never a good way to govern. In my day, Gov. Angus King vetoed only about five bills a session. And he was always clear that he opposed those bills ahead of time.
Ethan: And King was an independent. Like Gov. Jim Longley, who vetoed 49 bills in one session, King had no party to carry his water and get his priorities passed. So you would expect them to veto more. But Mills and the legislative majority are in the same party!
Phil: Perhaps the best comparison on how she is doing is comparing her pace to Gov. John Baldacci. His entire service was also with one party in control.
Ethan: Ah, those were the days: raised the minimum wage, created community colleges, preserved thousands of acres of land for Baxter State Park, wind power, Dirigo Health and gay marriage. The achievements were endless.
Phil: Not to mention one of the worst economic downturns since the 1980s. Thank goodness LePage got the next eight years to fix all the egregious spending and structural budget deficits.
Ethan: In Baldacci’s tenure, with both chambers in the Legislature under Democratic control, he only vetoed a few bills a session. I don’t know how many Gov. Joe Brennan vetoed when he had one-party rule, but I expect what Mills is doing is unprecedented.
Phil: Do you expect any political fallout?
Ethan: If by fallout you mean a serious Democrat challenging her in a primary, I don’t expect so. (although with clean elections offering almost $1.1 million in campaign funds for a primary…) But I do think her actions will deflate progressives. Portland and South Portland provided her margin of victory in 2018. If we stay home, that is trouble.
Phil: However, if a third-party candidate ran against her, either as a Green or a left-leaning independent, that could peel away enough votes for LePage to get over the hump.
Ethan: Absolutely. LePage may win the 2nd Congressional District by better than Trump’s 2020 margin of 7.7 percent, so she needs Joe Biden numbers in the 1st District. But putting politics aside, it’s just bad governance to let so many bills work their way through the Legislature before you make your position clear.
Phil: Well, I agree with you there. It would be better for all of us if governors would voice their objections while bills are in committee. That way the Legislature could go home by April and all the damage and expense of paying them into July would be avoided! Maybe when LePage gets back to the Blaine House in 2023…