Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Bonin: LePage needs a lesson in collaboration

Posted on November 11, 2013 in Perspectives
By Bryan Bonin

LePage thinks that it’s his responsibility to run Maine, not lawmakers’.

Early last week, Governor LePage received a letter signed by 24 Maine Legislative Democrats apprising him that his recent actions in carrying out previous rhetoric, in which he mandated the state of Maine will be governed by him, not by legislative committees, is a breach of the Maine Constitution.  His refusal to allow executive branch employees to testify at committee meetings without his permission is creating less than desirable situations, in which Maine lawmakers are becoming unable to make informed decisions affecting Maine.

This lack of cooperation is nothing new from the LePage administration, as was seen in his response to voiced complaints from Democrats on the Appropriations Committee. The governor told reporters in August that he has instituted a new policy requiring legislative committees to seek his approval before speaking to a department head.  “The previous relationship resulted in an inefficient use of executive branch resources and was disrespectful of the time and work of commissioners and staff,” he said. The governor states that he is exercising professional business practice by keeping the branches from collaborating freely.

Regardless of how inefficient Governor LePage believes it is to use executive branch resources in working with the legislature, collaboration is nonetheless in the best interest of the Maine people.  The governor must recognize his responsibility to contribute to the efficient operation of the government as a whole, rather than the efficiency of just one branch.  Seemingly more important, however, is the fact that the Maine Constitution associates the Legislature and the Governor’s Office as equal branches of government that must collaborate and share information to best serve the people.  One might expect the Chief Executive to fully understand what the Constitution says and the value it holds.

In his recent bid for re-election, Governor LePage made numerous attempts to convince Maine voters that his actions are in the best interest of the Maine people.  By precluding members of his staff from participating in meetings with various legislative committees, the governor is trying to send a message to the Legislature: he is in charge.  In fact the governor even refers to both Maine representatives and senators as his “kids.”  This type of preposterous commentary is in the interest of maintaining the clout of the Governor’s Office and not of the Maine people.

It is the responsibility of Maine’s lawmakers sitting on committees of jurisdiction to make informed policy decisions for the citizens of Maine – an impossible task without the ability to obtain current information in critical areas.  Lacking an efficient method for gathering reliable information regarding the state’s fiscal situation, legislative committees will not be able to maintain a balanced budget and meet obligations to towns, schools and citizens.  Without answers from the Bureau of Insurance, legislative committees cannot move forward with plans to make hospital prices more transparent, so as a result, Mainers will not be overcharged exorbitant amounts for care.  This is a relevant issue during the current transition to Obamacare.

LePage has instituted a policy that mandates: when legislative committees want to speak with a department head, they must go through him first. The governor is abusing his authority by placing  restrictions on members of the legislative branch to run a more efficient executive branch.  If he feels it is inefficient for members of his staff to attend meetings with legislative committees, without his prior knowledge of what is happening, it seems only logical that he should institute a policy change within the executive branch, not the legislative.  Instead, he could instruct  members of his staff to notify him prior to attending a legislative committee meeting, so that he stays informed.

This unconstitutional policy is being claimed as professionalism by the governor, which is something he apparently knows very little about.  It would be great if we could believe the Governor when he tells us that his actions are always in the interest of the Maine people.  We cannot trust him this time, unfortunately.

Bryan Bonin is a senior political science major with a concentration in law.