As everyone who has ever written an angry letter and not mailed it knows, it is much easier to hurl insults when putting pen to paper than when talking to someone face to face. Instead of delivering a State of the State address in person to the Legislature — and to the Maine people through a live television feed — Gov. Paul LePage on Monday sent that angry letter to lawmakers.
Hurling the new conservative insult du jour, LePage repeatedly calls lawmakers “socialists,” blasting them for a long list of failures that are turning Maine into the Soviet Union — or Greece, Cuba or Venezuela, for that matter. If only they would listen to him, Maine would be well on the way to prosperity, the governor writes.
His rant is reminiscent of the crooked car-dealing father in the movie “ Matilda.” “I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he yells at his ever-optimistic daughter.
In case you haven’t seen the movie — or read the book by Roald Dahl — there is something Matilda can do about it. Maine lawmakers don’t have the telekinetic powers of Matilda, but they can continue to reject LePage’s attempt to govern by dictum and threat.
They have rejected LePage’s calls for further slashing of the state income tax, counterproductive restrictions on welfare benefits and other simplistic “solutions” because they are bad policy, not because legislators are socialists.
Still, LePage recites the same old talking points about these policies at every opportunity — without offering lawmakers or the state a path forward, much less any recognition that those who oppose his policies might have valid reasons for their positions.
They may even have suggestions that could improve his policies and their chances of success, but engaging with them to find out would be governance, which isn’t LePage’s specialty. It’s simply easier to deride your opponents as socialists.
LePage returns to familiar topics in his eight-page rant. The welfare “reforms” he discusses are virtually the same slate of restrictions he has proposed to the Legislature and the Legislature has rejected. They also are the same changes the Maine GOP has bundled into a ballot initiative for which it hasn’t collected enough signatures to appear on this November’s ballot.
In the face of repeated rejection — but clearly with the desire to change something — it’s long past time for LePage to get to work on a constructive compromise that allows him some of what he wants and, more importantly, actually makes a positive difference in the lives of those receiving public assistance.
LePage also returned to student debt in his State of the State letter. It’s a topic LePage has touched on periodically, always with a promise to introduce some transformative proposal. But the governor’s State of the State letter is still scant on details. He writes that he has introduced legislation to offer businesses a tax credit when they help employees pay off their student loans. But his claim is false. No such bill awaits legislative action even though LePage has been making this claim at least since October 2015. If he actually has plans to, it’s past time for LePage to submit a bill. Similarly, he’s long discussed his idea to take out a $10 million bond to help students access interest-free loans. But the governor has yet to file any legislation.
And LePage reiterates in his letter that he has a comprehensive proposal forthcoming to address Maine’s drug crisis. He still won’t discuss details. Thus far, he has only been willing to advocate for an expansion of the ranks of Maine Drug Enforcement Agency investigators. What Maine clearly needs is a concerted effort to connect people who need it with medication-assisted treatment, coupled with effective therapy. But LePage, throughout his tenure in office, has been unwilling to make investments in that needed treatment capacity or to expand Medicaid coverage.
He ends his State of the State letter, which is an insult to the dignity of his office, with an exhortation: “Now, let’s get to work.”
But because LePage has so seriously withdrawn from anything resembling constructive participation in governance, he offers legislators little to work with.
On the contrary, it’s past time for LePage to get to work and exhibit even a shred of leadership.
We don’t expect he will, so we remain convinced the best option for Maine legislators is to make LePage irrelevant to the policymaking process.