Campaigning for office is easy. It's governing that's hard.
The Maine Republican Party is still trying to absorb this simple lesson. And some of its members appear to be slow learners.
When the state GOP swept to power in last November's elections, its followers assumed that with control of the House, Senate, and governorship, it would have no problem implementing a conservative agenda that would touch on nearly every aspect of life, from bureaucratic regulations to education policy to health-care costs to funding for public broadcasting to the reverence with which Mainers regard the whoopie pie.
Trouble is, Republicans are no more unified in their priorities than Democrats and far less focused on common goals than most monkeys, many marsupials, and some species of amphibian.
For instance, if opossums were in charge in Augusta, they'd almost certainly have set aside any petty differences in order to pass a tax-reform bill in the first 90 days of the legislative session. The GOP is still dithering over the details of its plan.
If tree frogs had a majority in the Legislature, they'd have opened the state's health-insurance market to competition without all the complications in the Republican bill — and without its accompanying tax hike. They'd also have pushed it through to passage a couple of months ago, so any lingering partisan rancor would have cooled before final negotiations began on the state budget. Republicans made their insurance bill overly complex, overly expensive, and overly late.
If pygmy marmosets and mandrills formed a coalition government, they'd have come up with a regulatory reform package that didn't include superfluous items, such as allowing questionable chemicals in sippy cups. To win support for their agenda from macaques and capuchins, they'd have avoided stupid proposals like repealing the state's ban on billboards, weakening the returnable bottle law, and preventing cops from stopping motorists who aren't wearing seat belts. In this way, they'd have denied their rivals (chimpanzees, gorillas, candidates for mayor of Portland) the sorts of silly issues that will play so well in next year's campaigns. In contrast, the GOP newbies indulged themselves in antics designed to delight their Tea Party pals, while raising questions of competence in the minds of more moderate voters.
What Republicans failed to realize as they took office is that when it comes to the most contentious issues, a numerical majority based on party affiliation means almost nothing. With most hot-button political disputes, the breakdown between supporters and opponents has little to do with whether someone is wearing a donkey T-shirt, an elephant pin, or a fur-covered pouch in which they suckle their young during lulls in the debate.
In Maine's legislative system, the concept of party loyalty is mostly a myth.
Even when the GOP has been able to use its majority muscle, such as in passing health-insurance legislation, it hasn't been easy to get all the monkeys to line up and do the hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-speak-no-evil routine. The state Senate vote had to be delayed because several Republican senators were uneasy with the measure. A few hastily drafted amendments and a crate of coconuts were required to restore the illusion of a united front.