Polling on Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election prospects shows a solidified conservative base behind him — despite his actions and statements on social welfare and meetings with political extremists. But news coverage also shows this kind of posturing is likely to anger and unify the more than 60 percent of Maine voters who oppose his candidacy.
Much of LePage’s campaign rhetoric resembles the 2010 national Republican strategy. It speaks to a core constituency loyal to conservative talk radio, anti-government “welfare” and “illegal” immigrant rants. His trial-ballooning on these issues, even flip-flopping on certain statements, such as that Social Security is a form of welfare, still makes him a true believer with the GOP’s tea party base.
The right-wing red meat he provides, along with his extremist associations, however, has fueled majority voter perception of an incompetent governor disconnected from democratic governing realities.
LePage jump-started his campaign in May with an assault against “liberal Democratic” support of government welfare waste and abuse. Early last month, he followed with a constitutionally challenged rule denying state funding for municipalities that didn’t morph their staffs into federal agents to track undocumented immigrants.
Then the Bureau of Economic Analysis concluded the governor’s opposition to federal Medicaid expansion effectively placed Maine last in personal income growth among New England states. Seeking to disassociate his “Open for Business” agenda from Medicaid, the governor issued a press release stating that it, like Social Security, is “ welfare, pure and simple.”
That statement echoed the doomed 2012 Romney-Ryan presidential campaign view that those receiving any government assistance are “takers” dependent on welfare.
The governor quickly did a 180 on Social Security as welfare, but perhaps it was too late. For him, the issue is simplistic: All public transfers to individuals burden Maine taxpayers.
For many voters, his worldview places him in direct opposition to efforts to improve the state. It explains why reasonable Democrats and Republicans haven’t followed his lead over the past three years.
It also explains why practical conservative Republican governors have not embraced his policy of hostility toward both Medicaid expansion and state bonding support for infrastructure improvement. LePage’s stances intensify Republican Party infighting over diversity shifts, like marriage equality and comprehensive immigration reform, which Americans strongly support.
Maine’s urban regions continue to grow despite LePage’s success with state tax cuts that increased regressive local property taxes. In his world, mayors, like Portland’s Michael Brennan who works closely with business leaders, are simply left-wing liberals bent on using Maine tax dollars to support government takers.
LePage’s talking points create false fears in the hearts and minds of Mainers uncertain about their economic destiny. This is more the case in a declining rural northern Maine than a growing urban southern Maine.
He expresses no value for immigrants to avoid a further population decline. Any savvy business leader or economic analyst would confirm fewer immigrants mean economic stagnation.
The irony is that this business-oriented governor’s zero-sum budget assaults haven’t enhanced Maine’s economic growth. The failure of his success is due to a line-in-the-sand executive leadership of counterproductive legislation, illegal rules, wasteful studies and irresponsible assessments on key public policies.
The result should be a unification of attentive Democratic, Republican and independent voters. We should prevent LePage from reaping the benefit of a divisive split between Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.
Obsessed with extremist “pure and simple” national tea party lingo, our governor’s re-election campaign is on a slippery slope to an Election Day defeat.
Ralph C. Carmona is a Regent Emeritus of the University of California and an adjunct professor at Southern Maine Community College.