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Why LePage does what he does getting harder to fathom

Posted Aug. 25, 2013, at 9:47 a.m.
Gov. Paul LePage
Gov. Paul LePage Buy Photo

Gov. Paul LePage persists with the business of being governor. He sent out lobsters to 49 other governors, although at least one, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, donated it to a soup kitchen.

He negotiated a $150 million bond package, on his terms, with Democratic legislative leaders. Unfortunately, he also reportedly remarked, at a Republican fundraiser, that President Obama “hates white people.”

The scurrying around afterward focused on whether LePage actually said these words. The Press Herald cited two Republican legislators who heard it, then amplified the account with two more attendees, including a county committee member. The Bangor Daily News had its own source.

None of these people had any motive to lie, and all are solid Republicans. True, they chose remain anonymous, fearing political retribution. One said, tellingly, that he supports LePage’s polices but can no longer defend his peculiar utterances.

The following day, LePage claimed “I never said it,” but one wonders. This was an informal setting. Perhaps he just can’t remember.

It’s significant no one defended LePage or insisted he didn’t say it. His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, remained mute. Chief political adviser Brent Littlefield repeatedly dodged questions, never confirming LePage’s account.

OK. He said it. Now, what does it mean?

Since Barack Obama is among the least hate-filled presidents we’ve had — his apparent lack of passion sometimes vexes supporters — the most probable answer is that this is the psychological condition known as “projection.”

That is, Paul LePage feels this way about many other people and groups, so he projects it onto those he dislikes, such as the president.

LePage’s hatreds are well documented. He clashes with Democratic legislators at every turn, making personal and even vulgar slams at the Senate president and majority leader. He has it in for people on “welfare” even when it’s only health care they’re receiving. As former mayor of Waterville, he has a particular animus for municipal officials, proposing the nuclear option of eliminating revenue sharing.

About Obama, at least LePage is consistent. During the 2010 campaign, playing macho at the Rockland Fisherman’s Forum, he told onlookers to expect headlines reading, “Gov. LePage tells Obama to go to hell.”

But using hatred as a guide to policy gets one into confusing territory, since the emotion attaches to different people and institutions at different times.

While bearing the mantle of “tea party” governor, LePage’s actual positions have shifted with breathtaking rapidity. Take state debt.

In 2011, LePage refused to issue any bond issues approved by the voters in 2009 and 2010. No one knew a governor had such authority, but neither the then-Republican treasurer nor attorney general challenged him.

But it contradicted his previous assertion that he objected to bonds issued by agencies like Maine State Housing that lack voter ratification. Voter-approved bonds were OK, until they weren’t.

Why? Because the state was “broke,” a definition covering just about anything. Although LePage ultimately decided bonds couldn’t be issued until Medicaid debt to hospitals was paid, that was two years later. Initially, there was no reason except his aversion to debt.

So it’s been hard to follow LePage’s assertion that we need another $100 million in transportation bonding, on top of the $50 million he earlier impounded. First, we couldn’t afford it at all. Now we have to do it tomorrow. Sadly, LePage still has Republican allies willing to praise his every twist and turn, though he’ll obviously have to watch his words at fundraisers.

And so it goes. LePage tore up a $200 million offshore wind contract with a Norwegian company in favor of the University of Maine, which up to that point he’d had no time for, vastly preferring private schools and colleges.

The new bond package is supposed to cover all Maine’s infrastructure needs. But it leaves out the water and sewer construction grants on nearly every ballot since the 1980s. Those grants help municipalities. We get it.

Why the governor does what he does is increasingly difficult to fathom. On bonds, he may finally have realized that his refusal to spend is dragging down the state economy, which has the slowest growth in New England.

If so, it’s likely too late. Veteran prognosticator Larry Sabato recently changed his rating of the 2014 governor’s race from “tossup” to “leans Democratic/independent.” He added, “The point of our ratings change is to make clear that we believe Mainers are growing weary of the LePage act, and usually the curtain comes down on the show one way or the other in these circumstances.”

But it has been quite a show.

Douglas Rooks is a former daily and weekly newspaper editor who has covered the State House for 28 years. He can be reached at drooks@tds.net.

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