Politics & Other Mistakes: LePage’s *%+# up

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I thought I was reasonably familiar with most of the dirty words in the English language. Apparently not, because I never knew “socialization” and “socializing” were among them.

Now, thanks to the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Gov. Paul LePage, my trove of swear words has been expanded to include these swell new additions.

Some examples:

“We are opposed to the socialization of (unemployment insurance) costs across our system,” chamber lobbyist Peter Gore told a legislative committee back in March.

I assume those in attendance covered their ears.

More recently, LePage sent a letter to business leaders, plagiarizing a good deal of Gore’s testimony. “Employers who have the highest use of unemployment in their slow season are already socializing their costs across the system,” the governor wrote.

LePage can go socialize himself.

According to numerous dictionaries I consulted, socialization is a noun and socializing is a verb that mean either “the activity of mixing socially with others” or “the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.”

That second definition has long eluded the governor.

It’s possible LePage and Gore are confusing these previously non-obscene terms with “socialism,” which is the political philosophy that Bernie Sanders espouses, whereby the government takes all your money and gives you free health care and food stamps.

Oddly enough, a careful examination of the issue that has so incensed the chamber and the governor reveals no trace of socialism. Or, for that matter, socialization.

According to the Portland Press Herald, earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill allowing some workers who are laid off on a seasonal basis to avoid the requirement they search for other jobs as a condition of receiving unemployment compensation. This provision covers them for just six weeks and only for workers whose employers have set a definite date for their return to their jobs within 12 weeks.

The reason for this measure, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Amy Volk of Scarborough, is that industries such as logging and construction, which routinely experience weather-related interruptions in their work schedules caused by stuff like mud season, are sometimes forced to institute temporary layoffs.

Under the old law, employers were required to enter red-tape hell by applying to the state Department of Labor (motto: Just have a seat in that pit of boiling lava, and someone will be with you in an eternity) for a waiver of the work-search requirement. The new law will allow them to skip that painful process and makes it easier for them to retain employees during short-term layoffs. Given the state’s historically low unemployment rate and tight labor market, that’s a plus.

The legal change also frees workers from engaging in the elaborate charade of pretending to be looking for new jobs, when they have no intention of changing their employment.

“It is just an exercise they had to go through,” Volk told the Press Herald. “They are not switching employers. These are truly temporary layoffs, and they are going back to the exact same employer you were working for the month before.”

One more thing: The law automatically expires in 2021 unless the Legislature renews it. So, if the economic situation is different then, or this measure doesn’t work as planned, the state won’t be stuck with it.

Naturally, this being a sensible bill, LePage vetoed it. Because: unchaperoned socializing.

The Legislature overrode the veto handily (only four senators and representatives out of 186 sided with the governor).

Also naturally, LePage did not accept this defeat gracefully. Instead, he sent letters to 45,000 businesses calling on the owners to confront their legislators for pushing a “socializing” agenda. It’s possible the governor, never one to let facts get in the way of a good tantrum, believes the law requires providing the unemployed with picnics, movie nights and dinner-dances.

“You and I know that unemployment is insurance, not an entitlement,” he wrote. “It is a safety net – not a means of subsidizing one industry’s or one employer’s payroll on the backs of all other employers.”

It’s worth pointing out that the law does that in much the same way it encourages socializing, which is to say not at all. But as with a sizable percentage of LePage’s rhetoric, his letter is most likely to be filed in your local library’s fiction section.

I swear that’s true (more or less). If you don’t believe it, you can socialize off.

Wash my mouth out with soap, metaphorically speaking, by emailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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