It is understandable that Paul LePage is uncomfortable answering questions about his family’s finances. But the state’s next governor will face a lot of uncomfortable — even heated — situations in the next four years.
Plugging a budget shortfall that could top $1 billion, paying off pension liabilities that will consume larger and larger portions of state revenue, and balancing job creation with environmental protection, for example, won’t come without a frank exchange of ideas. The governor can’t storm out of press conferences because the Legislature won’t do things his way. The governor can’t tell a commissioner he’s “not playing” because the commissioner asks tough questions to ensure the state follows the law.
For these reasons, the temperaments of candidates matter.
Paul LePage, the mayor of Waterville, is clearly used to calling the shots. He brags that when councilors in that city won’t do what he wants, he goes around them. This may sound appealing, but it isn’t how government works.
This week, Mr. LePage became increasingly testy when the media repeatedly asked him about his home ownership and property taxes. Last week, the Kennebec Journal reported that his wife, Ann, had received homestead exemptions, which require permanent residency, in both Florida and Maine. This is illegal.
The campaign originally dismissed the situation as a “paperwork error.” When asked to more fully explain the situation, Mr. LePage became visibly angry with reporters Monday. He stormed out of a press conference in Augusta only to return later to offer a few more details.
His wife owns the house in Waterville, he said, because it was a gift to her. She owns the house in Florida because she hoped to urge him to retire there, he said. No, he doesn’t pay property taxes in Maine (perhaps a first for a candidate for governor).
Yes, there should be more focus on the five candidates’ plans to create jobs, lower health care costs and improve education.
But when a candidate campaigns on a platform of fiscal responsibility — with pledges to go after “welfare cheats” — and it looks like that candidate or his family didn’t follow the rules, voters are entitled to an explanation.
If that explanation is confusing or raises more questions, a candidate must expect to add clarity, not blame others for not understanding or for asking questions.
If he is elected governor, Mr. LePage will have to work with lawmakers and others who do not share his views. Many of his proposals to improve Maine are vague and incomplete. They would be improved with the addition of perspectives different from his own.
To get such cooperation, however, he must drop the “my way or the highway” attitude, or he risks being perceived as a bully rather than a leader.