Like the plot of a good play, our protagonist — Gov. Paul LePage — probably should’ve listened to his own advice.
He often states, with equal parts humor and topical criticism, that he doesn’t even believe the obituaries listed in newspapers. He isn’t wrong. There has become a tendency to sensationalize the news, focusing on attention-grabbing statements to the detriment of underlying substance.
So when a reporter purportedly asked for the governor’s response to Rep. Drew Gattine calling him a racist, he flew off the handle.
From all accounts, Gattine never used those words. Had the governor stuck with his disbelief of media, the swirl of the last few days never would have occurred. And had the reporter stuck to piercing questions on policy surrounding drug trafficking — rather than the petty personal politics of name-calling — we’d be having a welcome debate on how to best address Maine’s heroin crisis.
But instead we are spending countless hours and column inches discussing an intemperate voicemail. And no two ways about it — the governor was wrong. His message was over the top and unbecoming of his position. He has recognized that and offered an apology. Yet in the last six years in Maine, he is far from the only individual to let disagreements on policy spill into personal attacks.
You saw it back in 2013 when Rep. Diane Russell sought to sell the Blaine House to punish Gov. LePage. Why? Because she disagreed with his position on welfare reform.
Or, in the same year, we watched Sen. Troy Jackson as he sought to revoke gubernatorial pensions because he thought LePage was wrong on overhauling state employee pensions. Nevermind the fact that such an action would have been blatantly unconstitutional under the Maine Constitution, the very document legislators swear to uphold.
Or when a leftist group — the self-adulatory-named Maine People’s Alliance — literally accused Republicans and Gov. LePage of killing people with their policy positions. Why? Because of a difference of opinion on the wisdom and financial viability of expanding government health care rolls.
“157 Mainers” was a talking point derived from a Harvard study that offered a high estimate on deaths theoretically preventable by expanding Medicaid. Of course, it was full of assumptions, like the Affordable Care Act not creating negative effects elsewhere in the market. I’m curious whether those assumptions hold when Maine’s Community Health Options co-op is suing the federal government for not living up to its word, claiming Washington owes them over $20 million.
Or look at the meme invented by House Speaker Mark Eves that Gov. LePage seeks to destroy the livelihood of his political opponents. Set aside the fact his argument failed completely in federal court. If Eves were correct, why did the governor never threaten the behavioral health care organization Sweetser, Eves’ employer during most of his tenure in Augusta? After all, Sweetser receives millions from state, a lot more than Good-Will Hinckley.
Might it be because Gov. LePage actually believed in Sweetser’s mission? And that he had no qualms with Eves serving as a counselor there, believing him eminently qualified to do so? Occam’s razor (the theory that the simplest explanation is probably the most accurate) cuts exceedingly fine. In the Good-Will Hinckley saga, the simplest explanation is LePage’s withholding of discretionary funds truly was predicated on a belief that Eves was unworthy of the job.
Maybe that was a good call. Or maybe LePage was completely wrong and in fact Eves is the second coming of Maria Montessori. Regardless, under the law, that decision was the governor’s to make. And it can’t be true that the decision was mere partisan politics against the opposition party’s leaders. After all, one of Eves’ predecessors as House speaker and fellow Democrat Glenn Cummings was the head of Hinckley when Gov. LePage started state support for the school.
Yet those facts have not overcome the accusations against the governor that he is somehow personally biased against individual legislators and wants their families destitute, despite actual proposals against him to that effect from the Democratic side of the aisle. So a narrative gets built up, and the governor plays into it by leaving recorded messages instigated by false information. To borrow from Shakespeare, a pox on all of these decisions.
So what now? We watch the play unfold. Act I is over as the governor has now apologized. Act II will include continued Democratic calls for recompense and resignation. Act III’s tension builds as Republicans generally ignore those calls and declare the matter closed. Act IV opens with Gattine, as the aggrieved member, continuing to claim he now cannot work with LePage, conveniently ignoring the fact that he never deviated from party orthodoxy anyway when it came to the governor’s proposals. And finally, in Act V, nothing will happen, leaving the matter to the ballot and Maine voters.
In other words, it will be a tale full of sound and fury until November, ultimately signifying nothing. Let’s just hope after the curtain falls and the 128th Legislature is inaugurated, we can forgo drama in favor of action.