Maine’s governor is just vetoing everything now

The Portland Press Herald reports the latest on the escalating state of siege in the Maine government right now as controversial Gov. Paul LePage blocks just about every piece of legislation coming out of the state legislature, even when they had strong bipartisan support:

LePage initially said he would veto all bills sponsored by Democrats because they refused to support a constitutional amendment to eliminate the income tax. Democrats said the governor has failed to come up with a plan to replace the revenue that would be lost.

Then the governor said he would veto all bills sent to his desk, regardless of the party of the sponsor, because lawmakers “wasted” time coming up with a budget the governor didn’t like. In retaliation, he said, he would waste their time.
[…]
Lawmakers are returning Tuesday to consider whether to override more of LePage’s vetoes. He has vetoed well over 100 bills so far this session, and the Legislature has overridden dozens of vetoes.

LePage also issued 79 line-item vetoes in the state’s two-year budget and a separate transportation budget. Those line-item vetoes were all overridden by the Legislature last week, but the governor is expected to veto the entire budget.

 
I suppose vetoing all bills is, in some ways, an improvement from just vetoing bills co-sponsored by Democrats. Ultimately, I think his plan is still to eliminate all Democrats for daring to not be right-wing Republicans.

Graphic by Bill Humphrey for Arsenal For Democracy.

Graphic by Bill Humphrey for Arsenal For Democracy.

That’s not terribly likely to succeed in Maine. But we’re not talking about a particularly rational political actor, considering he’s friends with people who believe government should not exist at all beyond the county sheriff level.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s special friends (i.e. possible domestic terrorists)

Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage is continuing his crusade to dismantle the state’s reputation for moderate, reasonable, centrist politicians.

People often don’t believe it when someone says Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage is a political loon, but he’s almost indescribably far outside the mainstream, especially when one considers that that he occupies a governorship. Even deeply off-color jokes, vindictive mural attacks, and a strange belief that wind turbines are actually turned by motors because wind power couldn’t possibly work … all of those things are just the tip of the iceberg.

In a “revelation” (via in-depth investigative reporting) that surprises essentially no one who has been following his tenure as governor, except perhaps in its depth, Maine journalist and author Mike Tipping uncovered that in 2013 the governor met 8 times (almost monthly for a while) for 16 hours total with members of a super ultra fringe movement associated with small acts of domestic terrorism, various cop-killings, and the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Gov. LePage’s buddies this time are the very dangerous “sovereign citizen” wingnuts (the same people who don’t believe the government — state let alone Federal! — can issue license plates or passports or enforce traffic laws … or exist). They’re the king of unhinged American conspiracy theories but are also on various FBI watchlists for specific plots.

Here is an excerpt from the condensed summary Maine journalist Colin Woodard — whose incredible book, incidentally, I’ll be posting a review of soon — contributed to Politico on the stunning findings by Tipping:

he had met with an obscure circle of particularly nutty conspiracy theorists at least eight times for a total of 16 hours last year, despite the objections of his staff.

Some of the members of the circle have previously identified themselves as “Sovereign Citizens,” [skip to 17:00], a movement the FBI considers a domestic terrorist threat, though at least some of them now deny any such association. Members have espoused the belief that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Sandy Hook school shootings were perpetrated by the U.S. government, which engages in “mind control” and is preparing a “holocaust” against America’s Christians. They think the government is illegitimate and that top state officials are guilty of treason.

And last February, one recounted on his pirate radio broadcast [19:00] a meeting he had just attended with Governor LePage in which he said the execution of the top leaders of the Democrat-controlled state legislature was discussed. “They’re talking about hanging them,’” Jack McCarthy, host of the Aroostook Watchman radio show, recalled LePage saying in the meeting with McCarthy and his colleagues. McCarthy shared his response to LePage with his listeners: “Praise the Lord, let’s hang a few. We’ll be done with this crap.”

Although he admits these meetings took place, LePage has denied the conversations turned to eliminating his political opponents. “It never happened,” he said in a spontaneous call to the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News, whose paper he also threatened to sue. “We did not discuss execution, arrest or hanging.”

Hanging the Democratic leadership or no, the governor’s sustained interest in the conspiracy theorists’ ideas has stunned Maine’s political class, especially as LePage had famously refused for months to meet with the very legislative leaders the extremists accused of treason.
[…]
The conspiracy theorists, variously organized as the Maine Constitutional Coalition and We The People of Maine, warned the governor and the small number of other people who would listen that all lawyers are “foreign citizens” and associated with the Communist Party, that Maine’s government was unlawful on account of using paper currency and associating with the United Nations to deprive Mainers of their property rights, and that legislators and other officials were guilty of treason, a crime punishable by death.
[…]
Eventually, LePage’s legal counsel—apparently concerned about the governor’s credulity regarding the extremists’ constitutional theories—took the time to prepare a five-page legal memo for him […] reminding him that “the power of the executive [doesn’t] extend to providing a mechanism for private citizens to declare laws to be unconstitutional.”

 
If you follow through to Tipping’s report, the governor also claimed to them that he feared for his life if he did not accept Federal funding for something. He only stopped the meetings, apparently, after Tipping’s Freedom of Information Act request began ringing enough alarm bells.

Governor LePage faces re-election this November. Our analysis from May remains essentially unchanged up to this scandal:

Maine: Paul LePage (R) is also a terrible and very unpopular governor, who is also (ideologically) a crazy person. He was only elected in a 3-way race in 2010, where the sane people made the mistake of splitting their votes between the other two candidates. Maine isn’t planning to repeat that mistake this year. Haha, just kidding: It’ll be a 3-way race again and probably a nail-biter to the end, between LePage and Congressman Mike Michaud (D). LePage is doing better (somehow) in polls more recently than he was for most of last year.

 
We’ll see how things develop from here.

flag-of-maine

State of the Governors’ Races in 2014 (with charts & maps!)

There are a huge number of races for governor up for election this year (which is true of any midterm year since most states adopted four-year terms aligned with the non-presidential cycle). 36 states — almost three-quarters of the states — will be electing or re-electing governors in November of this year, as you can see on the map below:

U.S. state governorships by party (red=R, blue=D). Asterisks mark 2014 races (not capitals!)

U.S. state governorships by party (red=R, blue=D). Asterisks mark 2014 races (not capitals!)

That’s a lot to take in. All of New England, most of the Mountain West and the Plains States, and so on. 36 states are on the board, and Republicans won a lot of them in the 2010 wave, which puts them in a good position overall, given the power of incumbency. But how do we analyze the state of the races more logically and clearly?

In the chart below, I’ve broken it down in an easy-to-read list form, with the states listed in either the Democratic or Republican column, based on current occupant (there are currently no independents in the state governorships). There are boxes around the retiring or term-limited current governors.
governor-states-list

In that graphic, I’ve also put in italics the states that are most likely to be within reach. It’s not exhaustive, of course, just the likeliest. I based that determination — since I confess to being unable to keep up with all 36 races closely — on a) incumbent favorability from a year ago in the last Fivethirtyeight analysis I could find on the governors, and b) whether the voters have a solid preference for one party or the other in the governorship of their state.

In other words:

  • a very popular incumbent is very likely to be re-elected (if running)
  • a reasonably popular incumbent is pretty likely to be re-elected, even in a swing state
  • a very unpopular incumbent is relatively likely to lose if running even in a solid state and could flip the office by negative association even if not running
  • a state with a strong preference for one party in the governorship will likely not flip it to the other party whether or not the incumbent is running, even if quite unpopular
  • but a state with a tendency to swing (or to elect a governor opposite to its overall preference) is somewhat more likely to flip an open seat to the other party

It’s a bit subjective and un-statistical, but it’s a good way to break down the problem when there are 36 races to analyze and too much data to crunch without being Fivethirtyeight or the like.

Using that assessment system, I concluded that there is a relatively narrow set of races that are fairly likely to be competitive come November.

Democrats’ biggest vulnerabilities — in my eyes — are Illinois, Massachusetts, and Arkansas. Let’s take those one at a time.

  • Illinois: Gov. Pat Quinn (D) was an accidental governor elevated during the Blagojevich scandal. He won a very hard-fought race in 2010 to hold onto the office for his own full term. Now he is even more unpopular than he was in 2010, when he survived the Republican wave, and I don’t think the race is going well. That said, there’s very little recent data, and he’s come back from the brink once before.
  • Massachusetts: Democrat Deval Patrick hung on in a 3-way race in 2010 but is retiring. Runner-up Charlie Baker (R) has generally been campaigning strongly in his repeat effort, while Democrats have fragmented between terrible, uninspiring, and unheard-of candidates. On top of this, Massachusetts has had a string of moderate Republicans between Dukakis and Patrick, with voters often seeming to prefer the office to counterbalance the single-party rule of the Democratic legislature. Dems may still hang on — indeed, leading contender Martha Coakley is currently polling well ahead of Charlie Baker (which means very little given her past track record and sketchy Bay State polling histories) — but the seat is very vulnerable.
  • Arkansas: The state has Republican supermajorities in the legislature, has a term-limited Democratic Governor, Mike Beebe, who recently often seemed like the last Democratic oak standing in a Southern desert. The other windswept tree in the state, Sen. Mark Pryor, is in the political fight of his life right now. (I don’t have a good sense of how the Senate race will affect the governor’s race, if at all.) Dems seem to have a recruited a solid candidate to try to save the governorship, but it will be difficult. The RCP average has a close race, but the PPP poll within that average shows an 8 point advantage for the Republican.

Republicans’ biggest vulnerabilities — in my eyes — are Florida, Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And now let’s take those one at a time:

  • Florida: Rick Scott (R) is a terrible and very unpopular governor. Republican-turned-Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist, his opponent, is far more popular and is polling relatively far ahead. Maybe Scott turns this around, but probably not.
  • Maine: Paul LePage (R) is also a terrible and very unpopular governor, who is also (ideologically) a crazy person. He was only elected in a 3-way race in 2010, where the sane people made the mistake of splitting their votes between the other two candidates. Maine isn’t planning to repeat that mistake this year. Haha, just kidding: It’ll be a 3-way race again and probably a nail-biter to the end, between LePage and Congressman Mike Michaud (D). LePage is doing better (somehow) in polls more recently than he was for most of last year.
  • Michigan: I am of the opinion that Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has been a horrendous governor for Michigan. He was, last year, almost as unpopular as LePage was in Maine. Democrats have coalesced behind a solid recruit, a U.S. Congressman, Mark Schauer. Nevertheless, Snyder seems to be a good campaigner with a lot of powerful friends (i.e. interest groups) and a ruthless agenda that the tea partiers love. He’s doing well in the polling, unfortunately.
  • Pennsylvania: 2010 was a great year for Pennsylvania Republicans. However, Gov. Tom Corbett has been such a bad governor (and was dragged down further by the Penn State scandal) that he will probably be the first governor since the state allowed multiple terms in 1970 to lose re-election to a second term. These “unbroken precedents” in U.S. politics — most of which date back only as far as the 1970s — always tend get broken right after they’re declared ironclad. While researching this post, I saw some posts arguing that he will actually win. (Good fundraiser, incumbency precedent, his past big victories, past popularity before it tanked, etc.) But he’s trailing by high single digits in most polls at minimum and by double digits against several candidates in a lot of polls.

So there are about seven seats to watch right now. It might expand to 10 or drop to 5 as we get closer to November. My guess is that Republicans will lose a few of these seats — which isn’t surprising given how many they are defending — but will retain an overall edge and even pick up at least a couple. That basically means it’s probably going to be roughly a wash overall, without changing much nationally. I think that may be echoed in many of the other contests this year: Republicans will end up in about the same position they were when they started, but still ahead by a bit.