I have long been a critic of Gov. Paul LePage, though I have been more cautious than many. Going all the way back to 2010, I found the “61 percent” displays — stickers that indicated the majority of voters did not vote for the governor the first go-round — to be gauche. I was outspoken about this. The effort read like sour grapes.
I was equally critical of early efforts to remove the governor. He is not my cup of tea, but he was voted in by the means we use to elect our leaders, so that’s that. After all, if my ideal candidates got into office, their ideologies most certainly would come under attack, and they too would be targets of swift and organized opposition efforts, particularly those fueled by out-of-state corporate protectionist organizations.
I have, however, been critical of LePage’s policy perspectives and the tantrum-laden implementation of his politics of anger and resentment.
These are LePage’s signature attributes, which often are written off as gaffes: He’s just like one of us! He screws up just like one of us! You’re taking it too seriously!
But with nearly five years of these behind us, a common theme is evident. Packed with traces of hostility and allusions to violence, anger and murder, the governor’s most honest moments feel as though they belong to an increasingly isolated person who, while governor of this state, is ever reluctant to engage in the business of governing.
On Twitter, Stephen King recently wrote, “Paul LePage has become a terrible embarrassment to the state I live in and love. If he won’t govern, he should resign.”
I can’t speak to King’s rationale, though I am one of the 850-plus people who clicked the favorite button and among the more than 400 who retweeted it. The caution I heeded earlier in LePage’s tenure has worn at the same pace the governor’s willingness to govern has become apparent.
He has long been a “my way or the highway” sort of guy, but the bodies he is supposed to work with increasingly are calling him on that bluff.
The Legislature passed its own budget, overcoming his childish twist on his veto, and called him on his move to intervene in a private organization’s hiring processes by withholding state funds. He has, in effect, become, as The New York Times labeled him, a party of one and an increasingly impotent one at that.
Without the ability or demonstrated desire to govern, we are left with an angry, hotheaded man who tells black civil rights organizations to kiss his butt and the school-aged child of a cartoonist he’d like to shoot his father. In essence, we find ourselves in a state governed by a character not unlike the incapable Michael Scott from the late American sitcom “The Office.” The difference is that Scott had the redeeming quality of heart.
This is how the rest of the country sees us. Next to King, the governor is our most visible citizen.
Having to explain this behavior to serious people from outside the state is embarrassing. I travel a great deal for work, and LePage inevitably comes up in my professional conversations.
“What’s the deal with the governor?”
I’m left to fumble through an explanation. Maine has so much going for it, by way of culture and lifestyle, and it is getting its moment in the spotlight. Yet I find myself explaining, time and again, how it is a reclusive zealot ended up in charge — one who is now known to settle political scores by selectively withholding funding. I find myself explaining this with representatives from businesses who hope to engage with Maine-based businesses.
LePage is our political and cultural ambassador. Think on that.
What is worse than the fact that this is the image being projected to the rest of the country is that, increasingly, this is the Maine we are projecting to ourselves. It is important and humbling, then, that lawmakers have found it in themselves to stand up to LePage’s posturing.
Instead of being LePage, we can be resistance to his governance-by-tantrum. We can be governance despite his obstruction.
I agree with King: If he won’t govern, he should resign. This is not how we are as Mainers or who we are. By demanding of him accountability, we maintain our character regardless of the image the governor projects.
Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was a teenager. He’s an owner-partner of a Portland-based content production company and lives with his family, dogs and garden in Cornish.