Sometimes we only see what is right in front of us.
That may serve Gov. Paul LePage well during his bid for re-election in November.
At least that would appear to be what he is counting on.
Many Mainers are crawling out of bed each morning and heading to work, yet they still can’t make ends meet.
It is logical for them to be mightily offended when they see others, especially young, healthy adults who don’t work, being frivolous with their welfare benefits, namely EBT cards.
Those who disagree with the actual monetary figures involved in such abuse — many LePage detractors say it is minuscule in relation to other wasteful state spending — need to know those figures may not matter much to a large portion of the hard working but struggling folks who will be pouring into the polls in November.
While they do their part by going to work and paying taxes, what they see — and trust me, they see it — is wastefulness and laziness at their expense.
They see it at the local convenience store, at least I do, when an EBT card holder uses it to pay for a counter full of potato chips, soda and packaged pastries.
They see it in line at the grocery store, when someone uses their EBT card to buy groceries and then hauls out cash to purchase cigarettes and beer in a separate transaction.
They see it, and they share it with others. And the deep-seated anger against welfare fraud and abuse grows like a well-fertilized weed.
LePage’s stern stance on welfare reform has been clear since the beginning of his gubernatorial term, but the issue has become so front and center as November approaches that it almost appears he has become a one-issue candidate.
It may be all he needs.
Most recently, LePage made headlines across the state by announcing municipalities would lose all state funding for General Assistance if they continued to provide the one-time monetary assistance to undocumented immigrants.
He refers to a federal law passed in 1996 he says dictates that, unless a state has a statute that allows welfare benefits to be provided to those groups, it is against federal law to provide them. Maine has no such law.
Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, found differently and claims denying benefits to undocumented immigrants would violate the state and federal constitution.
That there is such a federal statute may well be true, but the cities argue they are obligated under a state administrative rule to provide GA based on need only, and if they followed LePage’s edict they would be in violation of that rule.
There is a procedure to change an administrative rule that involves public comment, the Attorney General and the Legislature.
Should LePage cut off funding to the towns that continue to provide GA to undocumented immigrants, the municipalities could appeal, and a hearing officer would make a recommendation to the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. If the commissioner upheld the restriction of funds, the cities would most likely appeal to the Superior Court.
All of this, of course, would take months and would certainly not occur before the November election.
But many hardworking voters are not necessarily interested in the complications.
What they have heard is their cities and towns are providing welfare benefits to undocumented immigrants, and LePage wants it to stop … and so do they.
That he has chosen now to thrust the issue forward in his typical bullish, my-way-or-the highway manner will appeal to a significant number of voters.
It won’t matter whether it may very well be shot down by the court and result in no substantial change at all. It won’t matter that, had he opted to move forward in a more thoughtful way, using the art of diplomacy and a bit of tact, he may have had the opportunity to actually make substantive changes.
There is a great need to reform the state’s welfare system and Democrats would be better served if they acknowledged it and stopped downplaying the amount of welfare abuse and fraud.
While LePage has clearly made it his priority — it’s even on the Governor’s page on the State of Maine website — his staff can only say he has “accomplished modest welfare reform since taking office in 2011.”
Perhaps it takes a true statesman to effectively lead. A statesman is defined as one who exhibits wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of government and someone experienced in the art of governing.
It is an art in a way. It takes some patience and some finesse in order to move a government body forward.
Unfortunately, sometimes all it takes is a soapbox, a fair bit of yelling, fist pounding and finger pointing to get the vote.
Sometimes we only see what is right in front of us and hear only what is being yelled at us, and we don’t take the time to look for the devilish details behind the scenes.