Here’s Something: Governor’s lie tainted budget victory

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Gov. Paul LePage’s fierce denials – and subsequent mocking of Maine’s print media – regarding his intentions to go on vacation during the state government shutdown last week reminds me of Scottish poet and novelist Walter Scott’s words:

“What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

The governor was having a good week until the flap over his vacation plans arose. Many observers agreed that he and the Republicans earned a rare victory over the Democrats by preventing a 3 percent tax increase on “rich” Mainers from going through in the new budget. Republicans, rightly so, were worried the tax would steer wealthier individuals, and their businesses, away from Maine.

Unfortunately, right when the Republicans could have been celebrating their win, news about LePage’s threat to leave town during the shutdown dogged the administration. LePage denied several times that he was planning to go on vacation, but a voicemail LePage left on Republican Sen. Roger Katz’ phone revealed the governor was lying.

The recording plainly showed the fake news was being reported by the governor, not the media.

“I’m heading out of town for about 10 days and I would like to speak to you before I leave,” LePage told Katz at 9:05 a.m. Monday, July 3, at the height of the three-day shutdown, which ended Monday night.

LePage twice in the days following the voicemail to Katz denied reports he was going on vacation. He told reporters at a news conference announcing the budget agreement as well as on Portland-based WGAN’s morning radio show Thursday that the media confused his statement and that it was just his “pen” that was going on vacation.

“People don’t listen. I said, ‘My pen’s on vacation, I have nothing to do.’ And that meant that I was on vacation,” LePage said.

As is his habit, the governor hurled further insults. He told WGAN, “I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they’ll write these stupid stories. … They are just so stupid it’s awful. I tell you, the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.”

The denials are one thing, but the governor’s venom for the print press, as he calls it, is another.

The only reason we know what really happened in this case is because of the print media. Think a TV news station would track down a copy of a voicemail, using the state’s Freedom of Access Act? Think again. TV and radio media, for the most part, simply regurgitate the front pages of Maine’s daily and weekly newspapers. They add to it during the day with press releases sent by government and PR firms. If all we had were TV and radio for our news sources, we’d be lost as a society, not better off as the governor suggests.

Katz, an admirable Republican I hope has plans to run for governor in 2018, was dead-on when asked what he thought of the governor’s lies about going on vacation. He said LePage’s comments regarding the press “ought to scare the hell out of anyone even vaguely familiar with history.”

Why does LePage hate the print media so much? Is it because they act as a check and balance on him, much as the Legislature and courts do? (And we all know how much he loves those branches of government.) Remember the voicemail LePage left for Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, last year, that he was going to hunt him down? I’m surprised LePage is still daring to leave voicemails after that humiliating incident.

One could argue that LePage wasn’t purposefully lying this time, but just not remembering that he told Katz about his vacation plans. But I won’t be so gracious. Surely during the Tuesday press conference he would have remembered leaving the Monday voicemail.

We hate to think our leaders would lie to us, but it happens. What’s most disturbing about this is the triviality of it all. Why deny his plans to go on vacation, which could be construed as a negotiating tactic? Why attack the media, which was just reporting what it had heard from several top Republican sources? Because it was so trivial, it shows LePage will lie about anything.

If he wishes to persist in the lying business, LePage should heed the advice attributed to the early 1900s Boston political boss Martin Lomasney: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.”

Better yet, don’t leave voicemails.

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