The French Connection

Posted July 29, 2010, at 6:13 p.m.

The dust is settling in the strange, spirited exchange between GOP gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage and Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell and that party’s director, Arden Manning. The incident, which injected the powerful matters of religion and ethnicity into the campaign, demands further scrutiny.

Candidate LePage, the Waterville mayor and Marden’s executive, has — either calculatingly or unwittingly — carved out a public image that is half populism and common-sense conservatism, and half pugilistic avenger of victims of a smarty-pants media. That mix has broad appeal. But Mr. LePage may be shadowboxing.

His claims that the Democratic Party thinks he is unfit to be governor because he is French-Catholic strains credulity. Last weekend, Mr. LePage claimed Arden Manning, executive director of the state Democratic Party, had declared him unfit to be governor because of his French-Catholic back-ground. He has yet to produce any written or recorded evidence of that claim. When pressed, the GOP candidate said Mr. Manning made the claim on his blog. Mr. Manning does not write a blog.

Worse, Mr. LePage’s assertions about the Democratic Party don’t reflect history or current reality. The highest-ranking elected official of French descent in Maine is 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud. He is a Democrat. The state’s longest-serving legislator, John Martin, is also a Franco-American and a Democrat. Republicans successfully advocated changes in state law in an attempt to temper Rep. Martin’s power.

The Senate assistant majority leader is Lisa Marrache, Franco and a Democrat. Two Democratic Senate presidents in the past 20 years have been Franco-American; both were Democrats.

While there has been discrimination against Franco-Americans in Maine, to suggest that the Democratic Party is hostile to Franco-Americans makes no sense.

The Franco claim came on the same train trip in which Mr. LePage insinuated that Democrat Libby Mitchell is too old to be governor, and he equated creationism with parting a river and walking across a swimming pool.

His campaign said these comments were meant as jokes.

Shortly after the June primary, Mr. LePage claimed independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler’s campaign had gone through his household trash. Again, no proof was provided. Multiple denials came from the Cutler campaign — each one worded more bluntly to counter the “When did you stop going through my trash?” tone from the LePage camp.

Mr. LePage, the front-runner in the race, according to the most recent poll, would do better to focus on the issues and not imaginary insults.

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