Yet another outrageous statement by Gov. Paul LePage has the state buzzing. Can the governor close schools on May 1 if his plan for cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t adopted by the Legislature, as he threatened at a Lewiston town hall meeting Thursday night? No, but he could cut funding.
Other questions follow the initial shock. Was he serious? Was it a calculated political ploy? Is it part of a weird negotiating strategy? A way of distracting opponents from the subject at hand? Or was it yet another ill-considered crack, one to add to that long list that began a year ago with telling the NAACP to kiss his butt and ending most recently with asking former legislator Judy Paradis “What planet are you on?” at a meeting in Fort Kent.
There’s no divining his motives or his modus operandi. But the governor has a year under his belt in the Blaine House and a clear pattern has emerged. He either refuses to accept the nuance and diplomacy of governing, or he is unable to learn it.
It’s time for the governor to get more serious about his job and the problems the state faces.
When he emerged against all odds as his party’s nominee last June, and when he prevailed in a five-way race for the Blaine House, most observers understood Paul LePage’s agenda. It echoed that of his hero, Ronald Reagan — get government off the backs of business by cutting taxes and regulations, shrink the size of the state’s social service bill and implement common-sense and practical reforms to education.
That agenda is overly simplistic. And that may explain why the governor grows so angry when the clear but unrealistic benchmarks he sets aren’t easily achieved.
And what he has achieved, such as cutting the top income tax rate and the estate tax, he fails to understand in context. The tax cuts must be understood as part of the problem of the $120 million shortfall in the DHHS budget. Isolating MaineCare costs as a single problem and not acknowledging the connection to cuts in the state revenue stream is a ham-handed way to manage.
Dragging education into this fight, which the governor understands is the most important thing the state can do to help people out of poverty, is nonsensical. It also undercut an interesting plan Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen is rolling out around the state, including at the Lewiston meeting.
For some reason, Gov. LePage sees his proposed cuts to DHHS — cuts that would dump 65,000 Mainers of health insurance rolls — as his goal-line stand. He took the unprecedented step of sitting in on discussions of the cuts the Appropriations Committee had with DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, then belittling legislators’ questions of her.
Again, a year into his term, the governor should have a more sophisticated understanding of how state government works.
There are important debates to be had about Maine’s social service spending. And some of what the governor wants to accomplish is reasonable. But he must acknowledge there are a lot of moving parts in this complex department.
With absurd threats like closing schools added to that long list of inflammatory statements, the governor only weakens his position in the give-and-take that is state government. And a weakened governor is not what we need in these times.