The Universal Notebook: The autocrat in the Blaine House

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The specter of our snarling governor damning all legislators who oppose his call for spending more money on drug enforcement (as opposed to drug treatment) and threatening, therefore, to “rip ’em a new one,” was a reminder last week of just how far Maine has fallen.

We used to have a reputation as a moderate state populated by fair-minded people who valued civility and diplomacy. That is no longer the case.

Last month, Bangor Daily News Statehouse bureau chief Christopher Cousins wrote an excellent column, in which he analyzed “the LePage doctrine,” the principle by which Gov. Paul LePage governs our once-fair state. Cousins boiled the LePage doctrine down to a simple formula: “I’m the CEO and I know what is best for Maine. Follow me or get out of the way.”

That’s putting it, well, diplomatically.

LePage has increasingly become the apoplectic autocrat of the Blaine House, an angry bully intent on gathering all power to himself. No collaboration. No consensus. No compromise. No other points of view considered. The governor was veritably spitting mad when he told the media that any legislator who didn’t agree with him was unfit to serve.

Got that? There can be no dissent in LePage’s Maine. But apparently that’s what the voters who re-elected this unfortunate man wanted. Reactionaries, after all, do tend to favor dictators.

Lately, with the governor acting as though his re-election was a coronation, it’s just been one imperialistic episode after another.

In the Meddling, Micromanaging and Overstepping Department, the governor, who previously tried to intimidate labor mediators on behalf of business interests, improperly interfered in a Maine Human Rights Commission case on behalf of a religious fundamentalist buddy who owns Moody’s Diner. If you haven’t come to Jesus, apparently there is no need to work or dine at Moody’s.

In the Gotcha Department, a pair of LePage appointees to the Public Utilities Commission ignored legislative intent and seized on a one-word typo in the law to cut $38 million from Efficiency Maine, a program that LePage hates and that provides energy assistance to Maine citizens and businesses.

Then next door, in the Office of Internal Contradiction, the governor refused to issue Land for Maine’s Future bonds passed by Maine voters unless the Legislature let him cut more timber on public lands. What does he want to do with the extra timber harvesting money? Provide energy assistance to Maine citizens and businesses.

As commander-in-chief, the governor, who never served in the military, abruptly fired Brig. Gen. James Campbell as adjutant general of the Maine National Guard just moments before the general was to address the Legislature. The general may have had it coming for seeking to replace engineers with infantry, but the precipitous nature of the firing was all the more unexpected because the governor, who hates the media, acted instantly on a media report that appeared to suggest the general had been less than forthcoming with the governor about his plans.

But the Embarrass Maine in the Eyes of the World Award last month went to the governor for insulting author Stephen King, possibly the best-known, most successful and most generous man in Maine.

In one of his firing-squad radio chats, LePage implied that King had moved to Florida to escape the income tax that the governor is determined to repeal. In fact, Stephen and Tabitha King paid $1.4 million in Maine taxes in 2013 and a like amount in 2014.

No surprise, given the governor’s uncharitable nature, he refused to apologize for what might charitably be called a mistake. And this from a man whose wife was a Florida resident until he was elected governor of Maine in 2010.

So we are apparently going to have to live with a petty tyrant as governor until 2018. That being the case, we should seriously consider selecting a new state marketing slogan that more accurately reflects the LePage doctrine. “It must be Maine” has never been anywhere near as good as “Maine, The Way Life Should Be” was anyway.

So how about one of these catchier, more appropriate slogans? “Maine, Go to Hell!” “Maine, Kiss My Butt!” Or my new favorite – “Maine, Rip ‘em a New One.” Yes, folks, I think we have a winner.

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