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The Universal Notebook: Paul LePage’s Cabinet of curiosities

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: Paul LePage’s Cabinet of curiosities

You can judge a man by the company he keeps, or, in the case of Gov.-Elect Paul LePage, by the people he appoints to his transition team.

Amid the otherwise predictable business leaders and conservative politicians, LePage has larded his team with a bunch of tax-cappers, tea-partiers and constitutionalists – people who seem to be on board the LePage Express for purely ideological reasons.

Though Maine voters have repeatedly rejected tax caps as a destructive way to limit government spending, LePage appointed tax-capper-in-chief Tarren Bragdon, chief executive of the secretive Maine Heritage Policy Center, to head his transition team. Until the Maine Ethics Commission comes to its senses and realizes that MHPC is not a think-tank but a political action committee and forces it to disclose the source of its funding, no one involved with the center has any business anywhere near the levers of power in Augusta.

LePage has also named Mary Adams, Miss Taxpayer Bill of Rights 2006, to his team. Adams tried to clean up TABOR after Carol Palesky’s own tax problems helped defeat it the first time. Some tea party types now debate whether Adams is too establishment, but, as one commenter on a tea party blog put it, “Mary Adams was Tea Party before Tea Party was Tea Party.”

Then there’s Pete Harring, Maine’s answer to Joe the Plumber. Pete the Carpenter is the designated liberal basher for the Maine ReFounders. And like Joe the Plumber, he is the embodiment of misinformed, misplaced, blue-collar anger. Pete is infamous for having compared liberals to Slinkys – useless, but fun to push down stairs.

My favorite appointee, however, is Pembroke Schaeffer, Brunswick’s inveterate letter writer, testifier and all-around ultraconservative gadfly. Schaeffer, too, was a TABOR II promoter, which makes you wonder why, if he wanted a cranky tax-capper on his team, LePage didn’t just appoint Jack Wibby.

The wild cards on the LePage team are the Bristol Boys – retirees Philip Congdon, Dana Dyer and Ralph Hassenpflug. At first I figured LePage must have a summer home in the Bristol area and these were just some of his grouchy cronies. But according to a poster on the Paint Maine Red website, Congdon, Dyer and Hassenpflug are active in the Constitutionalists of Maine, a take-America-back-to-the-founders group that meets regularly in Waldoboro.

Dyer, in fact, travels around the country teaching Constitutionalist seminars based on the teachings of Glenn Beck’s guru, W. Cleon Skousen, a one-time chief of police in Salt Lake City. One of the prime Constitutionalist projects is to recruit “oath-keeper” sheriffs who will promise not to enforce laws they believe are unconstitutional, like gun control and mandatory vaccinations.

What constitutionalists fail to understand is that the U.S. Constitution is a living, evolving document and that most Americans would prefer not to be dictated to by the Founding Fathers, long-dead white men who thought women shouldn’t vote and that it was OK to own black people. If you read Skousen’s writings, however, you will learn, among other fantastic things, that black people were happy being slaves.

The odd man out in this motley crew is Alan Caron, founder of the anti-sprawl GrowSmart Maine and now director of Envision Maine, which bills itself as a non-partisan think tank interested in informing public policy makers. I’m sure Caron has moderated his political views since I first knew him as a prison reform activist in the 1970s, but unless he has changed his spots completely, he seems to be the token progressive on Team LePage.

At least LePage did not appoint Dr. Michael Coffman, the Bangor anti-smart growth, climate change denier who some tea-partiers actually hope the new governor will appoint as commissioner of the Department of Conservation. LePage is an acknowledged climate change skeptic, but should he appoint Coffman to anything, I will personally start the impeachment petition.

The LePage transition team includes plenty of timber barons and real estate developers, so you can bet conservation will not be high on their agenda. But tea-partiers are already complaining about Caron and about the fact that two of LePage’s other team members – former state geologist Walter Anderson and former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jane Sheehan – have served on The Nature Conservancy board. To tax-capping tea party property rights constitutionalists, popular conservation programs such as Lands for Maine’s Future are tree-hugger plots to funnel tax dollars to radical groups like The Nature Conservancy and Maine Audubon.

So, folks, that’s what we’re up against. If tax-cappers, tea-partiers and constitutionalists are shaping the LePage policy agenda, we may be in for a long four years of damage control.