At USM event, Gov. LePage’s reasoning was as disturbing as his positions

At USM event, Gov. LePage’s reasoning was as disturbing as his positions

Watching the governor’s town hall meeting at USM is a disturbing experience.

I admit, it wasn’t all a bad show. First of all, I appreciated the fact that the event was scheduled at all. Paul LePage is not a huge fan of greater Portland, and his policies have been criticized by faculty and students at the university, so it was a nice move on his part to hold his southern Maine town hall at the Abromson Center. It’s a shame that he sees our part of the state as enemy territory, but we appreciate the visit.

The governor emphasized that he wasn’t making the visit in order to woo us. “I’m not here to persuade you or to convince you to agree with what I’m doing,” he began. “What I’m here to tell you is what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”

Now, I’ll admit, I didn’t particularly care for that comment. Executive officials, like president or governors, have political as well as policy responsibilities. It’s central to their job to create coalitions, lobby effectively, and contribute to debates over important matters of state. Promising that they won’t do that political work is like boasting that you don’t do a central part of your job.

But there are other schools of thought on representation. At least the governor offered us transparency and an explanation; that’s more than we get from a lot of people in public office. So good so far, I thought, a few minutes into the speech. But the transparency soon revealed some appalling things, both about what the governor is doing and why he is doing it.

In explaining his welfare policies, for example, the governor talked about EBT card abuse, which was to be expected, but then, in an effort to demonstrate that he supports “a safety net” for people in need, he said that his desire for reform is “not about the young lady with two kids, single mom.” While he pointedly did not suggest how he would protect that “young lady’s” economic safety, he said he does want to “roll up his sleeves” in order to make sure that she gets “work skills,” so that she will be free to one day approach him and say, “Thank you, governor,” because she was able to “gain her dignity back.”

When did she lose her dignity, you might ask? Was it when she took the steps necessary to care for the “two kids”? And why, at this future date LePage fondly imagines (as he yanks, with stately dignity, at the lapels of his suit coat), is she thanking the governor for restoring her dignity when he and DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew have labored to make the “social safety net” in Maine as undignified as possible? Or to put it another way, if your neighbors told you that you weren’t allowed to buy your children candy (say, as a Winter holiday treat), would you thank them for restoring your dignity?

It’s the expectation of gratitude that is most disturbing here, as if the state government provides a (shockingly minimal amount of) assistance to people because the governor has chosen to do them a favor, and not because human beings deserve protection against hunger and homelessness.

But things got more disturbing after that, during the question and answer session. In response to his first question, the governor demurred from commenting on Donald Trump’s call for religious exclusion in American immigration policy. And again, in the first few seconds, I thought, “yeah, I hear you…I feel a little dirty whenever I find myself talking about Trump too.” But why did he demur? “That’s national, that’s not the state of Maine.”

He wasn’t similarly reticent on November 16, when he threw the weight of his office against the national policy on refugees. And the state of Maine is in great need of leadership on the issues of xenophobia, religious hatred, and our shared future. “Trying to persuade” isn’t just a political responsibility for a governor in this case, it’s a moral one. Even if the governor agreed with the vile proposal from the GOP front-runner, let him say so and inaugurate an open discussion on the topic, not dodge with one more nod towards the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

And then, it got worse. In a bit of give-and-take on the governor’s response to our growing heroin problem (he has called for more policing and less treatment), an audience member asked him if treatment works. “Not with heroin,” he responded, and then turned to the issue of Narcan, an “opioid antagonist” used to treat people who have overdosed. In a related veto letter in 2013, LePage complained that Narcan was “an excuse to stay addicted,” and should not be prescribed to addicts or their families. At USM he went further: “Narcan is not saving lives. It’s extending lives.”

He speaks as though he, as governor, is empowered to decide what extensions of life are worthwhile, and which, a wasted effort.

Thanks for the explanation of what you’re doing and why, governor. And especially for doing so at a center of higher education.

It made for some deeply unsettling viewing, but at least now we know.

Many thanks to Andi Parkinson for access to her video recording of the event at USM!

About author

Ron Schmidt
Ron Schmidt 45 posts

Dr. Ronald Schmidt is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of History and Political Science at the University of Southern Maine.

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