Imagine taking a multiple choice test and getting this question: What did Gov. Paul LePage recently spend half a million dollars on? (A) Improving the health of Mainers; (B) Bolstering education budgets; (C) Lowering property taxes; or (D) Paying a controversial consultant who turned in a plagiarized report.
Unfortunately for all Maine people, the answer is D. Earlier this month, LePage failed to recoup nearly all the money his administration paid to a now-disgraced, no-bid, no-show consultant named Gary Alexander.
So how did we get here?
The governor apparently had gone in search of some talking points to fire up his tea party base and somehow justify denying health care coverage to 70,000 working Mainers.
His search uncovered Alexander, a guy who had been hopping from state to state, skewing data to fit his ideology and denying and taking away health insurance. As head of the Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare, Alexander’s poor leadership actually cost that state $7 million. Meanwhile, he made sure that 89,000 low-income children lost their health care coverage.
LePage’s reaction to this guy’s record? You’re hired!
Without consulting the Legislature and without asking for any other bids, the governor commissioned Alexander to do a study that he knew would recommend leaving thousands without health care.
The governor agreed to give Alexander nearly $1 million of your tax dollars in exchange for a piece of political propaganda that LePage and nearly every Republican in the Legislature had the chutzpah to call a “report.”
So what happened to this “report?” Alexander was asked to submit his work in several parts throughout the year. Each time a deadline arrived, the report was late.
As pieces of Alexander’s report filtered in, it was clear that nothing in his research provided any new information. As Democrats in the Legislature all suspected, it had been a political hack job from the start. Republicans continued to defend it and stood with the governor to sustain his veto of a bill canceling Alexander’s contract.
Democrats continued to point out that the report was bogus, but I don’t think any of us had any idea just how right we were. It turned out that there was a good reason why none of the information in Alexander’s work was new: Much of the report had been plagiarized.
When a large chunk of the report arrived mid-spring, journalists and professional analysts combed through it and found that page after page had been copied — sometimes verbatim — from other people’s legitimate research.
At first, Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew tried to cover up the scandal, accusing the report’s critics of making a mountain out of a mere “punctuation” error. I didn’t know that’s what they called plagiarism these days.
As more people learned what had happened, political pressure on the governor to take action increased. He finally froze further payments to Alexander, but by then, it was already too late.
When the governor finally did terminate Alexander’s contract, nearly half a million dollars had already gone out the door. And if it hadn’t been for some smart detective work, we might have paid this fraudster consultant the full million.
The sad coda to this story is that, in his rush to hire his talking points specialist, LePage, who campaigned on being a savvy businessman and being among the most transparent governors in Maine history, forgot to put anything in Alexander’s contract that guaranteed the state could get its money back.
Alexander ended up making a token repayment of $27,000, barely 5 percent of what he should have had to pay back.
The end result: LePage took a half million of your tax dollars and threw each and every one of them into the garbage. And all in the service of making a cheap political point. If that’s not gross mismanagement from a bad CEO, I don’t know what is.
The taxpayers of this state deserve better leadership. We should accept nothing less from this administration than a full refund, and a few bucks’ worth of store credit isn’t going to cut it.
Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, serves as the House chair of the Taxation Committee.