The Universal Notebook: Feeling sorry for LePage, Maine

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Google “America’s craziest governor” and see who comes up. Yep, that’s right.

Maine politicians were once pillars of reason, moderation and diplomacy. Now our governor constantly makes national headlines for being irrational, immoderate and combative.

When it seemed for about 24 hours last week that Gov. Paul LePage was about to do the right thing and resign, I unexpectedly began to feel sorry for the man. I have been arguing that LePage is unfit for public office most of the time he has been humiliating us as our governor, but the prospect of him being driven from office by his own demons made me sad.

Where were the people who are supposed to love and care for him? Doesn’t he have any friends who will tell him the truth? Doesn’t he know he has a behavioral problem? Doesn’t he have a clue how much harm he has done to this state?

“If I’ve lost my ability to help Maine people, maybe it’s time to move on,” LePage said in the wake of his profanity-laced voicemail to Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, and his subsequent suggestion that he’d like to shoot Gattine between the eyes.

That brief moment of clarity dissipated, however, as the governor drifted back into that delusion state in which he believes he has done good things for Maine people. Yes, the welfare rolls may have been reduced, but not by sound social policy or thoughtful efficiencies, but by throwing people out to the street to beg.

LePage behaves like a petty tyrant because he can’t understand that the legislative and judicial branches of government are his co-equals. He sees himself as a Donald Trump Mini-Me – a tough-talking, no-nonsense boss man.

Of course, Trump is as delusional as LePage.

When Trump came to Maine last month, he said LePage “is a very talented guy, he is also a great person, a tremendous person, and if he were available, I would certainly find something for Paul because he’s done a great job up here. He’s not only popular, he’s done an unbelievable job, so I would certainly say that he would be a candidate.”

Popular? In your dreams. LePage’s approval ratings are in the 30s, making him one of the five most unpopular governors in the country. Maine people dislike him because he is just plain mean.

LePage’s tenure as governor has been marked by vicious and vindictive attacks on anyone and everyone who opposes him. Of his vulgar attack on Gattine, LePage eventually said, “I just lost it and there’s no excuse.”

He said he “lost it” because Gattine called him a racist. Gattine said he didn’t, but heaven knows this would not be the first time someone did.

One of the surest signs that LePage had reached a tipping point with his obscene voicemail and threats against Gattine was that Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, a longtime LePage supporter, had had enough. In a Facebook post, Volk named the elephants in the room when it comes to LePage’s behavior.

“What I do not know,” Volk said, “is whether it is due to substance abuse, mental illness or just ignorance. I certainly hope that his family and small circle of close staff are considering how best to address the issue. Things definitely appear to be out of control.”

In fact, things were out of control a long time ago, like when LePage resorted to extortion to get Speaker of the House Mark Eves fired from the Good Will-Hinckley School. The state Senate should have impeached him for that abuse of power, but it failed the Maine people.

Now legislators should be looking at Article V, Part I, Section 15 of the Maine Constitution, which provides for removing the governor for “mental or physical disability.”

Section 15 comes into play if the governor voluntarily declares himself unable to perform his duties, but it also spells out a process of removal: “When the Secretary of State shall have reason to believe that the Governor is unable to discharge the duties of that office, the Secretary of State may so certify to the Supreme Judicial Court, declaring the reason for such belief.”

The state Supreme Court would then determine the governor’s fitness for duty.

While I’m not sure we want to have the secretary of state and Maine Supreme Court passing judgment on the sanity of our elected officials, it is profoundly sad that we have reached a point in the public life of Maine where we need to consider just such a possibility.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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