To the Editor:
Maine Democratic Party advertisements have been popping up all over the Internet, even on conservative sites, with menacing pictures of our governor under such slogans as “Help Us Fight the LePage Agenda.” Three things seem clear from this from this phenomenon.
First, these wholesale Internet ads are cheap. Second, the Democrats are committed to negative campaigning. Third, Maine’s Democrats are running against Paul LePage in 2012, even though he is not running again until 2014.
I predicted as much to the governor in August 2011 and found he already expected it. I foresaw this because the Democrats’ candidate for the District 121 special election at that time was distributing a hand-out that attacked the governor by name in three places while making no mention at all of Nancy Thompson, her Republican opponent.
But what do the Democrats mean by the “LePage Agenda?” That has yet to be made clear. The governor’s agenda, shared with varying degrees of intensity by the GOP legislators, has been clear from the start: It features regulatory rationalization and simplification; welfare reform; competition in the health insurance market; tax reduction; reduced energy costs; administrative efficiency; paying the hospitals money owed by the state; and improved educational performance.
The GOP legislators have made progress on all these fronts, except energy cost reduction.
The voters are left in the dark about what parts of this “infamous” agenda distresses the Democrats. We haven’t heard that they wish to restore the income tax to its previous levels. They are not proposing to restore the heads of the Maine Turnpike and Housing authorities to their posts. Their defense of our dysfunctional welfare system is confused and half-hearted at best. They are not saying that health insurance competition is a bad thing. We have heard no calls to halt payments owed the hospitals. There’s no indication that they yearn to wipe out the regulatory reforms.
Do the Democrats want the Governor to abandon his push to stamp out domestic violence? Doubtful. Some Democratic legislators, like the District 121 victor, seem anxious to stifle the charter schools before they are even up. This could be a bit awkward for them.
Some people besides me may remember that Eliot Cutler virtually began his independent campaign for governor in 2010 by condemning the Maine Democratic Party as a tool of special interests, singling out the Maine Education Association and its frantic opposition to charter schools. Is the Maine Democrats’ agenda simply to oppose Paul LePage’s agenda while leaving all the changes enacted by the Republican legislature intact? There’s no clear evidence to the contrary.
And what is the governor’s agenda except to intensify and extend the reforms already enacted? So we appear to have a situation where the Democrats have accepted all the changes made by the Republicans as the new status quo, which they are now tacitly committed to defending unchanged. You might expect them to be a little embarrassed at accepting a long list of reforms—which they neglected to enact when they ran the show. But, then, immunity to embarrassment is always an asset to practical politicians.
In reality, the talk of an agenda is a misdirection. The Democrats’ strategy centers on attacking our governor’s personality and blunt style, which some voters find lacking in refinement and gentility. Since their objective is to regain control of the legislature, they now have an ad running attacking five GOP senators for “rubber-stamping” this alleged agenda.
The five targets include Sen. Farnham, who signed a letter critical of the governor, and Sen. Rector, who stands out among his Republican colleagues for his opposition to some of the governor’s initiatives. Some of the targeted senators voted for bills the governor vetoed. All voted with a large number of Democrats on some of the bills LePage signed.
The reason these five senators are being accused of guilt-by-association is that the Democrats’ polling show that they are vulnerable. The ads offer no reason to vote for their respective opponents and no hint of what their party proposes to do differently or what enactments they wish to reverse.
As I’ve said, immunity to embarrassment is a valuable asset for practical politicians.
Professor John Frary
Professor Frary is a former US Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at: email@example.com.