Friday, Aug. 26, was not a proud day for Maine. And, sadly, it deepened the fracture between political parties as the state’s legislative campaign season is set to begin in earnest.
Gov. Paul LePage – a second-term Republican – and Rep. Drew Gattine – a second-term Democrat – hold deeply opposing views on whether the drug crisis is better resolved through enforcement or treatment.
When Gattine criticized the governor’s oversimplification of traffickers, LePage became apoplectic and left an ugly voicemail rather than offer a rational discussion of their differences. And, within hours, the ugly fray became national news.
LePage is volatile. He has proven that time and again.
In 2013, during a simulated demonstration of an F-35 Lightning II in North Berwick, LePage joked that if he was able to actually fly such a fighter, he would target the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News for obliteration. At the time, a number of pundits said LePage’s increasingly demonstrative expressions might cost him his re-election campaign, but they were wrong. LePage won the 2014 election by a comfortable margin, garnering more votes than any governor in Maine history.
While there are many, many people who find his behavior boorish and his repeated threats of physical violence deeply disturbing, plenty applaud his rough edges and straight talk.
LePage may even see that support as permission to misbehave, and when called on that behavior, he almost always apologizes or dismisses his comments as “a joke” or “transgression.”
That was the cycle last year when the governor said he would like to shoot BDN cartoonist George Danby.
And in 2011, when he dismissed the dangers of bisphenol-A as the Legislature was considering a ban on the chemical.
It happened in 2012, when he called the IRS “the new Gestapo” after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act.
And, it happened twice earlier this year when he first suggested many drug dealers who come to Maine stay long enough to “impregnate a young white girl before they leave,” and then when he suggested Maine might consider using a guillotine to execute drug traffickers.
Just kidding. Didn’t really mean it. Just making a point here.
Recognize the pattern?
LePage was raised in a home where love was demonstrated by violence, and fear was used to keep people in line. Where pain was how the executive of the household made his point with his wife and children.
When society sees how a child suffers in this environment, we pity the child. But, when that child grows up, our pity dries up pretty fast. Our tolerance, even faster.
It would not be easy for most Mainers to understand the childhood that shaped LePage. It was a hard-luck life in which he witnessed his father regularly beat his mother and where he felt the brunt of beatings himself. It would be a shock if such a child didn’t emerge into adulthood more aggressive than most — but what LePage seems unable to grasp is that he is now living in the Blaine House because we elected him to represent us. He is supposed to be fighting our battles, not his personal demons.
He has proven to be a vocal advocate to end domestic violence and been a tireless advocate for responsible spending and fighting fraud on the public’s behalf, but there is no excuse for the governor’s personal behavior this week. He was wrong –and his opponents are making the most of the situation on a very public and political stage.
This scratching and clawing, and the posturing and pointing have become normal in Augusta, and not entirely because of LePage. There’s been bad behavior on both sides of the aisle, none of which does anything to advance the way life should be in Maine.
We all soon have a say in fixing that.
Maine will elect an entirely new Legislature on Nov. 8 and the campaign will be heated. If a candidate knocks on your door seeking your vote, ask him or her what they will do to repair the working atmosphere in Augusta. If they don’t have a solid plan to do that, consider voting for someone who does.
Originally published Sunday, Aug. 28, in the Lewiston Sun Journal.