December 15, 2019
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LePage’s complaints about Maine reflect his lack of leadership

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Governor Paul LePage delivers his final State of the State address before a joint session of the Maine Legislature in Augusta on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018.

Paul LePage has been the governor of Maine for more than seven years. In that time, he’s vetoed more legislation than any previous governor, he’s simply refused to implement laws he doesn’t like and he’s sought political retribution for his enemies.

Yet, in his last State of the State address, delivered Tuesday night, he continued to blame the Legislature for Maine’s problems — real and imagined.

LePage has had seven years to work with lawmakers, to persuade them that his priorities — and his plans to meet them — are the right ones for Maine. Instead, he has bullied and insulted those who disagree with him. As a result, much of LePage’s agenda has withered on the sidelines.

In Tuesday’s speech, which at times was an angry tirade but at others a self-deprecating trip down memory lane, LePage laid out many of the same priorities he has listed in prior years: Make Maine a right-to-work state. Lower energy prices. Limit welfare. Help seniors.

He also repeatedly called on lawmakers to work together to get things done, as he’s done in past State of the State addresses, and he invited lawmakers to work with him to find common ground. What is missing from these exhortations is a commitment from the governor to build consensus, to help negotiate compromises, to, in a word, govern.

“Maine needs to reinvent itself and the time has come,” LePage said in one of the many times he went off script during his nearly hour-and-a-half long speech.

He is absolutely right, but his prescription — he quickly referenced paper companies and timberlands, along with aircraft manufacturer Airbus — remains too limited. That reinvention must include alternative energy, strong and consistent regulations, and attracting new people, including immigrants, to Maine — all of which LePage has opposed or stymied.

LePage also picked a couple of odd bogeymen to illustrate what is wrong with Maine. As expected, he condemned land trusts for taking land off the tax rolls, increasing property taxes for homeowners. Land preserved by land trusts accounts for a small fraction of the tax-exempt property in Maine. It also accounts for a small share of the state’s conserved lands, most of which are owned by the state and federal governments.

The governor also ignored the non-monetary value of conserved land. For example, outdoor recreation, which is only possible if parcels are protected from development, is a big factor in attracting young families to an area. Conserved lands, from beachfront state parks to the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, are also tourists attractions, an important consideration for a state where tourism is the top industry.

LePage also devoted a significant chunk of his speech to complaining about a state law, which was enacted despite his veto, that raised Maine’s tobacco purchase age to 21. In a state where one person a day dies from a drug overdose, which LePage did not mention at all, ranting about the smoking age is misplaced.

LePage did offer some good ideas, such as emphasizing commercialization of products developed in Maine and expanding Maine’s student loan forgiveness programs to entice young people to stay in or move to the state.

But the chances of turning these ideas into reality are diminished when the governor continues to berate lawmakers and to champion the work of a legislative minority that remains aligned with LePage even when it is destructive.

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