As a freshman legislator who supports the reform agenda of Gov. Paul LePage, I am continually amazed at the lengths to which his enemies will go to smear him.
The good news for all of us who want a better future for our children and grandchildren is this: The persistent low-grade fever known as LePage Derangement Syndrome is confined for the most part to the leadership of the labor unions and the Democratic Party (did I just repeat myself?) and their allies in the academic and media elites.
We saw it in Tuesday’s state Senate special election, as the Democrats’ strategy focused on negative attack ads that tried to link the Republican candidate to LePage’s vilified personality, completely ignoring the issues — issues upon which a recent poll showed that 62 percent of Mainers agree with LePage’s policies.
Based on my own observations at the State House, I’ve concluded that LePage Derangement Syndrome was triggered three years ago by the Democrats’ double-whammy loss of the Blaine House and their majorities in both houses of the Legislature for the first time in more than four decades. Their rage at LePage stems from his bulldog determination to reform Maine’s dysfunctional welfare system, pay down the massive pension and welfare debt he inherited, and root out the rampant cronyism and corruption that one-party rule left in its wake in Augusta.
How soon we forget just how bad the stench was.
For years, corruption at the Maine Turnpike Authority was like something out of a police drama set in New York or Chicago. Executive Director Paul Violette, a veteran political hack and former Democratic majority leader in the state Senate, took lavish vacations on the taxpayers’ dime to destinations such as Tuscany and Bermuda, all the while embezzling money to spend on dinners out and shopping sprees.
Meanwhile, over at the Maine State Housing Authority, another former Democratic state senator was merrily squandering tens of thousands of dollars on magicians, massages and meetings at resort locations. Executive Director Dale McCormick also shelled out public money to Democratic political activist organizations for “outreach” purposes.
MSHA’s mission is to make affordable housing accessible to more people, but under McCormick’s leadership taxpayers were building “low-income” apartment units in Portland for $265,000, at a time when the median single-family home in Maine sold for $165,000.
The corruption and waste at MTA and MSHA were ultimately ferreted out by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, a nonpartisan government oversight office created by statute in 2003. Democrats in the Legislature tried to de-fund and shut down OPEGA, and consistently resisted GOP-led efforts to clean up waste, fraud and abuse. Thanks to Republican leadership and persistence, Violette went to prison for theft of public funds, and McCormick was forced to resign in disgrace, after months of denials and stonewalling requests for disclosure of public records.
When LePage took office, the state employee unions’ public pension system was running $4.1 billion in the red, an amount greater than the entire annual state budget. We were barreling down the same fiscally disastrous road followed by Detroit and California, and somebody had to be the adult in the room. Republican reforms to the state pension system cut the long-term shortfall almost in half, saving taxpayers $338 million in the first two years alone and dramatically improving our state’s credit rating.
The governor’s top priority this year was to tap funds from a renegotiated wholesale liquor contract to pay off $484 million in hospital debt for unpaid Medicaid bills carried over from the Baldacci administration. Democrats in the Legislature threw up roadblocks and dragged their feet at every step of the legislative process.
It became apparent to me that the Democrats wanted the new money to fund welfare programs rather than paying down debt. The brilliance of the governor’s plan was that it locked up all that new revenue, so the Legislature couldn’t get its hands on it.
LePage understands that the safety net has been stretched to the breaking point. He is committed to protecting Maine’s most vulnerable elderly, poor and disabled. Republican legislators share that commitment.
Our tax burden is heavy, our resources are limited, and we can’t afford any more borrowing to pay for current services, so we have to set priorities.
Will we make sure your 75-year-old widowed grandmother has her meds and stays warm next winter? Or will we continue to subsidize your 32-year-old unemployed but able-bodied nephew and make sure he has free health care, subsidized rent and a loaded EBT card?
As legislators, we have some difficult choices to make in the next year or two.
This isn’t one of them.
Rep. Lawrence E. Lockman, R-Amherst, represents District 30 in the Maine House of Representatives and serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development committee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.