AUGUSTA — They voted for it before they voted against it.
That cliche will haunt a host of state lawmakers this year as they try to explain why they abandoned bills they previously supported to sustain vetoes of the legislation by Gov. Paul LePage.
The most recent examples include Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, who voted in favor of a bill that would have allowed Maine to accept federal funds to expand the state's Medicaid system, MaineCare.
In fact, Crockett voted for the bill three times — on June 3, June 12 and June 19, when he voted to override LePage's veto. But when the veto vote was reconsidered later that day, Crockett voted against the measure.
Crockett said he was outraged over parliamentary procedures the Democrats used to stall the finality of the veto override vote June 19, after they saw they didn't have the votes to prevail.
Other Republicans complained that the move by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, to table the vote was "Chicago-style" politics and a move out of President Barack Obama's playbook.
Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, shouted from the floor to ensure House Speaker Mark Eves, D-Berwick, kept the roll call open long enough so that all representatives — some literally running to the House chamber — could get to their seats in time to vote.
Wilson later said he was shocked and disappointed by what he saw, as Eves attempted to hurry up the process in hopes some Republicans would miss the vote.
"Honestly, I held my vote because there were members, including my own leadership, that hadn't voted yet," Wilson said. "I don't think he gave more than 20 seconds."
Wilson, who supported the bill on three prior occasions, stuck with his yes vote and voted in favor of the override. Three other Republicans — Reps. Donald Marean, R-Hollis, Carol McElwee, R-Caribou, and Tom Tyler, R-Windham — also stood by their votes.
Wilson said he believed the measure was the most important bill going before the House this year. He felt strongly that regardless of where any member was on the bill, they got a chance to vote. But, he said, he wasn't about to change his vote.
"I believe it's not right to ever send a mixed signal," Wilson said. "And while I was quite dissatisfied — and I think that was pretty obvious — I just didn't want there to be any confusion about where I stood on the issue."
Crockett said he, too, supported the bill and supported overriding LePage's veto but was so outraged by what he called the "shady politics" of the way Eves was running the vote that he protested by voting to sustain the veto on the final roll call. The override failed by two votes.
"What (Eves) tried to do," Crockett said, "... he was trying to get a second bite at the apple by hoping that people went home or weren't in their seats.
The process is more important than the outcome, Crockett said Friday. He expressed dismay that his GOP colleagues banded together with the governor to reject what would have been an infusion of about $900 million to the state from the federal government.
Wilson and Crockett said they were lobbied heavily from all sides on the issue. They described the defeat of the expansion of Medicaid as one of the most important issues for Republicans in the Legislature this session.
At one point after the second veto-override vote, House Assistant Minority Leader Alex Willette, R-Mapleton, exclaimed, "Well, that dragon has been slayed."
Other bills that received broad bipartisan support also saw large numbers of Republicans switching sides after a LePage veto.
The governor has vetoed 31 bills. Only two have been overturned by the House, and one of those was sustained in the Senate. It's the second largest number of vetoes since Gov. James Longley, an independent, vetoed 49 bills in 1975.
One bill, LD 1044, would have provided a so-called "affirmative defense" for people who reported drug overdoses. Many witnesses to drug overdoses in Maine also are using drugs, and the bill would have provided them with the possibility of immunity if they quickly reported an overdose. Supporters of the bill said it would save lives.
The bill was voted out of both the House and Senate on unanimous voice votes, or went "under the hammer" — was gaveled through by the speaker and Senate President Justin Alfond because no one asked for a roll-call vote, as is usually the case with controversial bills.
But when the bill was vetoed and came back to the Senate, 14 Republicans voted to sustain LePage's veto; in the House, 47 sided with LePage, effectively killing the bill. Legislators need a two-thirds majority vote to override a veto.
Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta maintained his support of the bill and sided with Democrats to overturn the governor's veto. Katz said Friday the vote was particularly important to him because the weekend before the vote, three people overdosed on heroin in Augusta.
Katz said the flipping of votes isn't uncommon. While he stopped short of defending the practice, he said there was no caucus-wide directive to support LePage.
"I think there's a natural inclination for people to want to support their governor," Katz said. "I think that's true for Democrats as well as Republicans."
He said a number of the bills that went out on unanimous votes would have had direct impacts on government resources. LePage served as a check in that process and used his veto to conserve resources for higher priorities in times of tight budgets, Katz said.
"Those departments just don't have the in-house resources to just drop everything and study things and report back to the Legislature without dropping other important things they are already doing," Katz said. "So before you start loading departments with more work, consider giving them additional resources."
He said those types of unfunded mandates "are fundamentally unfair."
David Sorensen, spokesman for House Republicans, said lawmakers often change their minds as new information comes forward. He also said the House Republican caucus was under no directive to stand with LePage.
"There rarely is any caucus directive. Our members are very independent," Sorensen said.
He said if Democrats tried to paint an image of lawmakers flipping on their votes, there are ample examples, including a recent House vote to override a LePage veto, where they stood their ground and sided with Democrats.
"It's not a matter of simply sticking with the governor," Sorensen said. "It's a matter of we received new information from the executive branch that sways the caucus."
Sorensen pointed to at least two veto overrides in which Republicans joined Democrats. He said it was more evidence there wasn't a party position to support LePage blindly.
Still, Democrats said they were "mystified" by a number of votes that looked solid going out of the Legislature only to flip on the veto, said Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for House Democrats.
The next big vote that likely will face lawmakers will be whether to override a veto of a legislative budget bill that passed with two-thirds support in both the House and Senate.
"We believe we can avoid a government shutdown or a massive shift of taxes to property taxpayers statewide if Republicans just stand by their votes," Quintero said. "That's all they have to do is stand by their votes."
Wilson said Friday he intends to maintain his support for the Legislature's budget and will vote in favor of overriding a veto, if it comes.
Katz said if the House, which will get the budget veto first, overrides LePage, the Senate will follow suit.
"A number of senators have expressed their intention to support the work of the Appropriations Committee," Katz said.
The Legislature will reconvene on Wednesday, June 26, to take up any remaining vetoes sent from LePage's office. As of Friday, no budget veto had been issued.