There is only one thing that can stop the Republicans from making significant legislative progress this session.
As it stands right now, the party holds the governorship, the most powerful office in Maine. They hold the Senate President’s office, the second most powerful position in state government. And in the state House, the Democratic grip on the House is razor thin, with a more or less unified, cohesive Republican caucus standing against it, and a significant number of the Democrats residing in districts also won by Donald Trump last year. Opportunities abound.
This all means that if the Republicans decide to all push the metaphorical rock uphill, together, they can actually get it up the hill and dictate the agenda passed in this Legislature.
Ultimately, it is about leverage. The Republicans have a lot of it, if they want to use it.
In the last two legislative sessions, the massive power enjoyed by the Republicans was essentially squandered because of infighting. The Blaine House, the state Senate, and the House Republicans could never get together and push in the same direction, and in many instances were actually pushing in opposite directions.
I’m not interested in placing blame. We could have a protracted debate over who’s fault it was and why. But that is, to be perfectly blunt, entirely irrelevant. What matters is that Republicans were not all on the same team — whatever the reason — and as a result were not exerting their considerable leverage together.
They can fix that this session, and they are about to be provided an opportunity. The governor’s budget is about to be released, and it’s certain to kick off a protracted battle in the Legislature over everything from tax rates to department-level spending.
My question to the members of the Republican caucus in both chambers of the Legislature is simple. What, exactly, do you stand for? Why are you in Augusta? What do you want to do there? Why did you decide to run for office?
Put aside last year’s election, the referendums, what you think is possible, and what your constituents want or don’t want. What do you believe in?
I’m sure you have an agenda and know why you’re there. It may or may not be largely similar to what the governor wants, but I’m sure you have big ideas you hope to accomplish and real things you believe in.
The trouble so often seen in government is that those things you believe in, and those big ideas you passionately want to advocate for, get lost in the day-to-day meatgrinder of committee hearings, constituent service, expert testimony, and lobbyist dinners.
It can often seem as if you are bogged down by the smallness of the job and lose sight of the bigness.
Well, this is an absolutely critical time in state government, and I challenge you to maintain your sight on the bigness. If nothing else mattered around you, what would you believe in? What would taxes be? What would spending be?
You are a leader. So lead.
Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, a French politician who was involved in the July Revolution of 1830, once (supposedly) remarked, “There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.”
Don’t fall into that trap. Realize that you are charged with governing this state responsibly, and making lasting, positive change for the benefit of all Mainers. Leadership is often about taking difficult positions that are sometimes in conflict with mass opinion, and showing voters why they should agree with you.
Let those big ideas be your guideposts and drive what you do in Augusta. Get together with the other members of your party across legislative houses and the executive branch, and collectively decide what those bold ideas are, and then work in unison for their benefit.
That doesn’t mean nibbling along the edges and trying to, as you sigh under your breath in a growing depression, make bad things less bad. It doesn’t mean trying to do “a little good” where you can.
You believe in a better Maine. Dream big, then follow the advice of Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, and “attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
Make it your undying mission to accomplish those goals. You believe in what you believe in for a reason. Act like it, and make those big ideas actually happen. Don’t back off.
There is no more critical time for that than right now.