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Legislative Democrats: LePage Veto Threat Likely to Backfire
03/01/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Gov. Paul LePage's announcement that he plans to veto every bill that crosses his desk unless the Legislature passes his plan to pay off millions in Medicaid debt to the state's hospitals, ignited dueling press conferences today at the State House, where Republicans and Democrats pointed fingers at each other. But as A.J. Higgins reports, it all comes down to how many votes it takes to override a veto.

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Although Gov. Paul LePage has threatened to veto all bills that cross his desk - even his own - members of the Maine House and Senate can override those vetos and vote them into law with two-thirds majorities. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson says that's a goal that's within reach, thanks to the governor's own actions.

"I've just never seen anyone try to have such an iron fist on the people of Maine's mentality and this Legislature, and that is probably going to backfire - and hopefully it will backfire in the end for him," Jackson says.

Maine Democrats hold 89 seats in the House and are confident that they will be joined by the four independents. If Democrats can convince only eight out of the 58 House Republicans to cross the aisle, they can override a veto.

In the 35-member Senate, Democrats say they will need to convince only five Republicans to vote with them. Jackson says that with LePage threatening blanket vetos until he gets his way, and Republican leaders talking about a state shutdown over any new taxes, most rank-and file Republicans would be wise to listen to their diverse constituents rather than toe the party line.

"And I just can't forget the people that elected me when I get to Augusta," Jackson says. "I never will, and when I do the voters should get me out of here. But, you know, he has a different mentality that it's his way or the highway, and that's not something that I think Republican or Democrat should ever support."

Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall says he wants to work with the governor and Republicans to craft a consensus-driven solution to the state's liquor contract, the hospital debt and the budget. Goodall says that's what Maine people expect.

"The notion is that we have to balance these interests. And we've said over and over again we are committed to working together with the Republicans to pay off this hospital debt," Goodall says. "It's a much more complicated situation than just signing the bill into law and passing it through the committee, as the governor implies. We have to be thoughtful in this process, we have to balance all the interests."

Republicans in Augusta chided Democrats for politicizing the governor's remarks. When asked whether they agreed with the governor's strategy, GOP House Leader Ken Fredette said that he understood lePage's frustration. And Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau said he believed the threat was "hypothetical."

"The governor apparently has made some sort of comment - I haven't had the opportunity to speak with him directly, nor has Ken, and whether that ever actually comes to fruition or not we don't know," Thibodeau says. "I think right now the important thing is to make sure that we don't lose sight of the fact that the governor is extremely frustrated with the Democrats' delay tactics."

According to a Republican press release issued late this afternoon, LePage may be backing away from the veto threat. Republican leaders said the governor told them he would not consider signing legislation that lacks broad, bipartisan support or promote job creation until the hospital debt is paid. There was no mention of a veto in the GOP release.



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