President Barack Obama delivered an inauguration speech on Monday that called for inclusiveness. He talked about equality. He emphasized the words “together,” “one nation” and “one people.”
“Our celebration of initiative and enterprise … these are constants in our character. But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” Obama said before 700,000 people at the U.S. Capitol.
No matter what your political affiliation or whether you agree with his policies, by emphasizing national unity, Obama spoke as a leader. Recent actions show the same cannot be said right now for the man heading the state of Maine.
Along with coverage of Obama’s swearing-in, Monday’s other top story was of Republican Gov. Paul LePage swearing at three independent lawmakers in a meeting. He apparently pounded the table, called them “idiots,” stormed out of the meeting and then returned, hollering at them.
LePage made the scene last week when Rep. Joe Brooks of Winterport, Rep. Jeff Evangelos of Friendship and Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland wanted to discuss his curtailment order and two-year budget, which proposes to eliminate revenue sharing for all of Maine’s municipalities in 2014 and 2015.
It seems obvious to even point out that acting angry, divisive and inflexible is no way to help Maine or advance LePage’s own policies. The state faces financial struggles that will only get worse if leaders don’t find a way to work through their differences. Yet LePage is showing he can’t even open the door to collaboration.
The independent legislators are not LePage’s stumbling block right now. His behavior is. He is unwilling to meet with Democrats — though Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, wanted to talk even after LePage unfairly called him a “spoiled little brat.” Some members of LePage’s own party have criticized the idea of eliminating revenue sharing.
Swearing at lawmakers and calling them names only exacerbates the isolation in which LePage finds himself. Obama could have been referring to Maine in his inauguration speech when he said, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
Maine voters rejected a Republican-led Legislature. LePage’s situation has changed. His approach also must change if he hopes to achieve more than lasting indignation. Maine needs a leader who can inspire others, work with many different people toward common goals and lift up the state, not bring ill to its name. LePage has passion and a personal story that appeal to many, but outbursts overshadow his message.
Obama said, fittingly on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still … just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.”
Remembering the hundreds of thousands who fought for equal protection during the civil rights movement in a peaceful way, despite their internal anger, puts Maine’s challenges in perspective. This is no time — indeed, it is never time — to let personalities impede collaboration. No leader can walk alone. Everyone’s freedom is inextricably bound.