Join me on a tour through the graveyard of expired controversies. Here lie the once-contentious, now almost forgotten issues of the past.
That moss-covered headstone commemorates the great debate over mandatory seat belts, finally put to rest in 1995, when, after nearly two decades of squabbling, a referendum requiring their use was approved. Those fresh shovel marks are from 2011, when legislative Republicans tried to revive the corpse by making the rules less restrictive. But the dead refused to rise.
This next crypt holds the remains of a generation of property-tax-cap proposals that were cut down at the ballot box back in the 1980s and '90s. Next to it are the tombs holding the initiatives to close the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant. They all expired before the plant finally did.
Here are the vaults holding the earthly remnants of such political flashpoints as Sunday hunting, the anti-gay-rights movement, and the Dickey-Lincoln dam. All were hotly debated in their day, before becoming settled matters, residing in the dust.
Now we come to the newer part of the cemetery, where the graves are a little shallower, in case the occupants aren't quite as dead as they seem. A small plaque denotes the resting place of background checks on buyers at gun shows. Union labor donated this memorial to the defeat of right-to-work legislation. And under this piece of sod, resides a bit of roadkill, all that's left of the plan to build an east-west highway.
Finally, there are the plots reserved for failed politicians. You can see former Governor John Baldacci's legacy, former Governor John McKernan's integrity, Republican candidate for everything Bruce Poliquin's electability, and possible future governor Mike Michaud's congressional record.
Of course, this section wouldn't be complete without the handsome stone showing a duck trying to walk with the aid of a crutch. This commemorates the last year and a half of GOP Governor Paul LePage's first (and probably only) term. LePage's cadaver was dumped in this hole shortly after his veto of the state budget was overridden in a bipartisan legislative vote.
Yes, I know you can still hear the muffled sounds of curses, insults, and Vaseline-related invectives oozing out of the ground. But not only have medical doctors declared LePage dead, but so have the spin doctors. Both sets of experts agree there's no way he could have survived the catastrophic collision between his stubbornness and political reality.
LePage set the stage for his demise early in the budget debate. He announced he'd veto any bill that raised taxes. "I will not keep adding to the tax burden of hardworking Mainers," he said in a mid-May statement. In early June, he announced he'd veto the budget approved unanimously by the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, saying in his weekly radio message that shutting down state government would be "good public policy." A few day later, he told a Bangor audience, "I think a two-week shutdown would be preferable to two years with this budget." As the deadline for passing a spending plan approached, his only mildly constructive suggestion was a short-term budget while discussions continued. That move was rejected by majority Democrats, who saw no point in negotiating with somebody who wasn't willing to budge. Even after his veto was overridden, he refused to concede. In his weekly radio address, he grumped, "[P]oliticians work around the clock to kill common sense legislation, just because I proposed it."