Opinion

LePage hides meanness behind veil of fiscal restraint

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Gov. Paul LePage, limping toward the sunset as Maine’s chief executive, disguises his policy prerogatives with a veil of fiscal discipline. But peak behind the mask and it’s clear he’s animated by meanness and vindictiveness.

More than seven years into his eight years in office, his actions have had little consequence to him personally, even as thousands of people in the state suffer for his misdeeds.

Earlier this week, the governor said flatly that he would continue to deny health insurance to more than 70,000 Mainers who qualify for Medicaid after voters decided to expand the program last year.

Court orders be damned. He’d rather people suffer needlessly than give in. Complying with a judge’s order – after losing his case on appeal to the Maine Supreme Court – to apply for federal Medicaid funding, the governor included in the application a Dear Donald letter, begging the federal government to violate the law and turn down the state’s application.

Recent reporting in the Maine Today newspapers document his failures for seniors. The governor continues to refuse to issue voter-approved bonds to increase access to affordable housing for seniors.

The story also documents the fact that the governor has turned his back on hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal funding to support “programs for 28,000 Mainers who have Alzheimer’s disease and 69,000 unpaid family caregivers.”

Alzheimer’s disease claimed my mother after a years-long struggle in 2015. She lived in Virginia, so LePage’s harsh attitude didn’t impact her or our family. But knowing the struggle that families face with this terrible disease, LePage’s willingness to turn down help for them is unconscionable.

In the same story, we learn that LePage has similarly turned down money for cancer screenings for older Mainers.

But it’s not just older Mainers, people without health care or Alzheimer’s patients in his cross hairs. The governor has also joined a lawsuit that would allow employers to fire someone because they are gay or transgender.

In that case, the governor wraps himself in the familiar language. He doesn’t hate people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. No. No such thing, his spokesman said. Instead, he’s just pushing back against “activist judges.”

Simple question: Should you be able to fire someone because they are gay? The answer is obviously “no.”

This isn’t the first time Maine’s wandering legalist has joined a lawsuit targeting transgender kids. He joined the fight against a Virginia student who just wanted to use the correct bathroom, too, and blocked efforts to ban conversion therapy – a junk science idea that amounts to torture for kids who are gay.

No matter how LePage tries to defend himself, he’s on the wrong side of history and morality.

And to add insult to the many injuries he’s caused, LePage is once again at war with the Legislature, calling names – again – and generally behaving badly.

LePage’s behavior was so bad that Republicans and Democrats on the Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously to demand an apology after he called a Republican lawmaker “the most repugnant human being” he had ever seen.

LePage’s tenure as governor has been marked by repeated disgusting and unhinged behavior. Combative and brutish, he has bullied the Legislature and members of the public with impunity. He was ascendant at a time when anger and division were politically empowering.

And he’s been very lucky.

He has been blessed by a recovering national economy and a time in office relatively free from war and natural disaster (in Maine). The governor has poisoned cooperation and undermined the ability of the state to respond to a crisis.

His successor – be it a Democrat, Republican or independent – won’t likely be so lucky. Hurricanes hit, soldiers are sent to war, the economy recedes, and when terrible things happen the governor’s legacy may well be that he has left Maine unable to respond.

Through his actions and inactions, more Mainers are sick, more are hungry, more are suffering. We’ve turned our back on opportunities and smart investments.

And we’ve done it because LePage – empowered by a minority in the Maine House – never misses an opportunity to be mean, to divide, to lash out, to promote his fringe ideology.

LePage has poisoned the well, sown discord deep, and damaged the norms of government. As he continues to show almost every day, he has no plans to end his term quietly. He’s going out like he came in: Loud, full of bluster and with his sights set on people unable to fight back.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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