In recent weeks, Maine voters have heard more from Paul LePage the campaign referee than LePage the candidate for re-election. In the process, they’ve heard little from the governor that would give them a firm idea of the policies he plans to pursue if elected to a second term.
On Sept. 22, LePage told WMTW News 8 that he wouldn’t participate in the debates he had committed to with opponents Eliot Cutler and Mike Michaud until Michaud, a Democrat, renounced an ad from an outside, allied group that brought up LePage’s characterization of Social Security as welfare in a June news release from his office. LePage has tried to back away from the comments attributed to him in the release.
“The minute Michaud commits to being honest, I will debate him,” LePage told reporters a few days later at a campaign event in Scarborough.
Those comments came about two weeks after LePage, at the last minute, declined to participate in a forum in Portland on energy and environment issues, saying he wasn’t previously aware he would have to appear on the same stage as Michaud and Cutler.
“You’ve got to keep the integrity of the process,” LePage said later that day, Sept. 12, at a separate event. “If you set up a format, you’ve got to stick to that format.”
Then, on Wednesday, as LePage spoke at a breakfast hosted by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, he discussed more of his work calling campaign fouls.
“Even this week, I looked at the ads that were out there, from our side, meaning the third-party ads from our side, and I asked my staff to go and verify that everything that’s out there is true, because it’s important,” he told the crowd of business leaders. “Maine people deserve honesty. They deserve integrity.”
Too much of this election season has been dominated by distractions that have relegated issues and genuine discussions about Maine’s future to second string.
Still, Cutler, the independent candidate, has managed to release a number of detailed policy outlines on education, health care, property tax reform, reworking the state’s welfare programs, development of a consistent Maine brand and other subject areas.
Michaud has contributed detailed policy plans on economic development; health care; and combating waste, fraud and abuse in the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Whether the plans are the right course of action or not, at least Cutler and Michaud are on the field and have put forward policy details and a vision for the state by which voters can judge them. LePage has offered nothing in the way of forward-looking vision or policy documents. His campaign prefers to focus on last season, giving LePage credit for the addition of jobs to the economy even as the entire nation’s economy has experienced more of an upswing than Maine’s and for reforming welfare when LePage’s “reforms” have done more to stigmatize rather than actually help struggling Maine residents overcome poverty.
There’s still about a month to go before Election Day. So, can we expect LePage to put forward a coherent vision for the state? In other words, can we expect LePage the candidate or LePage the referee in the lead-up to Election Day?
We don’t have much reason to be encouraged. At last week’s Bangor Chamber breakfast, LePage showed a reluctance to talk policy details. He said he was concerned his political opponents would copy his agenda and take credit for it — a foolish reason if there ever was one.
LePage is shirking his responsibility as a candidate by refusing to offer voters something forward-looking by which to evaluate him. After all, fans remember game-changing plays much longer than calls by referees.