AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - In a story Feb. 6 about the relationship between the governor and lawmakers, The Associated Press misspelled the first name of house speaker in some versions of the story. She is Sara Gideon, not Sarah Gideon.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Big issues at stake as LePage, lawmakers bicker
The Maine legislature’s only been back to work for a month, and already lawmakers and Republican Gov. Paul LePage aren’t getting along
By MARINA VILLENEUVE
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine’s Republican governor has rarely gotten along with a Legislature he says is too beholden to egoism and lobbyists, but their latest battles have stalled progress on key issues this legislative session and led to confusion.
Most recently, Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon clashed over the roll-out of the marijuana law. A battle over a new secure psychiatric residence got heated in December before the session even began.
“It’s really exhausting to always be dealing with politics when we’re talking about treatment,” said Simonne Maline, executive director of the Consumer Council System of Maine, a state-funded advocacy group for people with mental illness.
Maline said that as legislators have called for public oversight of a new psychiatric residence, the LePage administration has not responded to the group’s own requests for information.
“It’s gotten worse, especially over the last year and a half,” Maline said.
LePage’s office and the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on her concerns.
The last six years of LePage’s time as governor has been marked by fights over welfare reform, a few calls for his impeachment and former Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves’ unproven allegations that LePage abused his authority.
Last year, the governor sent legislators a letter deriding “socialists, career politicians and their allies in media” and left a Democratic legislator an expletive-laced voicemail calling him a socialist.
LePage began his last two-year legislative session making a New Year’s resolution to not pick on individual legislators. That didn’t last.
The governor recently suggested Maine needs a new form of government and he has taken to radio and social media to question Gideon’s experience.
LePage and Gideon have been at odds over the state’s recent roll-out of marijuana legalization, with both sides warning the other’s actions would let kids smoke marijuana. LePage and top legislators agreed state liquor officials should regulate retail marijuana, but Gideon said she wanted a public hearing on the matter.
LePage waited until the evening of Jan. 27 to sign the law making clear that children can’t smoke pot, and on Monday signed an executive order making the regulatory change and halting the marijuana rule-making process until legislators appropriate funds.
Meanwhile, the LePage administration hasn’t released details of its latest proposal for a psychiatric residence freeing up needed mental health beds.
Gideon said she thought she and LePage reached an agreement on the residence during a December meeting. But the governor later said he’d rather move the building from Augusta to Bangor, where he claims he won’t need legislative approval, despite Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills’s contrary advice.
“It really changed my ability to trust him and believe that anything we talk about will really have the results we had planned,” Gideon said.
But LePage said Gideon reneged on the agreement: “If we are to work together during the rest of this legislative session, Speaker Gideon will have to work hard to earn my trust,” he recently said on Facebook.
Maline said the discord has confused state psychiatric patients.
“It’s their lives and they need to be part of the process,” she said. “And we’ll keep fighting for that.”
Still, there are some signs of a turnaround.
For starters, the governor is set to discuss the elderly in a formal address Tuesday, after a one-year hiatus from the longstanding tradition. LePage also took the rare step of speaking in defense of his supplemental budget last month, and agreed to answer questions at a committee hearing regarding the psychiatric residence as long as it’s not “the usual dog-and-pony show.”
Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette said all four legislative leaders met last month with LePage, who’s invited Republicans and Democrats over to the Blaine House after Tuesday’s address.
“I see that as a very significant change in tone and willingness,” Fredette said.
LePage also is touting good relations with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, whom he recently called “not the problem.”
Jackson said he’s glad their relationship is a “little bit different” now, but said he’ll keep fighting for issues like property tax relief during negotiations over LePage’s budget proposal.
“When we stake out a position and don’t want to listen to anyone else, that’s not good government regardless of who it is,” Jackson said.
Gideon said she doesn’t follow LePage’s comments about legislators, but said past actions show he’s uninterested “in a collaborative relationship.” She expects the Legislature will continue to work around LePage.
“If he changes his mind and wants to work with me, we’re going to be here doing our work,” she said
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