Paul LePage, Maine’s Republican governor and vocalizing blockage in our plumbing, has some new problems. In the Nov. 8 election, voters approved several laws LePage opposes, and unless he decamps to Washington for a job in the Trump administration (secretary of racial profiling?), he’s going to have to enforce them.
Or maybe not. LePage has never felt any great compulsion to follow the will of the people, as shown in his repeated refusals to issue public-lands bonds that were approved at the ballot box by substantial margins. So if he doesn’t want marijuana legalized for recreational use, a higher minimum wage, increased taxes on the wealthy to pay for schools or elections decided by ranked-choice voting, he might use the authority vested in him by … I dunno, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, maybe … to block their implementation.
Take legal pot, for instance. The rules governing how it’s to be grown and sold are supposed to be drafted by LePage’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (motto: Bringing Farmers, Tree-Huggers and Lumberjacks Together In Bureaucratic Harmony). But even before the referendum earned the narrowest of victories, DACF Commissioner Walter Whitcomb told Maine Public Radio, “We’re simply not set up for that.”
If LePage resembled a normal governor, he’d tell Whitcomb to relax, inhale, hold it, hold it a little more and exhale. Once the commissioner felt better, he’d find a way to muddle through the process of regulating weed wholesaling and retailing. After all, that can’t be much more complicated than deciding how many trees to cut down (all of them) or how much habitat for endangered species to preserve (none of it).
But LePage isn’t normal, so it’s all but certain he’ll do everything in his power (and a few things that might not be) to block legal marijuana. In speeches last month, he claimed that if he did what chief executives in several states that have legalized the sticky icky have done and facilitated the creation of a new industry, he’d be breaking federal law and could be impeached. Apparently, he hasn’t noticed that the other governors haven’t had that problem.
Instead, LePage has promised a lawsuit to block ganja sales. While that futile measure drags on for months, Massachusetts and other pro-pot states will be stealing all that psycho-active business – and the accompanying taxes – that could have stayed in Maine.
Speaking of taxes, the referendum imposing a 3 percent surcharge on rich people’s incomes to pay for better schools has exactly no chance of finding its way into the governor’s next budget. While Democrats in the Legislature might try to insert the measure in the spending plan, nearly unanimous GOP opposition would make passage all but impossible. An intense partisan standoff over the issue could easily lead to a state shutdown, just in time for next tourist season.
Before Mainers got around to voting on a minimum wage increase, LePage’s opposition had already slipped the feeble bonds of rationality. He told a Lewiston audience the leaders of that effort “should be sent to jail” for crimes against the elderly because the measure would increase their cost of living. Among the problems with LePage’s idea is that the only way there’d be enough room in the corrections system for all those liberal political activists, is if the state stopped filling up jail cells with pot dealers.
While the guv ponders that conundrum, he can take heart in knowing he has an unlikely ally in his efforts to prevent the state from electing his successor using ranked-choice voting. Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills (who wouldn’t mind being that successor) has stated that using an instant runoff system violates the state constitution, which appears to require winners in races for governor to achieve a mere plurality. A lawsuit seems a certainty, but LePage need do no more than sputter pointlessly, while leaving Mills to do all the legal heavy lifting.
The referendum process is an important part of our democracy, because without it the governor could find himself with a shortage of controversies to occupy his days. If that happened, he might have to do some real work or spend more time lobbying for that job in D.C.
Ignore new laws if you must, but don’t ignore me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.