OTHER VOICES

LePage shouldn’t confuse notions with realities

Posted Aug. 13, 2012, at 2:26 p.m.

It stands to reason that people, including politicians, are much more likely to respond to a crisis than a mere problem.

A whiff of smoke in the kitchen won’t cause anyone to run screaming from the house, but a wall full of flames almost certainly will.

Our political system seems unable to respond to problems unless they can be portrayed in house-on-fire terms.

Witness the postal crisis, the national debt crisis and the student loan crisis — once avoidable problems ultimately turned crises.

Which likely explains Gov. Paul LePage’s regular forays into exaggeration and hyperbole.

Most recently the governor said Maine students are looked down upon across the country because they are poorly educated.

“I don’t care where you go in this country. If you come from Maine you’re looked down upon,” the governor said during a July 25 press conference during which he outlined several educational initiatives.

“Twenty years ago, if you came from Maine, they couldn’t wait to get you into their school,” the governor said. Now, at least according to the governor, the opposite is true.

All of which must have struck people who travel as odd, having perhaps never heard anything like that from a single person “from away.”

Pressed the next day on how he knew that to be fact, the governor’s spokesperson, Adrienne Bennett, explained that the governor did not have research on the subject but was drawing on his own experience.

“He is a businessman. It’s from his life experience,” Bennett told the Bangor Daily News. “While it’s anecdotal, he believes it.”

While a career in business may have left the governor with many important experiences, regular contact with college admission directors in other states is probably not among them.

To emphasize his point, the governor added that Maine students need to take a special test to be admitted to the College of William and Mary, an excellent school that is part of the public university system in Virginia.

A simple telephone call found that statement to be untrue; the school has no special test for Maine students. The governor was merely repeating something he had heard.

Bennett, ever resourceful in explaining the governor’s gaffes, was forced to resort to his good intentions. “It’s clear that the governor’s intentions are in the students’ best interest,” she said.

The governor was fired up on the day of the press conference by a recent Harvard study ranking Maine 40th among 41 states for its rate of improvement on standardized tests.

That’s a serious problem, and we agreed with the governor in an editorial July 19 that the state’s investment in educational improvement was paying “pathetic” returns.

But the governor also failed to note that the test scores of Maine students are still high compared to most states.

The governor’s most egregious exaggeration came in December when he said a member of Forbes magazine’s staff had told him the state could improve its business climate by cutting its welfare programs.

Contacted by the Sun Journal, the Forbes magazine writer acknowledged he had talked to someone in the LePage administration but had told them nothing of the sort.

At the time, the governor was in the middle of a controversial attempt to cut welfare expenses. Democrats made some credible complaints that his administration was even withholding financial information to heighten the crisis.

The governor may find exaggeration a useful political tool, but it is neither ethical nor responsible for making sound public policy or informing the public.

Bad things, in fact, can happen when manufactured evidence is used to stampede politicians into making quick-fire decisions. Consider the way groundless and exaggerated evidence was used to create the sense of immediate crisis that led to the war in Iraq.

Bad information is always a poor basis for sound policy. Anecdotes and impressions may be interesting, but they are too often dead wrong.

Lewiston Sun Journal

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