Right now, Gov. Paul LePage is governing irresponsibly. He is not being straightforward with Maine residents and is using empty threats in an attempt to get his way, while harming his credibility and the sincere work of others. Most recently, he has used his veto authority and backing of a truth and reconciliation commission as bargaining chips for political gain. In reality, his actions will gain him nothing but a name for being reckless.
First, LePage is not being straight with voters. On March 19, he planned to veto five bills and even sent veto letters to the clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate. In the letters, obtained by a Freedom of Access Act request, he wrote that it is time to “start to work on the truly big issues facing Maine,” and “until we can push forward on these major issues, I will not sit idly by and nip around the edges.” He had previously stated that he would veto all bills until Democrats support his plan to repay $484 million in hospital debt.
We will put aside the fact that he had no valid arguments for vetoing the bills (Not every bill results in a major rule change, and the Legislature passed all five unanimously.) because he then rescinded his veto request. A legislative policy coordinator in his office sent an email to the House clerk and Senate secretary to say that the veto letters were sent in error. The bills became law without LePage’s signature.
But he didn’t tell the public he had changed his mind. In fact, he said he didn’t know the bills were awaiting his action. “The bills came down, and no one alerted me they were down here until the 19th, which is the day they had to go back up,” he said at a news conference March 21. “I’ve decided that it was just best to let them go because I was the one who was not ready to veto.”
Can Maine residents believe his statements? Politicians are certainly allowed to change their opinions, but they should be honest about their reasons when they do so. Hiding the truth disrespects the office of governor and the people of Maine.
LePage has entered into a dangerous and absurd game by removing support for certain measures in an effort to get what he wants in unrelated policy areas. Since March 19, he has issued two vetoes and signed three bills into law. One of the vetoes applied to a housekeeping bill that would have clarified how the state and federal government pay to file documents with a register of deeds. It was a ridiculous decision that pulled registers of deeds into the crossfire of LePage’s politics. The irony is that as legislators seem to be moving closer to accepting most of LePage’s plan to repay the hospital debt, his behavior is making it more difficult to achieve a compromise.
A commission that will bring to light Maine’s history of injustices against tribal children and their families has also been caught in the same unfortunate politicking. LePage recently threatened to remove his support for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he and tribal leaders helped form, because Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat, was selected as one of the commissioners. As the first commission of its kind to be jointly agreed upon by state and tribal leaders, it is incredibly disappointing to see LePage subjecting it to petty politics.
The commission has an enormous task before it: To listen to parents whose children were taken to be assimilated into white culture, and to those children — now adults — who were forced to live with foster families that were sometimes emotionally, physically and sexually abusive. A selection panel chose the five commission members based on their experience with state-tribal relationships, welfare services and government, and it saw no conflict of interest with Dunlap. At the very least, if LePage sincerely had a problem with Dunlap’s appointment, he should have spoken immediately with commission staff when members were announced in February.
Effective leaders own up to their mistakes and clearly articulate their goals. They are reliable. It’s unfortunate LePage is using threats to try to get what he wants. It not only makes him appear desperate but harms those who have done nothing wrong.