Few politicians want hired trackers to film what they do or say, even at public events. It’s uncomfortable. But politicians know trackers exist for political purposes, to catch them saying something out of touch — or to later hold them to their word. So, if they act honestly and intelligently, they shouldn’t have anything to hide. After all, they only encounter trackers at public events.
The Maine Democratic Party has hired a tracker to record Gov. Paul LePage at his public gatherings. And on Tuesday LePage used the tracker as an excuse to cancel a meeting with the Legislature’s Democratic leaders, saying he wouldn’t meet with them until they called on their party to stop tracking him. The fact remains that LePage needs to do his job.
As a reason for calling off the tracker, LePage said that the tracker filmed him at a Veterans Day event last month as he spoke with an elderly veteran with deteriorating health. “There was no need to have filmed this private discussion for political purposes,” LePage said in a statement issued by his office.
He is mistaken, however. The Democratic Party released the 53-minute video of the event, which included speeches and singing. According to the video, LePage acknowledged the tracker at the beginning of his talk, calling him his “individual paparazzi” who “gets my worst side every time.” It shows no conversation between LePage and a veteran of ill health. LePage has, then, proved the point of why the Democratic Party has hired a tracker: to catch what honestly happened in order to hold the governor accountable.
The tracker must follow certain rules. He must get permission to attend a public event. He must only act as a bystander and is not allowed to ask questions. He must not film private conversations. Sometimes, he is allowed to attend but not film. If he is asked to leave, even if he has been given permission to be present, he is not to cause a stir. Since Aug. 1, he has been asked to leave 11 events. (This is his first job out of college, according to the party).
Republicans and Democrats alike have employed trackers. “I gotta tell you, I think it’s pretty lousy,” independent U.S. Sen.-elect Angus King said at a September debate during the recent campaign season when he pointed out a tracker hired by Republicans to follow him. Democrat Libby Mitchell, during her 2010 bid for the Blaine House, complained about a tracker hired by the Republican Governors Association.
He doesn’t have to like being filmed at public events, but by not accepting a meeting with Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland and House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, LePage took his disagreement about the tracker too far. He was supposed to have a chance, though brief, to discuss the state’s budget situation. The meeting also offered him a chance to show his willingness to work with Democrats.
Instead, he made the problem worse by raising the issue of the tracker again on Wednesday when members of the House and Senate were sworn in — angering both Democrats and Republicans on a day meant to be celebratory. No tracker was needed to record LePage’s comments before the Legislature: He tried to joke that the party should have hired a Mainer, rather than someone from Massachusetts, for the job. His comment shortly afterward — “I want to work with each and every one of you” — sounded hollow.
The situation with the political tracker would be silly if it didn’t appear to threaten real collaboration. Democrats have continued to say their door is open, so it’s up to LePage to show he’s willing to put the matter aside. Perhaps in doing so he could point out how glad he is to be the reason a young person moved to Maine.