Know what you're doing

Governors: listen to your legislators
By AL DIAMON  |  November 11, 2010

Any idiot can be governor.

I'm not saying Republican Governor-elect Paul LePage is such an idiot. But if it turns out he is, it's comforting to know that it won't make much difference. There are people already in place in Augusta who are qualified to handle the operation of state government until LePage either figures it out or gets bounced from office in 2014.

They're veteran GOP legislators.

They know how the system operates. They understand the pitfalls that await State House newbies. They can make even an idiot in the Blaine House look good. Or, at least, adequate.

But they don't necessarily have to.

If LePage listens to key legislators in his party, treats them with respect, and follows through on their advice, he can probably accomplish much of his agenda of reducing spending and lowering taxes. On the other hand, if he ignores them, denigrates them, or attempts to bluster his way through conflicts he doesn't understand (in other words, if he acts like the late independent governor Jim Longley), he's in for an unproductive four-year term and a rapid return to obscurity.

To date, LePage has relied on his average-guy persona, blunt comments, and a marked indifference to the finer points of complex policy matters to win over the Tea Partiers and other disaffected yokels with lots of complaints about government, but no clue how to address them. Now, he needs to get real.

In order to pass even the most routine legislation, the new governor will have to learn to interact with experienced politicians. These pols come equipped with sizable egos and agendas of their own, agendas that may not match up with LePage's.

Republican stalwarts such as state senators Kevin Raye and Richard Rosen (respectively, the next Senate president and chair of the Appropriations Committee) know that it's one thing to promise a smaller state government and another to explain to their constituents why there's no longer a motor vehicles office or an agricultural extension service representative in their district. Cutting state services is as much an exercise in political pragmatism as finances.

Longtime GOP legislators such as state representatives Paul Davis or Robert Nutting (top contenders to be the new speaker of the House) understand that passing bills takes more than motivating the majority party. It also requires fending off the likes of Democratic state Representative John Martin and his mastery of procedural maneuvers that can turn any bill into roadkill.

This ain't Waterville City Hall, where LePage claims he learned all about politics. This is a bigger stage, with more adept actors and a lot more stage directions.

Several people familiar with LePage's thinking have expressed some alarm at his naïve belief that Republicans in the House and Senate will do what he tells them, which — if he had his way — would be to sit down, shut up, and vote the way he tells them. Unfortunately for the newly elected governor, life in the State House doesn't work that way.

Regardless of party affiliation, legislators generally take seriously the constitutional checks and balances among the three branches of government. In practical terms, that means GOP legislators expect to be courted before they'll support the plans put forth by any governor, even one of their own party. If LePage attempts to issue marching orders, he'll find himself ignored.

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