AUGUSTA — Although the Maine Legislature reconvened Tuesday after its December break, Democratic leaders and Republican Gov. Paul LePage were still not talking to each other.
LePage canceled a meeting with incoming Democratic leadership on Dec. 4 after asking the Democratic Party to call off a cameraman who had been recording him at public events. The party hired the cameraman and has refused to back down, saying it's only recording public events in the interest of transparency and accountability.
House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick and Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland said Tuesday there's been no change in relations with the governor but they still hope to meet face-to-face with LePage.
The governor's spokeswoman gave no hint that the stalemate would end anytime soon, saying the governor's staff, but not the governor himself, is available.
"We still have an open line of communication with the governor's staff. That will remain open," said Adrienne Bennett, LePage's chief of communications.
For now, the snub isn't impeding the Legislature's work, but Alfond and Eves said constituents have been asking them when they will meet with the governor.
"Every place I go, people are always asking me, have you and the governor met? Have you broken bread?" Alfond said. "It's embarrassing that I have to say no, but I can't make or force anyone to meet with me."
The state budget is a priority for both the governor and lawmakers as they returned to the State House. They must consider $35.5 million in immediate cuts following the governor's curtailment order and face the challenge of balancing the 2014-15 budget, which has a projected revenue shortfall of close to $130 million. They also need to find tens of millions of dollars more to cover cost overruns for social services.
Alfond said he continues to extend an invitation to meet personally with the governor every time he meets with his staff. "They usually smile, shrug their shoulders, and say 'We'll get back to you,'" Alfond said.
"We'll continue to put out every offer, every olive branch to meet with him," Alfond added.
Eves agreed that while both parties are working together, it would be good to have the governor personally involved.
"The problems facing the state are too big for one party to solve alone, so we look forward to working with the Republican Party and the governor to find solutions that are effective," Eves said.
Republicans seem less concerned.
Senate Minority Leader Michael Thibodeau of Waldo said the media is more interested in the supposed snub than members of the Legislature.
The GOP's second-in-command in the Senate, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, jokingly suggested a bipartisan Super Bowl gathering.
"All of us would like to see Democratic leadership and the governor sitting together. I'm sure it will happen," Katz said.