Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Legislature had what we’ll call a memorable week. If there were a scoreboard, LePage earned the most points for his agenda: He played a main role in killing Medicaid expansion, and, by denying comment to MaineToday Media and making tasteless sexual remarks about Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson, reaffirmed to his supporters that he’s still the controversial man they elected, as if they had forgotten.
His tea party agenda is supported by a minority of Maine residents, however, and many of the week’s events could backfire on him in the long term.
By vetoing the bill to expand Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands more Maine residents, he handed ammunition to his future opponents in the 2014 gubernatorial race. If the expansion question doesn’t come back in the interim, they will use the defeat to rightly stir up emotions and turn out voters. The veto, and subsequent inability of the Legislature to override the veto, were major failures for Democrats and moderate Republicans — and for Maine people — but the issue will return, possibly with a vengeance.
The LePage administration’s ban on participating in news articles published by the company that owns the Morning Sentinel, Kennebec Journal and Portland Press Herald only validates the work of those papers. LePage’s spokeswoman said the decision to stop contact wasn ’t because of a single news report. But the announcement was made directly after Press Herald reporter Colin Woodard published a three-part series on how Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho has worked in her current role to help her former lobbying clients in drug, chemical and oil companies and real estate development.
The administration didn’t try to correct any of the published reports, preferring instead to punish the papers by making it more difficult to get the administration’s side of the story. It will make reporting more difficult, but it won’t stop reporters from finding and writing news about the administration. If anything, it will mean the administration is less likely to have its view represented. It’s ironic how those who complain of unbalanced news coverage are often the ones refusing interviews with the media.
There was no mistaking LePage’s message on Thursday, however, when he told reporters that Jackson, a senator from Aroostook County, “claims to be for the people, but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.” That comment, which went national, and Jackson’s cool-headed response, only boosted the level of notoriety he will need to propel him to Congress, if he runs for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s seat.
Jackson, a logger from Allagash, said the comment was inappropriate but that he has a thick skin and it didn’t bother him. Given the ludicrous circumstances, to even keep a straight face at the press conference, let alone sound fair, must have been difficult.
It was just one more example of how LePage’s actions could strengthen in the long term those he seeks to undermine now.