May 21, 2018
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LePage’s People

Gov. Paul LePage used his brief inauguration speech to pledge to listen to the people of Maine and to work on their behalf. What he didn’t offer were many details on how this would be done.

As he repeatedly did on the campaign trial, he said he would “put people before politics.” What this means when it comes to trimming “a bloated establishment in Augusta,” reforming welfare and hailing profits as the means to all success remains unclear.

“The word ‘people’ appears in the Maine Constitution 49 times,” the new governor noted at the start of his speech.

So, he said, “it is time to put people first.”

People, he should remember, are the recipients of welfare benefits. Some cheat the system; most do not. So, when he makes welfare reform one of his top priorities, he must ensure any changes he makes do not hurt people who deserve help the most.

Likewise, the new governor is fond of criticizing state government for being too big and too wasteful. But, state government is composed of people. It is fashionable to criticize state employees, but they do valuable work — and are voters and taxpayers — just like those in the private sector.

Government spending must be reduced, which means some state employees will lose their jobs. This should be cause for concern, not celebration.

Republicans long have been critical of the state’s spending on social services and health care. Most of this money comes from the federal government and is passed to providers, such as hospitals, community agencies and private facilities. All these entities employ people to help and care for people.

Every decision made by Gov. LePage and the new Legislature, just like all those before them, will affect people on some level. Their job is to make decisions that benefit the most people while hurting the fewest.

This is not a new concept, but clearly there will be disagreements about what harms are acceptable and what benefits are worth the required trade-offs. This is not politics, this is the heart of governing.

Hosting breakfasts at the Blaine House and resuming former Gov. John McKernan’s “capitol for a day” programs — which Gov. LePage plans to do — are good ways to ensure Maine people feel connected to their government. It does little, however, to formulate policy or to clarify difficult decisions.

In the words of former President George W. Bush, Gov. LePage is now “the decider.” He is smart to gather as much information as possible, but soon he must start making the difficult decisions required of a governor. He then must convince lawmakers and the public that his are the right decisions.

To go back to the state constitution, the document was meant as the guiding rules for the state and its government. It is no surprise that the Legislature, House, Senate and governor are mentioned far more times than “people.”

Gov. LePage is right that the government does the work of the people, but actually getting that work done will take a lot more than pandering and simple slogans.

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