Maine has moved beyond Paul LePage, I hope
By David Farmer
Former Gov. Paul LePage announced on Monday that he’s running for governor again, trying to take back the job he was forced to give up in 2018 due to term limits.
LePage for all his pretending to be just a normal guy is a skilled politician and during his first run in 2010 caught the wind that would eventually push former President Donald Trump into the White House.
LePage ran on anger, and for eight years he governed that way. He was hateful and mean. And his policies hampered the recovery of the state from the Great Recession while also undermining our public health system — just in time for a global pandemic–— and denying thousands of people health insurance through Medicaid.
His is a legacy of chaos.
Since taking office in 2019, Gov. Janet Mills has brought the opposite of chaos. Her administration is steady and moderate. If President Joe Biden was the antidote to Trump, Mills is the antidote for LePage.
She has skillfully and cautiously led our state through COVID-19, and her policies and the assistance passed by Democrats in Washington — without a single Republican vote — have the economy growing again.
LePage may be hoping to recapture the magic of 2010, or even 2014 when he won reelection. (I worked for Mike Michaud, the Democratic nominee in 2014.)
But the world is a very different place now.
This time he faces Mills, a strong candidate and stronger governor who captured 51 percent of the vote during her first run in a multi-candidate field. LePage never captured a majority and limped his way into office with the help of two-time independent candidate Eliot Cutler.
Mills is the incumbent, and Maine likes to reelect incumbents. Maine loves multi-candidate races, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see just a Mills-LePage match-up. Mills, however, has shown that she can not only win in a multi-candidate field, she can do so while getting more than 50 percent of the vote. (Ranked-choice voting will not be used during the gubernatorial election.)
There’s no mystery to LePage. And after breathing the relief that has come with calm, competent leadership during a time of crisis, I’m hopeful that voters won’t want a return to the LePage years, when the headlines screamed with his lawbreaking, homophobia, transphobia, racism and threats of violence.
He threatened a state lawmaker and called him a homophobic slur during a crazy telephone message.
He said that people of color were the enemy and that drug dealers were coming to Maine to impregnate white women.
The Washington Post, citing his erratic and dangerous behavior, called him unhinged and urged him to resign.
After his second term, LePage took off for Florida, leaving Maine in the rearview mirror, returning as a prop for Trump on occasion. He hadn’t informed Florida that he’s switched back to being a Maine voter, according to the Sun Journal.
Since LePage left office, our country has started a reckoning on race, inspired by the murder of George Floyd. Businesses large and small released statements and developed policy in an effort to combat systemic racism and improve diversity and inclusion.
Every individual and every business who contributes to LePage, every person who attends his rally or endorses him should be forced to answer for his behavior. Perhaps they profited when LePage cut taxes for the wealthiest and big corporations.
But do they believe that people of color are the enemy?
Do they believe that the state of Maine should intervene in a lawsuit in Virginia attacking a transgender kid?
Do they believe the dangerous, racist troupe that “white women” need protection from impregnation by Black men?
Are they willing to go back to the days of lies, of rage and of outrage?
LePage has shown Maine who and what he is. For him to be successful, he’s counting on voters to forget both his policies and his personalities.
Voters, I hope, have recovered from the LePage fever and can look around and appreciate not having to worry about what crazy thing the governor has said or done every day.
Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.