The Universal Notebook: The state of the governor

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Gov. Paul LePage’s 2017 State of the State address on Feb. 7 provided a great opportunity to assess the state of the governor as he heads into the home stretch of his second term.

LePage’s weight-loss surgery and subsequent loss of 50 pounds makes him look trimmer, if not healthier. And his apoplectic, red-faced fury seemed to be in check. So maybe his blood pressure is under control, even if his liberal animus isn’t. I was hoping for a kinder, gentler LePage, but, alas, no.

Oh, sure, at the very end of his over-long speech, the governor tried to make nice with Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, who he had previously charged had “no brains” and “a black heart,” but it was too little too late.

The reason LePage has been so divisive and ineffective is that he is the first governor in our lifetime who does not understand that everyone in Augusta – Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal – is sincerely trying to do what is best for Maine people. They may disagree about the best approach or solution, but they mean well.

It is hard to credit LePage with meaning well though, because he does not extend that courtesy to others. If you don’t agree with him, you’re not only wrong, you’re the enemy.

“Maine was once renowned for its rugged individualism,” said LePage. “Liberals are now trying to transform our state into a socialist utopia.”

A socialist utopia would be a wonderful thing, but, unfortunately, it only exists in the governor’s over-active, totally partisan imagination.

Conservatives tend to value self-reliance over the common good, but the new breed of conservative like LePage carry self-reliance to the extreme. They have a blame-the-victim mindset that wants to reward success and punish failure. Liberals simply want to level the playing field.

LePage clearly sees himself as a man of the people and champion of the underdog (as does our delusional president), but he simply is not. His proposed biennial budget gives big tax breaks to the rich while increasing taxes on working people and cutting social services for those in need. The LePage budget contains $65 million in cuts to anti-poverty programs that are more needed than ever because LePage and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew have already seen to it that 35,000 Mainers lost health-care coverage and 40,000 Mainers lost food stamps.

In the view of the new conservatives, helping others only weakens them. They practice tough love. And, indeed, people who are attracted to men like LePage and Donald Trump tend to be people who need a strict, authoritarian father figure to make them feel safe.

LePage had a lot to say in his address about “the opioid crisis that is ravaging our state,” blaming legislators who are focused on drug treatment rather than law enforcement for the crisis.

According to LePage, “liberals don’t care about law enforcement efforts to stop out-of-state drug dealers from selling their poison to Mainers.”

That’s not true. But what is true is LePage does not care about Mainers addicted to drugs. This is the governor, after all, who vetoed a bill to allow Naloxone, the anti-overdose drug, to be sold over the counter because it “does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

LePage also inveighed against the minimum wage increase that Maine people passed at referendum. Republicans would have us believe that a minimum wage increase would destroy the economy.

Bullpucky. The minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, peaked in 1968. Meanwhile, inflation-adjusted CEO pay has increased by 900 percent since 1978. And you wonder why I call Trump supporters suckers?

LePage, populist man of the people in his mind alone, also attacked the referendum process that allows the people to tell folks in government what they want. He accused liberals of “doing an end run around the Legislature by hijacking the citizens’ referendum process.”

In keeping with the nationwide Republican voter-suppression campaign, LePage is advocating a referendum process reform that would require citizen signatures be gathered proportionally in all 16 counties, making it difficult to impossible to get citizen initiatives on the ballot ever again. Of course, the reason Maine people increasingly resort to referenda is that the Legislature can’t get anything done because LePage can’t compromise and vetoes everything in sight.

The greatest irony of Gov. LePage’s State of the State Address is that the theme of the speech was “Do No Harm.” Paul LePage has done more harm to the state of Maine than any one man in history.

“Do no harm” coming from him sounds as hollow as his unfulfilled campaign promise to “Put people before politics.”

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