When Gov. Paul LePage attempted to address the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee in May and wasn’t allowed to, we heard a familiar refrain from the Republican governor.
“I do not play politics,” he told Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, the committee’s Senate chairwoman.
About a month later, he followed up in a radio address decrying the two-year state budget enacted by the Legislature over his objections. “My fellow Mainers, as many of you may know, I grew up on the streets, and I’m a blue-collar governor,” he said in the opening of his address. “I’m not a politician, and I tell it like it is.”
But for a man who has staked his political career on the claim that he’s not a politician and that he puts “people before politics,” LePage gives undue consideration to politics.
The governor spent all of last week avoiding coming clean about reports that he claimed President Barack Obama “hates white people” while addressing donors at a Republican Party fundraiser earlier this month in Belgrade.
He denied making the remarks on Tuesday in a brief exchange with reporters in which he told them, “You guys are all about gossip.”
The most extensive communication we heard from the governor’s office about the remark didn’t come until around 6 p.m Friday.
Was it an apology to the people of Maine, his constituents, for uttering an offensive, ignorant statement and once again drawing negative attention to the Pine Tree State? Was it an earnest admission of guilt and a plea to move beyond the obtuse utterance? Was it a well-substantiated denial and a call to focus on policy matters of consequence?
While LePage certainly expressed an interest in moving beyond his disparaging remarks about Obama, his letter was a purely political apology.
First, consider the recipients of the governor’s letter: the 73 Republican members of the Maine Legislature.
Then, consider the purpose of the communique. “My fellow Republicans, I write to you to apologize for any difficulty that remarks recently reported in the press may have caused you,” the letter read.
For a man who claims he isn’t a politician, it doesn’t match his rhetoric when LePage’s first consideration in trying to move beyond a damaging remark is to tend to the political fallout rather than show leadership, accept responsibility and explain himself to Maine people.
It’s telling that he didn’t address his first major communication about the remark to the people he represents — just like it’s telling that LePage announced his intentions to run for re-election at a $100-per-person campaign fundraiser rather than in a public setting.
By addressing the letter about his Obama remarks to the 73 lawmakers he counts on to carry out his legislative agenda, LePage showed one of his top priorities is to make some sort of amends with an understandably frustrated GOP.
Contrary to the message that defined his 2010 campaign, LePage put politics before Maine people.