House GOP shuts down government to please their Dear Leader LePage

The State House is engulfed in tumult as the failure to pass a budget has resulted in a state shutdown for the first time since 1991. Sixty House Republicans have taken government hostage through a series of last-minute and erratic demands, and as the drama unfolds it’s getting harder and harder to understand their motivation for causing this crisis.

Here’s how I imagine a meeting of these House Republicans that are backing Gov. Paul LePage’s shutdown strategy, known around the State House as LePage’s Sheep Caucus, would go. Hopefully this hypothetical excerpt will shed some light on what’s driving these lawmakers to such an extreme position:

GOV. LEPAGE (addressing crowd): I want to raise and expand the sales tax and meals and lodging taxes so we can stick it to the tourists. I want to expand government by creating a new Energy Department. I want to circumvent the Constitution and expand executive powers. I want to stick it to land trusts except for the ones that donate to me.  I want to implement Eliot Cutler’s ideas for education reform. And I’m gonna make facts up out of thin air to justify all these things. Are you with me?

HOUSE GOP SHEEP CAUCUS: Yes Dear Leader! We will fight for you!

HOUSE GOP LEADER KEN FREDETTE: (pushing toward front of the crowd): Me too! I’ll fight hardest Dear Leader!

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette answers a question during the House of Representatives vote on the state budget Wednesday. Lawmakers were scurrying to avoid a state government shutdown. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

LEPAGE: And you people that got elected because you claimed to respect the rule of law, the Constitution, limited spending, lower taxes, and good government, you’re gonna have to put that junk aside and do what I say.

HOUSE GOP SHEEP CAUCUS: Yes Dear Leader! We will fight for you!

LEPAGE: Mike Thibodeau may have masterfully negotiated the entire Democratic caucus into abandoning the 3 percent income tax surcharge, but that doesn’t matter. This is not about taxes or education. This is about Me. It’s all about Me. Do you understand?

HOUSE GOP SHEEP CAUCUS: Yes Dear Leader! We will fight for you!

LEPAGE: You’re going to run out there and vote against any budget that I don’t tell you to vote for. Even if it means putting your constituents out of work, you’re going to vote no. Even if my budget costs more and accomplishes less, you’re going to support it and vote against anything else. Because I said so!

HOUSE GOP SHEEP CAUCUS: Yes Dear Leader! We will fight for you!

LEPAGE: Now go out there and tell those socialist [censored] that Paul R. LePage gets what he wants, or you’re gonna SHUT HER DOWN.

HOUSE GOP SHEEP CAUCUS (Cheering wildly): Yes Dear Leader! We will fight for you!

(Lawmakers exit room in stampede toward the House chamber.)

That of course is a fictional account, but it’s not any weirder than the actual facts on the ground in Augusta right now.

The 60 House Republicans who shut down government in fealty to the governor have convinced themselves they are defending some higher, noble cause. Here is an actual quote from the Facebook page of House GOP Rep. Paula Sutton: “And to my House Republican colleagues…I am so proud of you tonight. We, alone, have the courage and determination to do right by those who are defenseless, if not for us.

“I think EVERYONE now knows we are relevant…and that the Governor matters…and any budget deal will have to satisfy us and Governor Paul LePage.”

So by shutting down government, laying off thousands of workers, costing taxpayers millions, and inconveniencing nearly every person in the state in some way, Sutton and the rest of LePage’s Sheep Caucus are “doing right by those who are defenseless”? This is some frighteningly bizarre delusion. And what is this odd notion of “satisfying” the governor, and making him “relevant”? (Relevance is clearly an issue with this guy.)

LePage has these House Republicans so inculcated in his cult of personality that GOP Rep. Gina Mason voted against the budget her own son, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, proposed.

Like I said, stranger than fiction.

And at the root of all this strangeness is the fact that the alternative budget these House Republicans are fighting for is actually more expensive than the one they’ve voted against.

In 1991, when Republicans held out for workers’ compensation reform, there was a clear reason the shutdown happened. This time around, the only thing House Republicans have to say for themselves is that they are trying to make the governor relevant.

This isn’t lawmaking. It’s bootlicking.

That may work in Pyongyang, but it’s not going to fly in Maine. As the clock ticks and their reckless sycophancy causes more and more damage, these House Republicans better find a more respectable motive for being in office than the affection of their Dear Leader.

Lance Dutson

About Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.