Here's Something: Can LePage revive the rugged Mainer?

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Props to Gov. Paul LePage for his recent State of the State Address.

Not only did LePage put forth a realistic vision of Maine’s current issues, he actually showed some humanity while doing so. He was stern and foreboding, as is his typical manner, but at other times he good-naturedly teased Democrats as they sat stone-faced in the audience.

The address had its fair share of petty name-calling – which LePage would be wise to avoid as his budget moves through the legislative process – but I particularly liked the introduction in which LePage called out liberal policies that he said are changing Maine’s culture.

“Maine was once renowned for its rugged individualism,” LePage said. “Liberals are now trying to transform our state into a socialist utopia. Utopia is an ideology – no amount of taxpayers’ money can make it a reality.

“We have made great strides in shrinking state government, but liberals continue to provide all things to all people free. ‘Free’ is very expensive to someone,” he said.

Preach it, brother. We the taxpayers appreciate your efforts to curb government’s need for our limited cash reserves.

Social-program-loving liberals, of course, will reflexively dismiss any notion that the government safety net does more to ensnare people instead of merely catching them when they fall. LePage will never win them over. But there are many Mainers who understand that the governor is trying to lift up good, old-fashioned virtues as a way to lessen the need for government intervention.

LePage backed up his call for renewed self-reliance with a surprising quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1935 compared welfare recipients’ reliance on welfare to drug addiction:

“The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber.

“To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America.”

Arguably the country’s most liberal president, at least in terms of doling out aid as a path to economic recovery, Roosevelt nevertheless knew the soul-sucking power of entitlements. FDR, a wise man with a real love for people suffering in the Great Depression, also knew entitlements can outgrow their usefulness. They can result in generations of welfare addicts. They can deter folks from seeking a better life. Entitlements, to co-opt a phrase by Karl Marx, can be the opiate of the people.

LePage wasn’t done commenting on the state of the state. He blamed liberals for pushing recent referendums that increased taxes 3 percent on Mainers earning more than $200,000 and also imposed gargantuan minimum wage increases:

“They say they are helping low-income Mainers by raising the minimum wage and taxing the so-called ‘rich.’ But they are harming our economy. We are losing doctors, dentists, psychiatrists and other professionals we so badly need. They are harming small family businesses. They are harming low-income workers. Even worse, they are harming our elderly.

“Successful people are not the problem; they are the solution. They create jobs.

“They pay the most in sales, excise, income and property taxes. They already pay two-thirds of the tax burden in Maine.

“Taxing them out of Maine does not help our economy – it harms it.”

Nobody wants to hear this kind of talk. It’s depressing. It’s much better to think the voters know what they’re doing. But the governor is right. The big-hearted voters were duped and made mistakes in November. The higher minimum wage is going to be a real burden for small businesses. And additional taxation is going to make rich people look for the exits, or not come to Maine in the first place.

Finally, I liked how the governor concluded his speech:

“I ask you, the members of the 128th Legislature, to join me in protecting our economy, our families, our small businesses and, most importantly, our elderly.

Despite the challenges facing us, I ask you to move Maine forward – not backward. I ask you to do no harm.”

The budget process will be full of drama, as it always is, but I like LePage’s do-no-harm guiding principle. I also like his proposals to reduce the effects the referendums will have on the economy.

But if history is any indicator, the self-sabotaging governor usually does his cause the most harm. If LePage can refrain from petty bickering and intimidation, maybe the government can unite behind a budget that moves Mainers toward self-reliance – and, by doing so, does no harm.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.