His resistance to a legislative deal on ‘nips’ deposits is just the latest in a long list of policy stances shaped by his gripes and prejudices.
It should have been a story about how government and industry came together to quietly solve a problem through compromise. Instead, it became another example of dysfunction emanating from the office of Maine’s chief executive.
When Gov. LePage last week inserted himself, without cause or caution, into the debate over adding so-called “nips” to Maine’s bottle deposit law, it was the last six years distilled down to a 50-milliliter shot, with the governor’s petty gripes and shallow prejudices once again stirring the drink.
LEPAGE GETS IT WRONG
At issue is L.D. 56, which would place a 5-cent deposit on the smallest liquor bottles sold in Maine. Sales of nips have skyrocketed in recent years – largely because of the popularity of Fireball, a cinnamon-flavored liqueur produced in Maine — and the discarded tiny bottles are now making up a significant portion of roadside trash.
The simple solution was adding the 50-milliliter bottles to the state’s enormously successful “bottle bill,” which in 2010 returned for deposit 90 percent of the 750 million redeemable cans and bottles sold in Maine, clearing the roadways of an untold amount of litter.
Adding to bottles a state-specific deposit is neither easy nor cheap, though, so industry leaders were brought into the discussion with legislators. In the end, the deposit was reduced from 15 cents to 5 and the starting date was delayed until 2019. Everyone, it seemed, was happy.
But after the bill passed initial votes in the House, 111-34, and the Senate, 32-3, LePage chimed in. If it ultimately passed, the governor said, he would have no choice but to ban the sales of 50-milliliter bottles in Maine.
Why? Well, LePage said, the bill was the result of a “secret backroom deal” made by dishonest legislators, never mind that lawmakers from both parties worked appropriately with distillers and distributors to find common ground, the best outcome in any legislative endeavor.
Stretching further, LePage said the alleged high cost of the bill would jeopardize other programs – you know, those government programs the governor is oh, so fond of – never mind that members of the relevant committee foresaw no such funding problems.
Finally, he said the bill was “anti-business,” never mind that the chief executive of the Lewiston company that produces Fireball, which makes up more than 40 percent of nip sales, said the real danger was not the bill, but LePage’s threat to ban sales.
The governor found a better argument later, when, during a radio appearance, he said that selling nips promotes drunken driving, a reasonable point of view he failed to mention in his extensive public statement.
But that’s a separate issue – this bill is simply aimed at reducing litter, and like the bottle bill before it, there’s little doubt that it would. Remarkably, that might be why LePage dislikes this bill so much – he sees it as prioritizing the environment over industry, when the legislative compromise shows that both sides can be satisfied.
ARGUMENTS JUST A COVER
With LePage, though, arguments – whether reasonable or uncoupled from reality – are just cover for his anitipathy toward, well, just about anyone who contradicts his world view or questions his narrow perception of what Maine should be.
Take, for instance, solar power, for which the governor last year also negated a hard-fought bipartisan compromise aimed at fixing the thorny issue of net metering. LePage says he doesn’t want to pick winners and losers in the energy market, but fails to apply the same philosophy when bailing out the biomass industry, or stumping for more natural gas pipelines.
But it’s not philosophy that matters, only that solar, as the governor sees it, is the domain of liberals and coastal elites – not “real Mainers.” It’s not a new opportunity to capitalize on, but a threat to traditional Maine industries. Never mind that nationwide, more people work in solar than in coal, natural gas and oil power plants combined.
And that’s only the start.
Land conservation? More hippie nonsense aimed at killing jobs, backed by corrupt legislators and rich, liberal landowners looking to make a quick buck. Never mind that state conservation has saved properties of all kinds and purposes in all 16 counties, and drives our tourism economy.
Methadone and naloxone? Spa day for weak-willed addicts, backed by namby-pamby coddlers, never mind the drugs’ proven effectiveness.
Senior housing? Corrupt legislators again, this time in concert with shady developers.
A new mental health facility? Only on his terms, because lawmakers from both parties care only about making headlines.
That’s Paul LePage as he sees himself – the only honest man in politics, surrounded by liars, schemers and layabouts. The only one with pure intentions, and with a real handle on the problems facing Maine. No one but him with good intentions. No one but him with the right answers.
That truly seems like a terrible world. We’re glad we don’t live in it.